Liability and Prescribed Fire: Insurance, PBAs, and Private Landowners

Prescribed fire is one of the most cost-effective management techniques out there. The ability to quickly and uniformly manage a site makes fire very appealing, but its destructive reputation makes most folks understandably concerned about its use. Whether burning with a well-established organization or setting fire to family lands, those interested in applying prescribed fire are primarily concerned that their fire will escape, destroy property or even lives, and in the end, cost them thousands. While these concerns are understandable, they may be ill-informed.

Not only is prescribed fire a vital weapon used to combat the spread of dangerous wildfires, but it brings about the many benefits that come along with fire. Prescribed fire has been used for generations, and with recent pushes towards self-directed wildfire prevention, there’s a new wave of organizations and private landowners trying to burn their lands. Their success, while dependent on a host of other factors, is tied directly to how confident they feel about their ability to burn safely, otherwise no amount of potential benefit will seem worth the danger. So why do these dangers always seem more present than the benefits of burning?

A team of researchers in the southern United States had a similar question.

Professor John R. Weir noticed that in the prescribed fire meetings he facilitated, people’s perception of the risks associated with prescribed fire were far more intense than the reality of what he’d experienced in his three decades as a practitioner. “We’ve gotta get people to realize that not all fire is wildfire,” he told me when I spoke to him over the phone. In his paper in Rangeland Ecology & Management, “Liability and Prescribed Fire: Perception and Reality”, Weir and his team set about to dispel the myths surrounding the perception of prescribed fire as an unusually risky management tool. According to the burns they studied, there is close to a 1% chance of having a spotfire or an escaped fire. Even if a fire escapes, Weir’s data shows that 86% of spotfires burned under .7 acres, and only 14% of escaped fires burned over 100 acres. There were no instances of insurance claims or lawsuits arising as a result of any of these escaped fires. Similarly, in the past 50 years, fatalities from wildfire management exceeded those from prescribed fire management by 3,350%. So while caution is necessary, it’s important to be aware that your fire most likely won’t escape, and even if it does, the data tells us it’s far more likely to be small, non-fatal, and cause you no legal ramifications.

Weir believes that liability is an excuse, not an insurmountable reason, for not burning. When members of his community complained that they were scared to burn due to liability issues, John worked with an insurance company to create prescribed-fire-specific insurance through the Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association. There was lukewarm interest, little effect on the volume of land burned yearly, and after a year, the company dropped the policy. While insurance wasn’t making more people burn, Weir noticed that more and more people were joining Prescribed Burn Associations (PBAs), and using them as an avenue to begin applying prescribed fire. It seemed that resources like PBAs, which open lines of communication between experienced and inexperienced burners, were better than insurance at creating a steady increase in the amount of fire being put down.

So what is a Prescribed Burn Association?

PBAs are small groups of landowners and practitioners that create a hub where members of the community can participate in trainings, share experience and equipment, and work together to create a fire culture. Weir says this is crucial. Burning can be intimidating, and equipment isn’t cheap, so any access to resources and support can make or break an individual’s desire to burn. PBAs also let landowners participate in nearby burns, which gives them valuable experience that can’t be mimicked in a classroom. Young and old get involved in the burns that happen, and even less able members of the community pitch in by handing out water and snacks, which Weir says is useful beyond how it helps on any single burn. “It gives everybody a sense of involvement. When you get that in the community, the community starts accepting fire.” And when they start accepting fire, they start using fire, too.

While it is our goal to empower citizens to burn of their own accord, it’s not a task to be undertaken by those without the experience and expertise to perform it properly. A prescribed fire should only be set by those with the training and resources to do so properly, following a specific set of management goals during conditions that favor the safe application of fire. That being said, it’s important to remember that burning is something that should be available to everyone, and learning to burn is a skill we can all acquire. Luckily, many states are beginning to understand the necessity of fire.

Since the post-suppression-era and the re-introduction of fire to the American land management toolbelt, a majority of states have introduced laws that specify the level of liability that burners are subject to, should their fire escape. The three levels of liability law currently in place are:

1) Strict liability - Regardless of the conduct of the burn, you are responsible for any damages.
2) Simple negligence - If proven negligent, the burner is responsible for any damages.
3) Gross negligence - If proven to have acted with reckless disregard for the consequences of their activities, the burner is responsible for any damages.

