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Panel looks at use of prescribed fire to mitigate against large, devastating fire events

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The smoke from wild fires impacts health but also tourism and road safety, according to Troy Timmons, Western Governors’ Association (WGA) director of strategic initiatives.

“Prescribed fire is an important tool land managers can use to mitigate fire fuel buildup, address invasive plant species and promote resilience for forests and rangelands,” Timmons stated.

In a webinar titled, “Prescribed Fire: Smoke Management and Regulatory Challenges,” panelists provided an overview of opportunities for prescribed fire, among other topics.

Panelists included Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils Chair Mark Melvin, U.S. Forest Service Smoke Manager Pete Lahm and Western States Air Resources Council (WESTAR) Executive Director Mary Uhl.

Wildland Fire Leadership Council Executive Director Mike Zupko moderated the discussion.

Prescribed fire

Because of its efficacy as a treatment for lands prone to forest fire, Melvin looked at the use of prescribed fires across the U.S.

He first explained that prescribed fire councils, which are groups of fire practitioners and managers, successfully manage against large wildland fires using a unique model. Their success is due to the professionalism and commitment of these groups, as well as their common interest in fire.

“Through this partnership, prescribed fire councils can effectively build partnerships with local, state and federal entities, which is a major strength,” Melvin said.

The Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils partnered with the National Association of State Foresters in 2012 to develop a fire use survey for all the state agencies, he noted. The survey was focused on the amount of fire and location, how states managed fire and what state management programs were in place. The first survey set up a baseline and subsequent surveys help identify trends.

“The fire use survey was pretty consistent, and between the Northeast, Southeast and West, there is some fluctuation in prescribed fire activity,” stated Melvin.


Annually, about 12 million acres are managed with prescribed fire but most fire activity is in the southern United States, he added.

“There is certainly an unlimited capacity for prescribed fire, and we all have increased needs to build the capacity. There are also opportunities to increase prescribed fire capacity in the West,” Melvin said.

Between survey years, the most significant change has been the increased number of state-certified burn manager programs, which are important for reaching the private sector.

“The state-certified burn manager programs teach and instruct people to meet state rules and regulations for prescribed fires,” Melvin noted. “Therefore, many states have incorporated these training programs into state law, which can provide liability protection to land owners if they’re a certified burn manager.”

Twelve states, including Wyoming, don’t require prescribed fire permits or authorizations.


According to Melvin, the fire use survey identified nine impediment   categories for states regarding prescribed fires.

“Nationwide, weather, capacity and air quality and smoke management are the top three limitations for prescribed fire,” he noted. “Looking at the West, weather is the major impediment.”

After weather, there is a tie between air quality, liability, permitting, resources and public perception, which Melvin believes validates the need to discuss prescribed fires and burning.

“The communities are really important to think about, especially when trying to increase prescribed fires,” Lahm stated. “I think keeping the community in mind is going to be key to increasing prescribed fire and addressing the concept of living with smoke and fire overall.”

The webinar “Prescribed Fire: Smoke Management and Regulatory Challenges,” was presented by the Western Governors’ Association on Dec. 19, 2017.

Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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