Credit: Esmé Cadiente, Forest Stewards Guilld

Don’t Reinvent the Prescribed Fire Wheel: Must-Have Liability, Timing and Outreach Resources

By: Allison Jolley

Topic: Fuels treatment / Prescribed fire

Type: Success Story / Lessons Learned Tools / Resources

Are you planning any controlled burns this fall? (Or winter? Or spring?) This blog offers a collection of resources related to prescribed fire liability, timing and outreach. Do yourself a favor and read it before writing your next burn plan!

Know Your Liability

If something goes wrong with a controlled burn, who’s accountable? That’s an important question, and the answer is different depending on your state and its current legislation. What’s Your State’s Prescribed Fire Liability Law? provides a great overview of prescribed fire liability, but since liability is tied to current policy, be sure to research changes in your state. (Our liability blog was published in 2017.) For example, New Jersey recently passed new prescribed fire legislation, which among its many nuances, redistributes prescribed fire liability.

In Jeremy Bailey’s words, “Manage liability; don’t run from it.”

Bonus: For more insights from Jeremy Bailey, who leads the implementation of the Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX) strategy, check out his post, 15 Lessons Learned from 10 Years of Cooperative Burning.

Aerial view of prescribed fire and smoke. Prescribed fire liability varies by state.

Prescribed fire in action on the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shared via Flickr Creative Commons

Time Your Burns!

Are your oaks being crowded out? Fire science suggests that winter may be the optimal time to burn deciduous oak forests that are being overrun by Douglas fir.

Until last year, every burn I had ever done in an oak woodland was in or around October, when we can take advantage of dry grass from our Mediterranean summers and hope to kill as many small firs as possible before the rains come in. Everyone I know who burns in oak woodlands burns during this window, including my husband and his crew at Redwood National Park, who probably have the most robust oak woodland burn program in the state. That window is the norm. But guess what? In October, our deciduous oaks still have their leaves! Which means we — the very people who have nerded out on leaf flammability for the last decade — aren’t taking advantage of the leaf litter that those trees have evolved to provide!

Lenya Quinn-Davidson

To learn more about oak leaf flammability and corresponding burn recommendations, read Lenya Quinn-Davidson’s blog post: Evolving with Fire: Understanding Flammability and Rethinking Burn Windows.

While winter months may be ideal for restoring and maintaining oak ecosystems, spring presents unique opportunities as well, particularly regarding ticks and invasive plants. Before you start planning your next burn, check out Toasted Ticks and Burning the Late Bloomers. Delaying some burns until the spring could optimize your objectives.

 A deer eating in a recently burned forest

If you’re looking to reduce tick populations with prescribed fire, check out our Toasted Ticks blog by clicking on the image above. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region shared via Flickr Creative Commons

Make Sure You’re Telling an Effective Story

There’s a ton of literature and best practices surrounding prescribed fire outreach and messaging. Here are a few of the basics that we think you should review before your next burn.

  • Meet them on “their” turf. Still, you may encounter opposition. Communicating Amidst Controversy: The Fire Learning Trail [An Interview with Jen Bunty] tells a story of how a podcast, strategic social media and a few interpretive signs have radically changed the prescribed fire conversation in the southern Appalachians. Bonus: This post also discusses the initiation and evolution of the hashtag, “#goodfire” on social media. A must-read for all fire and communication practitioners, alike!
  • Access what’s already been created. Last year, we published a collection of prescribed fire outreach materials in the post, Prescribed Fire Outreach Assessment — The Verdict Is In. From fact sheets, to videos for newbies, to webinar archives, this post provides a comprehensive list of resources and more context. (These resources were collected as part of an assessment project, which is discussed at the beginning of the blog.)
Firelighter tending a prescribed fire, with drip torch in hand

Credit: Valley Forge National Historical Park shared via Flickr Creative Commons

So, what do you think? Will any of these resources or opinion pieces influence your next controlled burn? Tell us what you’re up with prescribed fire and how these resources might change your approach by leaving a comment.

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