COS 129-6
Legal barriers to effective ecosystem management: Exploring linkages between liability, regulations, and prescribed fire

Friday, August 15, 2014: 9:50 AM
309/310, Sacramento Convention Center
Carissa L. Wonkka, Ecosystem Science and Management, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
William E. Rogers, Ecosystem Science & Management, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
Urs P. Kreuter, Ecosystem Science and Management, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX

Resistance to the use of prescribed fire is strong among private land managers despite the advantages it offers.  Even managers who are aware of the benefits and desirous of inexpensive means to achieve management objectives avoid using prescribed fire, often citing potential liability as a major reason for their aversion.  In recognition of the importance of prescribed fire as a management tool and the constraints current statutory schemes impose on its use, several states have undertaken prescribed burn statutory reform.  The stated purpose of these statutory reforms, often called “Right to Burn” or “Prescribed Burning” acts, is to encourage prescribed burning for resource protection, public safety, and land management.  Our research assesses the consequences of prescribed burn statutory reforms by identifying legal incentives and impediments to prescribed fire application for range and forest restoration and management, as well as hazardous fuel reduction.  Specifically, we explore the relationship between prescribed burning laws and decisions made by land managers by comparing landowner prescribed fire use in contiguous counties with different regulations and legal liability standards. 


Controlling for potentially confounding variables, we found that private landowners in counties with gross negligence liability standards burn 9.72 percent more hectares than those in counties with simple negligence standards (f=4.16, p=0.046).  There was no difference in hectares burned on private land between counties with additional statutorily mandated regulatory requirements and those requiring only a permit to complete a prescribed burn (f=1.42, p=0.24) or between counties with burn ban exemptions for certified prescribed burn managers and those with no exemptions during burn bans (f=1.39, p=0.24).  State legislatures attempting to develop prescribed burning statutes to promote the safe use of prescribed fire should consider the benefits of a lower legal liability standard in conjunction with regulatory requirements which promote safety for those managing fuels, forests, and rangelands with fire.  Moreover, ecologists and land managers need to be cognizant of the manner in which policy regulations and liability concerns may create legal barriers that inhibit the implementation of effective ecosystem management strategies.