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Fall is the Time to Plan for Fire: Part 2 of 3

November 1, 2016

Part 1 of this series dealt with the overall considerations for burn unit design and preparation. Here we discuss the overall burn planning process.

Goals & Objectives
It is important that fire not be planned as ‘fire for the sake of fire’. Goals and objectives are critical to understanding where, when, and how to accomplish the fire project. An example of appropriate goals and objectives would be a pasture burn where one is targeting control of cedar trees. The management goal may be to reclaim 30% of the pasture area lost to cedar trees while the burn objective may be to kill all cedar trees under 3 ft. tall. Goals and objectives do not have to be perfect, but they are an important part of the process in order to plan the appropriate fire timing and weather conditions that will meet these needs. For instance, with the goals and objectives stated above, one may need to consider warm, dry early spring conditions. Similarly, if the goal is to burn 30% of a planted grass habitat that is not encumbered with a simple objective of consuming 50% of the dead grass, this can be accomplished under much different weather and timing conditions than the cedar burn, such as late May when the fire is more controllable. Seek outside assistance from local experts or experienced neighbors when planning goals and objectives.

Land ‘Type’
First, it is very important to understand well the ‘type’ of land you intend to burn. Generally, grassland burns fall into two major categories, land that is encumbered by an agreement, easement or contract, and land that is not. We will also discuss burn objectives in this article.

Encumbered Land
When planning a burn, it is important to know if the land is encumbered by any other type of agreement, written or oral, that would suggest another entity has an interest or say in the management decisions. Examples of encumbrance may include, but are not limited to: leases (written or oral), share agreements, USDA management contracts (such as CRP, EQIP, WRP, CSP, etc.), easements, or any other such agreement where a second or third party has some ‘rights’ to the management. If encumbrances are present, it is important to begin discussions with the affected parties very early in the burn planning process to ensure all are in agreement with the management action, and that any permits or plans are properly documented.
Generally, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a common program where prescribed burning is utilized for specific management objectives. Fall is the time to make local USDA Service centers aware of burn plans on CRP, especially if one desires to seek USDA financial or planning assistance. Waiting until the last minute generally creates delays and unnecessary stress on the parties involved. The CRP is a USDA FSA program with practices administered through NRCS. Fire plans generally need county committee approval. There are a few steps one should be aware of for prescribed fire:

  • Prescribed burning must be written into the conservation plan. Burning can be added to conservation plans, but now is the time to start that process.
  • Burning must be within the establishment or mid-term management designated years.
  • Electronic and paper copies of the approved South Dakota NRCS/FSA fire plan with instructions are available through local USDA service centers. Plans are also available to download at the SD NRCS range and pasture page.
  • Fire planning assistance is available through trained staff at many USDA service centers.
  • CRP burns must be completed prior to May 1. Pasture burns should be conducted in May in most cases.

Other USDA contract lands, US Fish and Wildlife Service Easements, or other encumbered properties may require similar notifications and permissions. It is likely that in some cases, encumbered lands may require an archeological assessment and may have certain periods of the year where fire is or is not allowed, such as the primary bird nesting season. Again, to ensure a timely fire project starting the process early is important.

Unencumbered Land
Generally, this category would include properties that are owned in fee title and do not have any other secondary relationship. A great example is a typical pasture owned and operated by an individual with no contracts or easements. In this case, the landowner need not receive outside permission and can burn this land whenever weather conditions are conducive to the prescribed goals or objectives of the fire. Landowners who lease land to others generally would not need any type of permission from their lessee. However, including your lessee in your management plans ensures that both parties are involved in cooperative planning and goal setting for the health of the pasture.

Planning & Implementation Assistance

Burn Plan
Visit the South Dakota NRCS range and pasture page to view instructional materials related to prescribed burning, including the South Dakota burn plan template.

Instructions & Courses
SDSU Extension, NRCS, Pheasants Forever, and other partners will once again be hosting free 1-day introductory fire courses in various locations during spring 2017. Take advantage of this opportunity to become more familiar with burn planning, tools, techniques, and rules. If you’d like to be placed on the notification list for spring 2017 fire classes, please call Jan at 605-882-5140 and request your name be put on the list.

Cost Share

Cost share funding may be available for those who have encumbered land. Commonly, cost share is part of a USDA program conservation plan if burning is part of it. Cost share funds can be used to reimburse fire departments or private burn contractors for their services. Take advantage of late fall and early winter to notify local fire department of burn intentions, especially if you intend to ask for their assistance and to coordinate any cost share paperwork that may be necessary.

Safety & Liability
Always notify the sheriff, area fire departments, and neighbors of your intentions and keep them posted as the burn project progresses from planning to implementation. It is generally advisable to notify your insurance company if you intend to participate in fire activities.

Source: Pete Bauman, South Dakota State University