Contact: Kent Keene, Senior Coordinator, Lower Midwestern States and Agriculture Policy
Why it matters: Once again, a state in the Lower Midwest is taking steps to protect landowners interested in using one of the most efficient and cost-effective land and wildlife habitat management practices, prescribed fire. Despite the increasing knowledge of the importance of prescribed fire, particularly in states historically dominated by fire-adapted ecosystems, concerns among private landowners, including fears related to liability, continue to inhibit the widespread adoption of this critical practice. Fortunately, LB 953 seeks to define liability standards in a manner that grants landowners the highest degree of liability protection as they seek to responsibly employ prescribed fire on their properties.
Following closely on the heels of Missouri’s Prescribed Burn Act in 2021, members of the Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee recently conducted a hearing for Legislative Bill 953 (LB 953), which seeks to define liability standards for private landowners who want to use prescribed fire on their properties. Specifically, LB 953 is pursuing a gross negligence standard, the greatest degree of liability protection, for landowners who are interested in responsibly employing this critical management practice and, have received approval of their burn management plans from their local fire chief.
CSF submitted formal comments in support of the legislation before the Judiciary Committee’s hearing on January 21. CSF’s comments focused on the importance of prescribed fire in promoting healthy habitats for a variety of wildlife, including culturally and economically important game species like ring-necked pheasants, northern bobwhite, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and a host of other plants and animals. While many ecosystems can benefit from practices such as prescribed fire, its use is particularly important in states like Nebraska, that are dominated by historically fire-adapted grassland communities. Likewise, CSF’s comments pointed to the ability of prescribed fire to reduce fuel levels that, due to decades of fire suppression throughout much of the country, have contributed to the increased occurrence of dangerous and destructive wildfires in many areas of the United States.
Today, liability concerns remain one of the most commonly cited reasons as to why landowners are reluctant to use prescribed fire. Given the inherent risks associated with the use of fire, these concerns are certainly understandable if liability standards are not clearly defined. Fortunately, extensive research and decades of on-the-ground experience allows today’s professionals to predict fire behavior with a great degree of accuracy, largely mitigating many of these risks when prescribed burns are conducted responsibly and setting the stage for these user-friendly liability standards.
CSF continues to support the use of prescribed fire and similar practices that benefit wildlife habitat and overall ecosystem health, and we encourage states to work with stakeholders to identify and remove barriers to the use of these important practices.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?