Applying prescribed fire to landscapes for wildlife habitat, forage production, woody plant management, etc., mimics one of nature's most important natural processes. Many landowners already use prescribed fire for accomplishing their management goals. However, most landowners do not, due to fear of liability as well as a lack of knowledge, labor and equipment.
Arguably, fear of liability is the overriding concern among landowners, but solving knowledge, labor and equipment shortfalls goes a long way toward mitigating liability concerns. Knowledgeable landowners who are well equipped with an informed crew are less concerned about liability because they understand and manage the process and risks involved. If any part of the process does not fall in place for a particular burn and/or the risk is too high, knowledgeable landowners simply lay their plans aside for a better day and situation. However, the best of plans can sometimes go wrong, and properly planning and preparing for a prescribed fire does not guarantee immunity from accidents. Therefore, fear of liability, lack of knowledge, lack of labor and inadequate equipment remain real concerns and need to be addressed so more landowners can use prescribed fire to achieve their land management goals.
To accomplish this, efforts are ongoing to further develop the Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association (OPBA). The OPBA will serve several functions, but will primarily serve as an umbrella for all of the local prescribed burn associations in the state, generating grant monies to help secure tools and equipment; coordinate education and training events and materials for all association members, fire fighters and the general public; and serve as a voice at the State Capitol for the proper use of and need for prescribed fire in Oklahoma. Currently, there are 15 local prescribed burn associations in Oklahoma and more are needed. Some of these are active and some are not. Therefore, another major function of the OPBA will be to assist with the formation of additional local associations and reactivate those that are inactive.
Efforts are also currently underway to obtain affordable insurance for landowners who apply prescribed fire to their property. The OPBA can play a key role or perhaps even provide an avenue for insurance companies to provide insurance policies for prescribed burning. A certain number or level of education and training events developed and coordinated by the OPBA and other entities can serve as basic requirements for landowners to qualify for insurance coverage. This may include online training modules, on-site workshops and participation in prescribed burns. Oklahoma State University, Noble Research Institute, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other entities provide prescribed burn training each year for landowners. Some of this training has been sponsored by local prescribed burn associations.
While the requirements may not be palatable to some landowners, the point is to qualify for insurance - not restrict burning. Because Oklahoma is a "strict liability" law state, landowners can conduct a prescribed burn without the approval of any entity, but they are liable for any consequences of their fire. In addition to following procedures outlined in Notification Requirements and Considerations for Safe and Lawful Prescribed Burning in Oklahoma, insurance is another tool to help mitigate liability concerns.
For questions regarding the formation of a local prescribed burn association, contact the Noble Research Institute or Oklahoma State University Natural Resources Ecology and Management Department.