Mostly everyone agrees that prescribed fire can play an important role in Living With Fire. Without getting into debates about “naturalness”, prescribed burns can move the window for burning to sometime less scary than the hottest, driest time of the year, and burned areas can help provide points for suppression folks to work. Based on these two factors, PB could reduce smoke and/or move it to times of the year when it is more likely to get washed out of the air. So you might think that PB is generally good for air quality. As a regulatory agency, though, EPA is focused on what it can regulate (PB) and not what it can’t (Wildfires, though I’m not so sure about WFU).
Western Governors wrote a letter to EPA in January of this year..below are excerpts
We are especially focused on improving communications among EPA, federal and state land managers and foresters, and state air quality agencies to address wildfire in the West. Prescribed fire is an essential active management tool to mitigate the threat of catastrophic wildfires. Obstacles to prescribed fire are putting communities and western lands at unnecessary risk. When uncontrolled wildfire does occur, EPA should provide an expedited process to reduce the bureaucratic burden of and efficiently approve exceptional events demonstrations. We ask you to consider how the Agency can promote the responsible use of prescribed fire and implement the other recommendations outlined below.
Wildfire and Prescribed Fire
• More frequent and intense wildfires are steadily reducing the West’s gains in air quality improvement. Smoke from wildfires can cause air quality to exceed the NAAQS for particulate matter and ozone, impacting public health, safety and transportation. Prescribed fire, which is managed according to state SIPs and smoke management programs, can reduce these impacts, but is currently underutilized.
• Western Governors support the use of prescribed fire to reduce the air quality impacts from uncharacteristic wildfire in the West. Federal and state land managers should have the ability to use prescribed fires when weather and site conditions are appropriate and air quality impacts are minimized.
• Prescribed fire practices should include smoke management planning coordinated among state land managers, state air agencies, state health departments, EPA, other federal agencies, and federal land managers. State or regional prescribed fire councils can help facilitate this coordination.
• Western Governors call on EPA and federal land managers to improve existing tools and create additional tools for states to encourage prescribed fire. These should include an exceptional events guidance for prescribed fire, and tools to address the air quality impacts from wildfire in the West.