Aug 11, 2016
Using Fire to Treat Privately Owned Forests in Oregon: The Burn Boss Perspective
Author: Amanda Stamper
Editor’s Note: This is part two of a three-part series. Read part one: The Landowners’ Perspective.
Amanda Stamper started her career in fire management as a member of a 20-person hand crew in 1999. After graduating from the University of Oregon she returned to fire management serving in a variety of different capacities. She went back to school and completed a Masters in Natural Resources, Fire Ecology, and Management at the University of Idaho in 2012. She has since worked for the Prineville Bureau of Land Management, the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests and Crooked River National Grassland. Co-founder and chair of the Oregon Prescribed Fire Council, Amanda currently works for The Nature Conservancy’s Oregon Chapter as their fire management officer.
Can you tell us about your role in this project?
Amanda: I worked on the Ashland TREX incident management team in planning and operations, supported burn plan preparation, negotiated and prepared agreements to enable burning across ownership boundaries and served as burn boss on the burn on George’s land.
What’s different about burning on private land versus federal land?
Amanda: While burning on private land is not different from burning on public land in terms of basic strategies and tactics, on public land, involvement of the public and analysis of actions occur prior to approval of the plan. Another difference is that private landowners must obtain permission to burn from the agency responsible for fire response in their area. Perhaps the most notable difference is the need to cultivate a relationship with the landowner during planning and implementation.
As the burn boss, what are some of the most important things to communicate with private landowners about burns on their property? What other tips would offer to fire crews working on private land?
Amanda: Most landowners initially want to know how you are going to keep fire where you want it, and who is responsible if something goes wrong, so addressing concerns over control, liability and risk is generally the first priority. I would also say that communicating about what to expect post-burn is often just as important as giving them information about what you are doing before and during the burn, especially if they live on the land and see it every day. It’s good to let them know, for example, that crown scorch will become less noticeable as red needles fall; that the blackened ground will soon be covered in lush green herbaceous cover; and to look for deer, elk, birds of prey and other animals that are often attracted to burned areas.
What advice would you give to other burn bosses working with private landowners?
Amanda: Recognize the importance of cultivating relationships with landowners, fire response agencies and partners. If you’ve only burned on federal land, it is important to keep in mind that private land burning involves a combination of the landowner’s interests and state laws that don’t necessarily apply to federal lands.
What types of skills, training opportunities, equipment and educational materials are needed for private landowners to do more burning? Who is best positioned to provide those opportunities?
Amanda: Some private landowners gain basic skills through practice, beginning with smaller pile and debris burns. Others complete workshops or burn manager certification programs, common in other states (particularly the Midwest and Southeast) where large tracts of privately owned lands require prescribed burning for ecological health and fire hazard reduction. Burn manager certification programs and workshops for private landowners can help ease landowner liability concerns and ensure that they have training and skills to burn safely and effectively. TREX is also a great way for private landowners to gain experience. Printed guides to prescribed burning tailored specifically to private landowners have facilitated safer and more effective burning on private land in other states. In Oregon, OSU Extension, Oregon Small Woodlands Association, Oregon Prescribed Fire Council, Rangeland Fire Protection Associations and Oregon Department of Forestry all have resources that could collectively help enable conditions and provide opportunities for more burning on private land. Workshops and certification programs help private landowners gain basic skills in interpreting weather forecasts, predicting fire behavior, and ensuring that they have adequate resources and are in compliance with laws and regulations.
The equipment needed to implement lower complexity burns depends upon seasonal fire restrictions, the type of vegetation, and local regulations. It can range from a fire extinguisher and hand tools, to a fire engine carrying hundreds of gallons of water with specific pumping capabilities.
What would it take for a private landowner like George to do more of his own burning?
Amanda: George and his neighbors could pool their resources, pick up some additional skills and training, and apply for grants to help pay for equipment. Prescribed burn associations have formed across the United States, primarily in the Midwest and Southeast, to facilitate this type of cooperation and sharing of resources and expertise.
What is your vision for the role of prescribed fire in land management in 20 years?
Amanda: I hope to see equal or greater resources being devoted to prescribed fire versus wildfire suppression, smoke management laws and policies that recognize the need for prescribed fire in reducing wildfire emissions, planning and implementation across jurisdictional boundaries and cultural barriers, and prescribed fires being implemented at a scale that allows more wildfires to burn.
What did you learn from this project?
Amanda: I learned how rewarding it is to help private landowners safely and effectively return fire to their lands. I also gained communication skills in building trust and social license, and learned the importance of relationship-building with landowners and their neighbors.