New Jersey Draft Legislation Benefits Ecosystems, Improves Safety
Authors: Bill Brash
In New Jersey various stakeholders have been attempting to pass prescribed burn legislation for the past 10 years. Now, finally, we might be on the verge of success!
State natural resource agencies, including the New Jersey Forest Fire Service (NJFFS), New Jersey Forest Service and the Division of Fish and Wildlife, support the proposed legislation. Non-profit organizations in support of the legislation include the New Jersey Audubon and the New Jersey Farm Bureau (the primary movers), and the New Jersey Fire Safety Council. Other groups in support of the legislation include the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, the Nature Conservancy and the Society of American Foresters.
The legislation as proposed would:
- Recognize National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) standards for certifying prescribed burn managers practicing in New Jersey;
- Provide a liability shield for prescribed burn managers and landowners who use safe practices;
- Expand on the uses of prescribed burning to meet multiple natural resource goals (under the existing law, NJFFS, the only burner in the state with liability protection, can only burn for the purpose of hazardous fuel reduction);
- Increase the number of trained professionals who can burn;
- Ensure that safe plans are developed and followed by individuals with higher certification than is currently required; and
- Allow burning to be applied on private “in-holdings” where landowners cannot be identified or contacted when those lands are deemed to pose a wildfire risk to communities.
The new law is expected to officially recognize the abilities of state fire wardens with extensive prescribed burning experience, make it easier for the NJFFS to assist private landowners to use prescribed fire to treat their lands, standardize the requirements of the burn plan, and extend liability protection to “certified burn managers” so they can afford insurance. Additionally, the legislation addresses legal aspects of prescribed burning in that it recognizes prescribed burning to be of public benefit and thus, when done properly, it would not constitute arson, trespass or a public or private nuisance.
NJFFS and partners are working with the bill’s sponsors and interested parties to work through several issues that have arisen with the bill such as notification issues, farmer impacts, and a few others.
It is expected, however, that these and any other remaining issues will be resolved this fall and the NJ Prescribed Burn Act will be voted on, pass the Assembly and the State Senate, and be on Governor Christie’s desk in December. He is expected to sign the bill.
The NJ Fire Safety Council supports this bill because it shares goals consistent with our mission in three ways:
- Providing a clear and legal process for addressing the treatment of private in-holdings where the landowner is unknown and/or not reachable that fall within large contiguous tracts of state-owned land will allow NJSFFS to conduct large, strategic burns safely and effectively;
- Utilizing established NWCG standards for burn boss certification will increase the number of available professional burners and help ensure that burns are conducted safely and properly; and
- There will be more opportunities to utilize prescribed burning as a management tool. As the legal uses of prescribed fire expand, it will be used for activities such as native species restoration, wildlife habitat management and site preparation. Allowing prescribed burning for ecological purposes will also increase the amount of ground suitable for prescribed burning and allow additional projects to come under the NJFFS liability umbrella.