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Prescribed Burning Act

February 8, 2021
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Elena Bickell and Dr. Jenny Bratburd

Prescribed burns are the intentional and strategic application of fires on landscape (e.g., prairies, forests, agricultural lands). They are used to reduce risk of intense, uncontrolled fires and help maintain natural species. Landowner willingness to use this tool is affected by concerns over risk of escaped fires and legal liability. Currently in Missouri there is no prescribed burning legislation for liability or requirements. HB369 and SB301 establish the Prescribed Burning Act and specify that the landowner or their agents would not be held accountable for any damages that are caused by a prescribed burning, unless the landowner or agent are found to be negligent. Negligence is defined as failure to use such care as a reasonable, prudent and careful person would use under similar circumstances.

Highlights

  • State policies vary based on liability standards and the requirements for prescribed burns. Typically states with simple/gross negligence liability standards also have stricter requirements for prescribed burns compared to states with strict negligence standards.
  • States whose statutes have simple liability and stringent prescribed burn requirements are often called right-to-burn laws.
  • Prescribed burns can reduce risk of intense and uncontrolled fires.
  • They help maintain diverse plant and animal populations.
  • State level liability laws affect landowner willingness to use prescribed burns.
  • The federal costs associated with prescribed burning are significantly lower than the costs associated with suppressing fires, which are prevented largely by prescribed burnings.

Limitations

  • Since state negligence laws and requirements for prescribed burns vary across the nation, it is hard to conduct impact assessment studies that measure prescribed negligence laws and requirements with wildfire outcomes.
  • Some of the ecological benefits (e.g., control invasive species) are hard to quantify economically, and because of that, they are rarely included in cost/benefit studies.
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