Unfortunately, mosts states lack specific laws outlining the potential liability that burners may face, should a prescribed fire cause damage. However, in the past decade, many states have passed laws that establish avenues through which citizens can perform prescribed fire, and protocol for navigating any potential pitfalls. While this is heartening, it’s only the beginning of what needs to happen if we want to see prescribed fire utilized on the scale it needs to be.

So what can we do to get more land burned? Reaching out to your public officials is never a bad idea. The more they hear about fire in a favorable light, the more likely they are to pass any pro-fire legislation that comes their way. After talking to John, it seems that the best thing to do in order to get burning by yourself is to find a community. PBAs created a new wave of landowner burning in Oklahoma, and now the state burns over a million acres a year. So if you know of other likeminded landowners near you, with land that could benefit from seeing fire, reach out. Let them know you’ve heard about prescribed fire and you’re interested in using it. Find a training near you. Start a PBA. Call or e-mail your state’s Fire Council. Research best management practices online, find equipment, and learn what you need to know in order to burn safely.

We need more fire all across the United States, and it won’t happen unless we make it happen. If enough of us burn safely and effectively while creating communities built around fire, who knows: It just might catch on.

Top 5 Rookie Mistakes on the Fire Line

You’re going to make mistakes as a rookie. But every problem is a chance to learn, and without having made these mistakes, none of the leaders in our field would be where they are today. This week, the Michigan Prescribed Fire Council wants to remind you of some of the top mistakes a rookie can look forward to making on their first burns. Be sure to comment if you think we missed anything, and share this article if you’ve made some of these mistakes before.

1. Caught staring

My first time on a fire, I was blown away by the brilliance of the fire. Not only is it beautiful to watch the fire consume everything in its path, but it actually feels responsible to stare at the fire, so you can watch how it’s behaving and where it’s heading. While you need to be aware of your fire, too often rookies can get zoned out watching the fire, which is dangerous. There is far too much to look out for: you need to be looking up, down, and around for any impending disasters. You have to have your eyes peeled for any sudden spotting, any visual cues from fellow team members that they need immediate assistance. Remember to keep your primary focus on your crew’s duties, and you’ll create a much safer environment for yourself and your team.

2. Casual with Personal protective equipment (PPE)

One of my first burns, I remember stepping out of a truck with my helmet in my hand, slowly putting it on while I walked from what I thought was a perfectly safe area towards the edge of the fire. In that same place I’d been walking without my helmet, a stray ember found its way to the top of a dead tree, and silently began burning away. Not ten minutes after I walked by without my helmet on, a crew member was struck in the head by a falling tree limb. She sustained a concussion and some fractured bones, but were it not for her helmet, she might no longer be with us. You cannot afford to be casual about your PPE: you must always wear your PPE when you’re anywhere close to the fire.

3. Run out of food and water

A very obvious but common mistake for rookies. Becoming dehydrated and running out of fuel can be dangerous, so be sure to bring your own water bottle, and plenty of snacks. Most organizations will provide water and food, but you can never be over-prepared.

4. Improper tool technique

Often, we get newbies on a burn who haven’t had a lick of training. We love the enthusiasm of those folks, but they’re not always sure how to use, say, a flapper. Smothering a fire gently but quickly is totally different than whacking it haphazardly with your flapper, fanning the flames and shooting embers into the air. Same goes for water packs, drip torches, or any other tools - be sure you understand how to make your tools work properly before you get anywhere near the fire.

5. Beating yourself up

You’re going to make a mistake. You might make a handful of them. Heck, you might mess up pretty bad. But you’re going to learn and grow from those experiences more than any others. Fire is unique in that there’s a pretty slim margin for error - a truly large mistake can cost you your life. So don’t get me wrong, you should be cautious. You should be over-cautious. You should quadruple check your actions, ensure you’re behaving safely at all times, and make sure you’re listening to everyone around you. But you should also be okay with slipping up. We all have, and we’re all better for it. So don’t beat yourself up. Learn, make a change, and come back prepared to keep burning.

Leave us a comment if you think we missed anything, and be sure to share this post if you’ve experienced these mistakes as a rookie. I’ve messed up loads of times - but I always keep coming back for more.

Financial Assistance for Burning

When researchers ask people why they have difficulty getting fire on the ground, there are a few answers that they consistently hear: one is pressure from upper management to stay away from any unpopular, potentially dangerous tasks. Another is lack of qualified staff, followed by lack of resources. Everything from negative public perception to untrained staff could be fixed with one crucial component that we currently lack, especially in places where fire doesn’t get in the news very much: FUNDING.

