Tom's Blog

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wisconsin Prescribed Fire Council meeting

Monday the Wisconsin Prescribed Fire Council met at the UW-Madison Arboretum. As a member of the Board of the Council, I attended this meeting.

The morning session was a roundtable discussion about the past spring's burn season. About 50 people attended, including representatives from most agencies involved in prescribed burns in Wisconsin, including the Wisconsin DNR, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Prairie Enthusiasts, Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever, etc. etc.

The spring burn season was complicated this year because of extensive periods of low relative-humidity conditions. Many burn prescriptions specify that the R.H. must be above 25%, yet this spring R.H. values were often considerably below that, necessitating calling off burns. Some participants noted that 25% was a somewhat arbitrary lower limit, and depending on wind speed, direction, fuel type, and other factors, burns could have been safely done.

The discussion ranged widely, and many other issues regarding prescribed burns were presented. An important issue was the permitting system that operates in many (but not all) parts of Wisconsin. In many areas of the state, special permits are needed to conduct daytime burns, and authorization to burn requires verbal approval on the day of the burn. Although this permitting system is well organized and works well, it still presents considerable problems for prescribed burners. Most prescribed burns require extensive crews and a large amount of equipment, all of which has to be transported on the day of the burn to the burn site. If the authorization is then not forthcoming, the expenses involved are wasted.

I was impressed with the real professionalism of the participants, most of whom had many years of experience carrying out prescribed burns.

The Wisconsin Prescribed Fire Council is a relatively new organization but an important one for prescribed burners. It is now incorporated as a nonprofit, and will be applying for tax-exempt status soon.

Prescribed Fire Councils are present in over 25 states. The movement began in southeast United States, where prescribed fire is critical in land management. There is now a National Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils, to which the Wisconsin council belongs.

One of the goals of the Wisconsin Prescribed Fire Council is to promote "right to burn" legislation for the state. The Council has also conducted two conferences, the last of which, in January 2009 at Stevens Point, Wisconsin, was attended by over 300 particpants.

Another goal of the Council is to coordinate and conduct training courses on prescribed fire, including those that can result in certification. Those interested in the Council should access its web site and list serve.


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