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Goals, Plans Essential for Prescribed Burns

Posted Mar. 12, 2007

The Noble Research Institute's Agricultural Division recently conducted its annual Prescribed Burning Workshop, and turnout was excellent. Some of us have been discussing the "how to's" and touting the benefits of prescribed burning for so long, we sometimes forget this land management tool is a new concept to some people. With that said, I would like to briefly go over some of the things a person needs to think about before considering and implementing a burn. If you are interested in more detailed information, contact us or plan on attending next year's workshop.

Have a Goal
Prescribed burning is a powerful land management tool that can be used for a variety of reasons. Burning, however, does not fix everything. For example, prescribed burning does not compensate for poor land management practices such as overgrazing and habitat destruction, or, relative to deer management, lack of population management. A prescribed burn should have a defined purpose. Legitimate goals for burning include: controlling brush (including Eastern red cedar), changing species composition of herbaceous vegetative communities, rejuvenating vegetative communities and improving forage quality, removing fuel for potential wildfires, removing brush piles, etc. Required burning conditions and characteristics vary depending on goals.

Have a Plan
Many people are surprised at the amount of planning required to conduct a safe prescribed burn. Fuel accumulation is critical for most burns, so grazing deferments may need to be planned as much as a year in advance. The actual burn must be contained in the "designated burn area," so fireguard needs may require early planning and preparation. Neighbors and authorities should be identified and notified of intentions to burn. Manpower requirements should be identified and a burning crew assembled. Equipment should be gathered and organized. Power equipment (sprayers, chainsaws, etc.) should be serviced and in good operating condition.

A prescribed burning management plan should be prepared. This document should include the location and description of the burn site, a range of burn dates, the range of weather conditions under which the burn will be conducted, a map of the area with ignition sequence, a list of the burning crew, a list of emergency contacts, equipment needs, a contingency plan in case fire starts outside the burn area, identification and protection of smoke-sensitive areas outside the burn area, a list of adjoining landowners, etc.

A notification plan should be submitted to the local fire department(s). This plan is similar to, but less detailed than, the management plan. It should include contact information, burn site location and description, a range of burn dates, a list of entities notified, a list of adjoining landowners, etc.

The Burn
The challenge now is to find that day when all the stars and planets align and the burn is a "go." Every day is not a "burn day." Weather conditions must be within the ranges outlined in the prescription (on the burn plan), and the burn crew must be available. Authorities and neighbors should be notified that the burn is eminent. If all of the pre-burn preparation has been attended to, seize the moment.

As you have probably gathered, prescribed burning is not as simple as going out and striking a match. It requires preparation and forethought, but should not be considered an overwhelming task. Prospective first-time burners are often intimidated by the challenge before them. The best way to overcome this obstacle is to participate in a prescribed burning workshop or school and to participate in a burn conducted by an experienced burner. Experiencing a prescribed burn and learning first-hand about fire behavior goes a long way toward eliminating the intimidation factor.