Even if funding is sparse for environmental organizations, there are plenty of opportunities to receive federal financial assistance for a variety of different conservation activities, including prescribed fire. This week I’d like to share a few different ways to receive financial assistance for prescribed fire. All credit for this information goes to Andy Henriksen, a State Forester for the USDA in Michigan and member of the Michigan Prescribed Fire Council. This is going to be a link-heavy post, so get your clicking fingers ready!

for starters…

First, visit this link: The Natural Resources Conservation Service, an arm of the USDA, offers three main programs for financial assistance for conservation work in Michigan: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the Conservation Activity Plan (CAP). EQIP provides financial assistance for a wide variety of conservation work on agricultural land, forest land and associated lands (wetlands, grasslands, etc.). There are dozens of conservation practices available through EQIP, many of which have multiple “payment scenarios” that set the payment rate for program participants.  You can see the payment rates here: There are special rates for those that qualify as “Historically Underserved”. From that payment schedule, there are a few practices that are specifically fire-related:

Firebreak (394) – payments range from $0.03 to $2.91 per foot depending on the site conditions and type of equipment needed. This is a perimeter grass or bare soil area to contain a planned prescribed fire, or to create a buffer between a high risk fire prone area and an area needing protection (home, farm, forest, etc).

Fuelbreak (383) - $1168.76 per acre.  This practice is for thinning and pruning an existing stand of trees to reduce the risk of crown-to-crown fire spread and remove ladder fuels to reduce the risk of a ground fire becoming a crown fire.

Prescribed Burning (338) – payments range from $16.31 to $136.13 per acre, depending on site conditions.


EQIP is a competitive program, meaning that applications with a higher anticipated environmental benefit are chosen for funding first.  However, we have multiple funding pools available, each with their own allocations, so that, for example, forest land applications compete only with each other, not also with row farmers or livestock producers.  Also, the funding pools are broken down by regions of the state.  So, the end result is that everyone has a pretty good chance of being selected for funding.  The ranking tools are available here, so you can sort of see what goes into determining who gets funded and who doesn’t :


For general information on EQIP, click here:

For steps to apply for and receive funding, click here:



The CSP program mentioned above is a bit less straightforward in how it operates, but at the end of the day, it does the same thing – provides funding to do conservation work. CSP differs slightly in that in addition to addressing resource concerns (like EQIP), it also provides funding for “enhancements” which take existing resources and improve them further. For more CSP info, click here: The best way for any interested landowner or manager to find out more about CSP and EQIP is to get in touch with a conservationist at their local service center.  They have 57 field offices in MI that have staff that work on these programs.  One can find his or her local service center here:


The CAP program is much like the CSP program, and provides specific instructions on attaining funding for prescribed burning activities. Follow the following link to see the specific criteria surrounding their definition of burning, and what you’ll have to do to qualify for funding.


Joint Fire Science Program Funding:

JFSP releases yearly funding opportunities, similar to what USDA offers - federal dollars given to qualified applicants for conservation work.

Their four categories this year are: Reducing damages and losses to valued resources from wildfire, Graduate Research Innovation, Effectiveness of fuel breaks and fuel break systems, and Regional Science Exchange and Outreach.

Graduate research innovation specifically is asking for research on the “Relative impacts of prescribed fire versus wildfire”, while the other opportunities are a shoe-in for those actively operating with prescribed burn regimens.

If you think there’s any chance you could benefit from these programs, I implore you to apply! I can assure you there are dozens of other people just as interested as you are, wondering whether or not they’d even qualify for these programs. Give it a shot. Shoot an e-mail to your supervisor and ask if your organization would consider applying for these financial assistance programs. There’s federal funding just waiting to be taken and put into conservation, into programs that actually work. Why shouldn’t it be your program?

