Prescribed burning is one of the most important land management tools available to manage native plant communities for wildlife habitat or cattle forage in south-central Oklahoma and North Texas. When properly used, it helps accomplish land management goals, but it can impede accomplishment of goals when applied incorrectly. This article addresses the importance of a written prescribed burning plan.
I, like most land managers, would prefer to not write prescribed burning plans. I would prefer to "get on with it" and simply apply the tool of fire. However, safe and successful application of fire to accomplish specific land management objectives is far from simple. Sure, it is simple to light a match; but to make fire work for you in a safe, predictable manner is a much more complicated matter.
A well-written prescribed burning plan accomplishes several positive things: it forces us to thoroughly plan a burn; it forces us to understand and define the conditions when fire can accomplish our goals; it forces us to understand and define the conditions when it is not safe to burn; it makes us prepare contingencies for problematic situations that might develop; it helps us recognize our knowledge, equipment and preparation limitations for a prescribed burn; and it helps minimize our liability when we adhere to the plan because it demonstrates we are knowledgeable about fire and do not negligently apply this tool.
A prescribed burning plan can be prepared for any legitimate situation. The following items and issues should be addressed in most prescribed burning plans:
- Preparers name
- Date of last revision prior to burn
- Legal description of burn unit and directions to it
- Map of burn unit
- Plant communities and topography in burn unit
- Prior burn history
- Goals and objectives for burn
- Fireguards, grazing deferment and other burn unit preparation
- Fire boss and fire crew
- Equipment list addressing vehicles, ignition, fire- fighting, safety and clothing
- Protection of fire sensitive locations within burn unit
- Fire and smoke sensitive areas outside burn unit and plans to minimize impact
- Civil authority and neighbor notification procedures and applicable permits
- Desirable and unacceptable burn dates and times
- Desirable and unacceptable fuel types and fuel loads
- Desirable and unacceptable relative humidities and air temperatures
- Desirable and unacceptable wind directions and speeds
- Desirable and unacceptable 1-hour dead and live fuel moistures, such as grass and juniper
- Desirable and unacceptable near surface soil mois tures
- Desirable and unacceptable atmospheric mixing con ditions
- Ignition procedures
- Contingency plans for spot fires, escaped wild fire and other problematic scenarios
- Mop up and monitoring procedures
- Post burn management
- Records of forecasts examined prior to starting the burn
- Records of actual conditions measured at start and end of burn
- Post burn evaluation
Land managers should continually strive to learn more about fundamentally important land management issues, such as fire ecology. Acquisition and application of such knowledge is necessary to effectively manage native plant communities.