The ecological question facing conservationists is far from simple: to burn or not to burn. Ecosystems that have evolved with repeated exposure to fire may be better managed with prescribed burning than other methods, but there are risks and liability concerns.
In the April issue of Rangelands the benefits and risks of prescribed burning get a thorough review. Researchers conducted a survey of landowners in three eco-regions of Texas regarding their attitudes and perceptions of the issue.
Prescribed fire offers an effective, low-cost method of brush management. It increases available forage when woody vegetation is removed and herbaceous species recover. Landowners can see economic gain in an increased capacity for both livestock and wildlife.
Ranchers also experience the inconvenience of moving livestock and the temporary loss of use of a burned area. However, landowners indicated that the biggest obstacle to use of prescribed burning was legal liability. Although many of the landowners surveyed favored the use of fire, only 33 percent had actually used it.
Increasing landowner willingness and ability to apply prescribed fires is necessary to establish the use of periodic fire in restoring open grasslands and savannas. Prescribed burn associations (PBAs) can help overcome many impediments. Members of these associations work together to promote safe and effective use of prescribed fire. PBAs can offer fire safety training, pooled fire management equipment, and members' labor. Perhaps most important for landowners, PBAs have obtained burn liability insurance policies.