We Need to Talk About Who Wildfires are Affecting

We’ve all seen them: record-shattering wildfires tearing across quiet cities in California, killing dozens, destroying thousands of homes and businesses, and devastating communities. The headlines point fingers at everything from climate change to the logging industry, the outpouring is compassionate, and after a few weeks these fires have all but faded from the public eye. But those who live in the areas devastated by the blazes can’t forget these fires, and don’t have the luxury of being able to return to life as they once knew it. These fires are undeniably tragedies, but in light of their prevalence and visibility, it’s curious how slow we’ve been to implement the proper protocol to prevent these blazes from occurring. We’ve known since about the 70s that prescribed fire could help in preventing wildfires, that climate change would make fires worse and more frequent, that we needed to act to protect at-risk communities. So how did we still not manage to change things in time? It’s clear that those in charge of making the decisions that could have prevented these fires are totally disconnected from the realities faced by those affected by wildfires. So when leadership fails to take appropriate action to prevent crises like these, who is hurt?

The answer is quite simple: poorer, non-white people are at a much higher risk of being adversely affected by wildfires. As Davies et al. reported in a 2018 article, “While fire-prone places in the U.S. are more likely to be populated by higher-income groups, this fact threatens to overshadow the thousands of low-income individuals who also live in fire-prone places but lack the resources to prepare or recover from fire” (1). There’s no doubt that fire reaches individuals of all races and classes, but there’s plenty of data that suggests that it disproportionately impacts minorities, specifically minorities that have been historically disadvantaged. Think about it - if you were raised in a poor household, weren’t able to go to college, and are forced to work a minimum-wage job while living paycheck-to-paycheck, you’re not going to be able to recover from any sort of a tumultuous event. Not only is your ability to bounce back from the devastation limited by your socioeconomic status, but so too is your ability to prevent the devastation from happening. Those living in poorer communities in California during the time of the Camp Fire were forced to fight the fires themselves, but those with enough money to hire private firefighters, mainly the mega-rich superstars that call California home, could guarantee their safety, and the safety of their possessions. It’s obviously unfair and frustrating - that those with the money and sway to influence policies that could prevent forest fires are capable of securing their own safety. But it also has a racial element, one that can’t be ignored.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans faced thousands of missing people: 84% of those missing were Black in a city that is only 68% Black (1). Native Americans are six times more likely than other groups to live in the most vulnerable communities (2). Those without the resources to care for their own communities are forced to rely on the government for support, but there’s no indication that wildfire-fighting efforts will be focused on helping disadvantaged communities. In fact, we’ve seen a frustratingly small amount of work done to combat wildfires. There are many up-front, simple ways to reduce the size and severity of wildfires, chief among those tactics being prescribed fire. President Trump has recommended raking, logging, and many other tactics to reduce the severity of future wildfires, but it’s not enough. State and Federal governments need to work together to dedicate resources and energy into the management tactics that will have a direct impact. We need to train more firefighters by establishing more training programs and incentives for people to get into fire, we need more robust burning programs in all 50 states, and we need more effort by the government to shift public perception on burning. Now, while it’s necessary to reduce the ability for fire to damage at-risk groups, it’s more necessary to address the issues that make minorities and economically disadvantaged people so prone to being harmed by wildfires. Wildfires are necessary parts of many ecosystems, so removing them entirely isn’t just difficult - it’s virtually impossible. We need to be able to coexist with fire in a way that allow it to benefit ecosystems without damaging delicate communities. It’s a pervasive problem: those that need the most help tend to be the last to get it.

This issue extends to all the abysmal effects of climate change. In my home state of Michigan, and across New England and the Midwest, it was colder here than in Siberia. For those of us with work environments, homes, and cars that can be easily heated at will, this was an inconvenience, but hardly life-threatening. For the tens of thousands of homeless people in the area, these conditions were either extremely difficult, or deadly. As Davies et. al say in their paper, “Wildfire disasters, which disproportionately disrupt the lives of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged, are as much products of social circumstances as they are ecological ones.” We must work to fix the social circumstances that cause natural disasters to so intensely harm those who are least prepared to bounce back. We need to support those in our society who need it most, who are, because of circumstance, unable to recover from natural disasters. And we need to do it quickly.




Less than ONE MONTH to register for Burning Issues!

We’re just weeks away from the biggest fire conference in the midwest! Burning Issues is a two-day workshop designed to give land managers, researchers, students, resource specialists, biologists, ecologists and fire practitioners a chance to share their expertise in a way that tackles the biggest issues we face in wildland fire and prescribed fire work. With speakers from the USDA Forest Service, Michigan DNR, and various elite academic institutions, Burning Issues is a one-stop shop for those wishing to learn more about fire; whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, there’s something for everyone to learn.

