Check Out the National Prescribed Fire Act of 2021

A great summary of this bill from Bill Gabbert of Wildfire Today..


$600 million could be appropriated

Prescribed fire, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore near Ogden Dunes in northwest Indiana
Prescribed fire, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore near Ogden Dunes in northwest Indiana in 2013. NPS photo.

Legislation that did not pass in Congress last year to promote prescribed fire was reintroduced yesterday by four Senators. The National Prescribed Fire Act of 2021 would appropriate $300 million each to the Departments of the Interior (DOI) and Agriculture (DOA) to increase the pace and scale of controlled burns on state, county, and federally managed lands. Companion legislation with four sponsors was introduced in the House of Representatives.

Of the total of eight sponsors and co-sponsors, seven are Democrats and one is Republican. The legislation did not stand a chance in 2020 but it could fare better this year.

Senators have issued press releases promising that if the bill is passed it “would help prevent the blistering and destructive infernos from destroying homes, businesses and livelihoods.” ?

The legislation:

  • Establishes a $10 million collaborative program, based on the successful Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, to implement controlled burns on county, state and private land at high risk of burning in a wildfire.
  • Establishes an incentive program to provide funding to state, county, and federal agencies for any large-scale controlled burn.S tates and counties could receive up to $100,000 for prescribed fire projects.
  • Establishes a workforce development program at the Forest Service and DOI to develop, train, and hire prescribed fire practitioners, and establishes employment programs for Tribes, veterans, women, and those formerly incarcerated.
  • Directs the DOI and DOA to hire additional personnel and procure equipment, including unmanned aerial systems equipped with aerial ignitions systems, in order to implement a greater number of prescribed fires.
  • Encourages large cross-boundary prescribed fires exceeding 50,000 acres.
  • Sets an annual target of at least one million acres treated with prescribed fire by federal agencies, but not to exceed 20 million.
  • Requires that by September 30, 2023 a minimum of one prescribed fire to be conducted on each unit of the National Forest System, unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System, unit of the National Park System, and Bureau of Land Management district under the jurisdiction of the two Departments. The intent is to increase familiarity with prescribed fire in local units.
  • The two Departments shall hire additional employees and provide training and development activities, including through partnerships with community colleges, to increase the number of skilled and qualified prescribed fire practitioners in the DOI, DOA, Indian Tribes, and other qualified organizations, including training in smoke management practices.
  • The Office of Personnel Management shall give the two Departments new authority to hire temporary personnel to perform work related to prescribed fire, including training, implementation, and post-prescribed burning activities. The workers could begin three days before the project and work through three days after “the prescribed fire has stopped burning.”
  • Overtime payments for prescribed fire could be paid out of wildfire suppression accounts.
  • Each Department shall create at least one crew for implementing prescribed fires. After a person works on the crew for five seasons they would become eligible for noncompetitive conversion to a permanent position.
  • The Departments may spend up to $1 million in working with the National Governors’ Association to host a conference to discuss the benefits of addressing liability protection related to prescribed fires, and possible incentives for States to enact a covered law.

“In the simplest terms, the National Prescribed Fire Act offers a legislative solution to increase the use of prescribed fire,” said National Association of State Foresters President, Arkansas State Forester, Joe Fox. “With this bill, state foresters would be able to maximize their utilization of controlled burns to enhance forest health while minimizing damages and mega smoke emissions from catastrophic wildfires. It is a win-win-win for forests, wildland fire management, and public health.”

5 thoughts on “Check Out the National Prescribed Fire Act of 2021”

  1. In many parts of the dry western forests, fuels will need to be modified, including commercial thinning. There seems to be a hard dividing line in this bill, separating timber and prescribed fire. Without timber projects, a Ranger District could quickly find themselves running behind their prescribed fire targets.

    • Larry, it seems like for many issues today, there is a disjunct between a political solution that appeals to groups that are currently in power and what it actually takes to .. restore fire to the landscape… or build out renewable energy infrastructure. It’s almost as if wielders of words are in charge (which they are)- without discussing their ideas with wielders of drip torches or construction equipment. Which leads to unreal verbal expectations and possibilities, IMHO.

  2. Gabbert had some other interesting things to say in the earlier article (linked to this one):

    “Scenario #1 Moderate fire conditions

    … Unless the prescribed fire occurred within the last year or so there is usually adequate fuel to carry a fire (such as grass, leaves, or dead and down woody fuel) depending on the vegetation type and time of year. It is much like using fire retardant dropped by air tankers. Under ideal conditions, the viscous liquid will slow the spread long enough for firefighters on the ground to move in and put out the fire in that area. If those resources are not available, the blaze may eventually burn through or around the retardant.

    Scenario #2, Extreme fire conditions

    The wildfires that burn hundreds or thousands of homes usually occur during extreme conditions. What the most disastrous fires have in common is drought, low fuel moisture, low relative humidity, and most importantly, strong wind…

    Rich McCrea, the Fire Behavior Analyst on the recent North Complex near Quincy, CA, said the wind on September 8 pushed the fire right through areas in forests that had been clear cut, running 30 miles in about 18 hours.

    We can’t log our way out of the fire problem… “Thus, community wildfire risk should be defined as a home ignition problem, not a wildfire control problem.”

    Again, prescribed fire has many benefits to forests and ecosystems, and Congress would be doing the right thing to substantially increase its funding.

    But in order to “…help prevent the blistering and destructive infernos destroying homes, businesses and livelihoods”, we need to think outside the box — look at where the actual problem presents itself. The HIZ.”

    (Maybe that would be a better use of this money.)

    • I actually don’t think wildfire experts get to define the problem… people who don’t like evacuating their families and their animals… communities that don’t like post-fire flooding, and others, get to weigh in on defining the problem.

      In Colorado (and Arizona, and New Mexico) we tend to have a both/and view. I wonder why others don’t seem to. For example these old burns and fuel treatments did provide places to stop the Cameron Fire.

      So if it works sometimes and doesn’t work other times in big fires… shouldn’t we figure out when it works and keep doing it? Not just say “in this case it didn’t work, so let’s not ever do it.”

      • I’m only suggesting that, even where it did work, it might have worked better or been more cost efficient to have spent the money on defensible space instead of locations farther away that have a lower probability of actually protecting a community.


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