Restoring Rangelands and Fighting Wildfire with Prescribed Burning in the Southern Great Plains

Recognition that fire suppression policies has resulted in woody plant encroachment and more damaging wildfires has led to calls for greater use of prescribed fire to restore rangelands and reduce wildfire risk. However, private landowners are often reluctant to apply fire on their land because of concerns over legal liability for damage resulting from escaped fire. Such concerns are driven by a state’s legal statutes governing the use of fire and by a lack of knowledge, labor and equipment to apply fire safely. It has been found that landowners burn more land in states that have gross negligence legal standards than in those with more common simple negligence standards that impose a higher level of legal liability on initiators of prescribed fire. Other studies found landowner attitudes towards prescribed fire are strongly influenced by perceived support from family members and neighbors for the use of this land management tool. Prescribed burning associations have produced more positive attitudes towards prescribed fire by increasing skills, labor and equipment to safely apply fire, thereby reducing landowner concerns over liability. This has led to increasing use of fire in the Southern Great Plains. Despite the increasing body of literature illuminating the influence of various factors on the use of prescribed fire by private landowners, there remain significant knowledge gaps regarding ecological and social thresholds for applying sufficiently intense fire over large enough areas to arrest and reverse woody plant expansion and to reduce elevated wildfire risks. For example, imposition of blanket burn bans by some county commissioners present a regulatory barrier for landowners to use prescribed fire under conditions that result in high levels of woody plant mortality. Moreover, sensational media coverage of wildfire disasters lead to misconceptions about the ecological function of fire and the ecological and social risks of long-term fire suppression. Additionally, the effectiveness of alternative strategies to increase the use of prescribed fire on private land, such as the use of remote sensing tools to illustrate burn severity or the provision of fire liability insurance, has not been comprehensively studied. An integrative assessment of current knowledge, knowledge gaps and the potential efficacy of alternative wildfire avoidance and mitigation strategies is needed to reduce the risk of loss of life and property damage from wildfire emanating from or traversing across private land due to increases in flammable woody plants. Current research is exploring interactions between social and regulatory barriers to the use of prescribed fire on private land.

Join us for this webinar presented by Urs P. Kreuter on November 9, 2016.