I can remember my first Burning Issues, which was just last year. I’d just gotten into fire and hadn’t even been on my first burn yet. I was in the middle of completing S130/190 online, and was filled with wonder, excitement, and tons of questions. I didn’t understand the fire world yet, didn’t get what our role was, or what we really accomplished aside from getting to watch stuff burn in a really cool way. Burning Issues was hugely important for me. Being surrounded by professionals, researchers, people who make their living doing fire, was as humbling as it was invigorating. The conversations I had at Burning Issues made me aware of the passion in the fire community, the love and curiosity that brings people into this field. Sure, we get to light stuff on fire, but we’re also carrying on a hugely important process that has existed for longer than just about anything else on earth. I was exposed not only to passionate individuals, but also their research, their planning, their insight, their beliefs, their (if you will) fuel.

Getting to learn firsthand from professionals gave me the kick I needed to dive further into the fire world. I started researching, comparing techniques, looking up ways to improve the burn program I was a part of. I became consumed by fire, and I can point my finger at Burning Issues as the event that sparked so much of my interest. Sure, I’m biased since I work for the Council now, but I can truly say that Burning Issues was an extremely important event for me, as far as my diving into the fire world goes. I sincerely hope you’ll be able to say the same.

Click here to view more information on Burning Issues


Click here to register!

Burning in the Growing Season - Beneficial or Pointless?

I’m always hungry for burning. So when it’s December and I see temperatures hitting the mid-forties, I find myself asking myself: “Is there any way we could we burn in this?” Though the answer is a resounding “no!”, more and more these days, I’m trying to find excuses to burn whenever and wherever I can. As I continue to research the dramatic lack of fire in the American landscape, I’m filled with the urge to make up for all the years lost to fire suppression by putting down as much fire as I possibly can. I’ve got no problem saying that I’m jealous of Florida - not for any of the things that make Florida the crusty, peculiar-headline-generating State that it is - but simply because they get to put down fire year-round. As a result, Florida has one of the most prolific burn programs in the country, and burns an average of 2.1 million acres of land every year. To put that in perspective, Michigan’s average (as reported by MDNR) floats closer to 7,000 acres per year. We undoubtedly live in a less fire-prone climate, but it’s still a stark contrast that sparks in me a desire to ramp up the amount of burning we’re able to do. Since climate change is shrinking the burn window while simultaneously making conditions more dangerous and unpredictable, we’re forced to get creative with ways to get fire on the ground, and one of the most consistent suggestions I’ve heard of is growing seasons burns.

Burning in the growing season is testy. New growth means less mobility, more smoke, and less intensity. They’re also just more uncomfortable, as the summer heat doesn’t allow the same relief from the flames that the cool air of spring or fall does. Research does show that residence time during growing season burns is higher, meaning we can get even better fire effects, specifically in the realm of controlling invasive species. Though they come with their own suite of difficulties, growing season burns are an excellent, relatively easily implementable way to get make more burns happen. There is almost universal consensus that growing season burning can be an effective tool under the right conditions, and a paper I read this morning backed the idea that dormant season burning is just as effective as growing season burning, although the general thesis of the paper seemed to be that a single burn was relatively ineffective at increasing sapling yields in oak-hardwood forests (though the paper admits multiple burns over an extended period of time might be more beneficial).

Below are tons of papers I found on the topic of growing-season burning. Suffice it to say, we’re going to need more research to better determine the effectiveness of those kinds of burns on a variety of different types of plants and ecosystems. The bottom line is that growing season burning is effective, though perhaps not in the same ways as dormant season burning. The fires it produces are lower intensity, potentially have a higher residency, and are actually a part of the normal fire regimen for some ecosystems. The answer is the same as it is in so many areas of fire: it depends. Using growing season burns can be a great idea if your burn program needs ways to get more acreage burned. It can be tricky, however, to navigate the obvious difficulties, like smoke and lack of mobility, in addition to the less obvious ones, like avoiding the destruction of wildlife in the area. Check out the articles below, and hopefully you can be more well informed about doing growing season burns in the future.

12/12 - Effects of Burning on Pollinators

12/12 - Effects of Burning on Pollinators

“Overall, our study demonstrates that repeated applications of prescribed fire maintained elevated abundances and diversity of bees and other flower-visiting insects compared to untreated plots, likely due to increased herbaceous plant diversity and enhanced quality of nesting habitat within the understory. Our results also indicate that many flower visitors utilize the midstory of a temperate forest potentially for foraging habitat.”

