Peace of Mind for Missouri Landowners as Governor Parson Signs Prescribed Burn Act

Contact: Kent Keene, Senior Coordinator, Lower Midwestern States and Agriculture Policy

Highlights

  • On Wednesday, July 14th, Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus (GSC) Member Governor Mike Parson signed Missouri House Bill 369 (HB 369) into law.
  • HB 369, also known as the “Prescribed Burn Act,” defines liability standards for landowners and certified prescribed burn managers using prescribed fire on private lands.
  • Prescribed fire is one of the most efficient and cost-effective tools for managing and restoring wildlife habitat and maximizing biodiversity.
  • Liability concerns are a major reason that many landowners are hesitant to use prescribed fire. HB 369 puts many of these concerns to rest by defining liability standards that protect responsible landowners and certified prescribed burn managers.

Why it matters: Throughout much of the United States, fire has historically played an important role in shaping ecosystems, and the wildlife that inhabit them. However, land use changes and fire suppression efforts throughout the 20th century have resulted in the near extirpation of fire from many landscapes. Today, land managers understand that prescribed fire can be used to achieve land management goals in many parts of the country, but concerns among private landowners, including fears related to liability, continue to inhibit the widespread adoption of this critical practice. MO HB 369 defines liability standards in Missouri in a manner that protects landowners who use prescribed fire responsibly, an important step toward normalizing the use of this practice.

After years of being one of but a handful of states – the rest being in New England – that lacked defined liability standards, Missouri landowners interested in using prescribed fire can breathe a sigh of relief. After being a long-standing priority for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and members of the sporting conservation community, Missouri’s Prescribed Burn Act (House Bill 369) was signed into law by Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Governor Mike Parson on July 14.

The Prescribed Burn Act portion of HB 369 protects landowners and certified prescribed burn managers from liability for damages resulting from the use of prescribed fire unless the responsible party is determined to have been negligent. HB 369’s negligence standards, as opposed to strict liability standards that hold the landowner liable for any and all damage, adds a degree of protection against accidents while maintaining a set of guidelines that landowners and managers must follow to burn responsibly. While the use of prescribed fire does carry certain unavoidable risks, the provisions of HB 369 take steps to minimize these risks for the benefit of both the landowner and the general public.

In support of HB 369, its counterpart SB 301, and its predecessors in 2020, CSF highlighted the benefits of prescribed fire and the need for clearly defined liability standards. For sportsmen and women, fire is a critical tool to manage plant communities that provide critical habitat to game species like white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and northern bobwhite (quail). However, these benefits are not limited to game species. Many State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs), largely regarded as state biodiversity conservation roadmaps, even mention increasing the use of prescribed fire as a necessary practice for improving wildlife habitat and increasing biodiversity. Likewise, CSF pointed to the role of prescribed fire in improving forest health and contributing to efforts to reduce the risk of wildfires by decreasing fuel levels on the forest floor.

CSF supports the use of prescribed fire and similar practices that benefit wildlife habitat and overall ecosystem health. Likewise, we encourage states to work with stakeholders to identify and remove barriers to the use of these important practices.

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