Burning Issues 5 - February 5th-6th 2019

Hello readers of the Weekly Spark! The Michigan Prescribed Fire Council is excited to invite you to our biggest event of the year: Burning Issues! This annual gathering of land managers, researchers, and fire practitioners is meant as an opportunity for us to share information related to wildland and prescribed fire work, and to enable us to build the connections that will make our work even more beneficial. This year’s Burning Issues is set to be a fantastic one, with tons of speakers from across the country teaming up to create a vibrant and varied assortment of talks, sure to inspire and inform you. The event itself is from February 5th-6th, and takes place at Fort Custer in Galesburg, Michigan. See you there!

Click here to register for Burning Issues 2019!

11/26 - Fire Behavior and Weather Index Systems

Hi all,

A quick post this week about a couple important resources that were recently shared with me, both from the Fire Behavior Field Reference Guide. This guide is published by NWCG and contains an insane amount of information about wildfires, fire factors, fire safety, and other information in about a million different fire-related areas. Seriously, I don’t know how I’ve been working in fire without ever finding this site: it’s gold! Everything I struggled to understand as a newbie is broken down, and dug into with tons of detail. They have maps, charts, graphs, vocabulary, links… Give it a look and dig into the vast collection of information compiled there.

In particular, two parts of the guide stick out, and they’re the two parts that were sent to me by a colleague earlier this week. They’re the Fire Behavior Prediction (FBP) System, and the Fire Weather Index (FWI) System. They were sent to me in relation to a little project MPFC is working on with MNFI (Michigan Natural Features Inventory) to get prescribed fire into their invasives monitoring app, MISIN (Michigan Invasive Species Information Network). That reminds me, if you’re a Michigan person, you should undoubtedly download this app, it lets you report invasive species and collects the reports in an easily accessible and searchable database that can be used by professionals to track the spread of invasvies. But I digress: I’m supposed to be talking about fire!

I’ll post a couple images from these resources, but I truly recommend you give them a look. It’s all the information you’re used to hearing about in fire, but in far greater detail. If you haven’t already, give those links a click and check out some of the data they’re working with. Who knows, you might learn a thing or two!


11/19 - Updates on Camp Fire

The Camp Fire has been burning for 11 days now, and with just under a thousand people still missing, it’s a nightmare that refuses to end. As of this morning’s Calfire report, 77 people are dead, 15,850 structures are destroyed, and the incident is at 66% containment. Pacific Gas and Electric co. reported a malfunction of a power line at 6:15am, and 14 minutes later there were reports of fire. Within an hour there were already structures on fire, and the most destructive fire in California’s history was unfolding.

462 miles to the south, the very same day, the Woolsey fire began at 2:30pm near the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. After killing 4 people and destroying 1,841 structures, the fire is finally at 94% containment, as of today at 7am. There’s a bit of a problem with the fact that the fire began near a previous nuclear research facility that’s already undergone large-scale cleaning. Officials are overwhelmingly convinced that the fire will have no impact on the health of residents of the area, but nonetheless, it’s cause for concern.

Below are pertinent links, so you can stay up to date on everything happening in the fires. As always, follow all evacuation orders and stay vigilant. This caliber of burning is certainly not normal, but it’s looking like it’s quickly becoming the new normal.

L.A. Times Play-by-play for Camp Fire

Calfire Report for Camp Fire

L.A. Times Story on Woolsey Fire

Calfire Report for Woolsey Fire

Side-by-side Satellite View of Before and After Woolsey Fire

11/12 - West of Here

11/12 - West of Here

We’re seeing some truly terrifying fires right now, including the Camp fire, which has claimed 44 lives and is now on record as the most dangerous fire in California’s history. It’s wiped towns off the map, caused widespread property and structural damage, and has caused thousands of lives to be forever changed. We have a duty to learn from our history, to look back with a critical eye and change our behavior based on what has and hasn’t worked. Suppressing fire has not worked. Treating our forests as infallible resources has not worked. It’s time to step up and take action, let the research dictate our path, and work our tails off to protect our planet, our forests, and ourselves.

11/5 - Legislation and Fire

11/5 - Legislation and Fire

Now, more than ever, it seems like politics is at the forefront of our society. Decisions are made every day that affect millions of people, and the only thing we can do to affect those decisions is vote for people who will decide to push for the things that we want. Now that I’m done soap-boxing, I think it’s been especially interesting to see how the political climate can affect the way environmental work gets done. There’s a surfeit of willing, dedicated people who would gladly spend every waking moment of their lives working to protect our planet. The problem is letting them do that while making enough money to have their basic needs met. This is the issue: getting politicians to value environmental work enough to budget for it. There have been a few moments in Michigan where it truly felt like our politicians listened to the needs of those doing environmental work in the state.

10/29 - Differences in Smoke from Prescribed Burning and Wildfire

10/29 - Differences in Smoke from Prescribed Burning and Wildfire

“We don’t have a choice: We can use prescribed burning that will reduce future risk of fires or we can have wildfires that will produce smoke and other hazardous pollutants, destroy homes and habitats for wild plants and animals.”

10/22 - Seasons

Earlier today I stumbled across a story about burning in Northern Michigan, from the Petoskey news. The story is from this past May, and in it they talk about the difficulty in burning with snow still on the ground. Climate change means that burning, an already seasonally-specific activity, is becoming much less predictable, and could soon face new weather-related challenges. If winter snaps directly into summer we’ll see far less of the cold and dry conditions we need for spring burning. If summer snaps directly into winter we’ll see less fall burning too. This could force us to do more growing season burning, which can be beneficial but is much more difficult to plan and execute than traditional spring/fall burning. Growing season burns are less broadly applicable as they have less of a benefit for prairies (since they’re too greened out to burn) and tend to be more useful for invasives management. There are ups and downs to this kind of burning, but in general it’s seen as being more difficult.

These are the sorts of conversations we’re going to start having: conversations where we come to grips with what our ecosystems will start to look like in the future, and how our management tactics are going to shift to accommodate those changes. Maybe, in the warmer future, burning season will be a year-round affair. Maybe it’ll be so wet that burns can only happen every once in a blue moon. Or maybe, we’ll start working against climate change, stabilize our CO2 output, and burn season will look like it always has. But that’s probably my obscene optimism clouding my vision.

9/24 - A Call to Action for Clean Air

I’ve been coughing more lately, and I’ve heard it’s related to the wildfires out west. Reducing the size of wildfires is not only good for wildlife, but for humans! Reducing the amount of smoke in the air is good in just about every way, and this article dives into some of the ins and outs of reducing smoke.

9/17 - A Shift Towards Prescribed Burning

As someone who works in prescribed fire, I always have my ear to the ground as far as public perception of burning goes. It’s an important factor: knowing how to manage PR before, during, and after a fire can drastically affect the public’s interest in burning, their willingness to allow burning to occur, and can even end up affecting a burn program’s very existence. People are as intrigued as they are scared by fire, and it can often be difficult to convince those who don’t understand prescribed fire of it’s importance in ecological restoration work. When they first learn that we’re intentionally starting fires, they can be concerned, fearful, and occasionally will get very angry. With all the mis-information on the internet, it is frustratingly easy for people to read one phony article and immediately become enraged with Rx burns.

Luckily, more people are becoming properly informed rather than misinformed about fire. Every week I see new initiatives to spread the use of fire in the west, new public classes on prescribed fire, and tons of articles simply and effectively explaining why we light fires to fight fires. A shift is happening, undoubtedly spurred by the increase in wildfire frequency and intensity, and it marks a turning point for the public’s perception of Rx burning. Even a decade ago, a burn boss I’m friends with told me she was told by some of her higher ups to stop burning, citing concern about the potential negative impacts. In the years since, she’s seen more burns than ever before on the installation she manages, to great effect. With more evidence of the positive impacts of burning comes more desire and impetus to burn. Awareness truly is the most powerful tool we have to spread fire far and wide.

It’s still an uphill battle. Funding for natural resources management programs are slashed every day. Fires still rage in the west and across the globe. Many people still fully subscribe to Smokey the Bear’s zero tolerance policy on fire. But there’s a shift happening. Slowly and steadily, people in America, Australia, Greece, Sweden, everywhere, are beginning to realize that land management is about more than maintaining pristine environments free from disturbance. Sometimes you need nature to be what it is: messy, violent, uncontrollable, beautiful. Burning is an integral piece of nature that must be preserved and help up with everything we have. It’s truly exciting to see the public at large finally start to understand that.