Land managers across the country often have four primary reasons why they do not use prescribed fire which are: liability, limited training or experience with fire, the need for labor, and lack of equipment. All of these reasons can be addressed by forming or joining a prescribed burning association.
A prescribed burn association is where a group of landowners form a partnership in an area to pool their labor and equipment to conduct prescribed burns on each other’s land. If there is not a burn association nearby, the best way to form one is to call a meeting of interested people and involve key members of the community (landowners, lessees, cooperative extension, state and federal land management agencies, and local fire departments). Next, pick a leader. This should be a local land owner/manager because this should be a locally led grass roots organization. Then determine the area of operation of the association, which can be an entire county, multiple counties or just focused around a community. Next, set some goals and work to achieve them. Many burn associations have been able to receive grants to purchase equipment and pay for training opportunities.
Currently there are 53 prescribed burn associations across the nation in eight states. These locally-led associations are safely and effectively using prescribed fire to manage their lands, not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of all the people around them. For more information about forming prescribed burn associations’ check out the following publications:
Prescribed Fire Associations http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-2819/NREM-2880web.pdf
Prescribed Burning Associations in Texas http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_br_w7000_1019.pdf
The vision for statewide burn association came from results of a series of statewide meetings and surveys filled out by landowners. One of the main questions the survey asked was if landowners would like a statewide organization to assist with finding affordable prescribed fire liability insurance. The response was overwhelming, with over 900 people attending the meetings across the state, and filling out over 500 surveys.
From this, the OPBA was started with a board of directors developing and approving bylaws and an operating handbook. They have also set up OPBA to operate as a 501(3)c not-for-profit organization. The most important activities the group has undertaken is applying for grants and soliciting other groups for funds to provide OPBA and its associated PBA’s with an executive director to oversee operations, funding for training, equipment, and other educational programs. The Oklahoma chapter of The Nature Conservancy was the first to assist by providing funding to allow OPBA to begin operations. Further, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, through a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners Program, and the Oklahoma NRCS has provided funds for training of local prescribed burn association members and the development of an online training course. Recently, the Noble Foundation has offered to provide a large donation to OPBA through in-kind services, which will greatly enhance its operation.
OPBA has also been working with other groups, as well as an insurance broker from Oklahoma, to find and provide PBA’s with effective and affordable prescribed fire liability insurance. This has proven to be a challenge, but one that the OPBA members and partners believe can be overcome through this statewide alliance. This activity has also caught the attention of neighboring states that are closely watching Oklahoma’s statewide effort. Thus, OPBA members recently took part in a regional meeting to determine if there was a need for states to work with each other on prescribed fire issues. This meeting showed that all the states had very similar problems and issues, and that working together may be the best way to overcome obstacles that make implementing prescribed fire difficult. Also, the establishment of a regional group could make prescribed fire liability insurance more cost effective for all groups involved. The OPBA is going to continue to pursue funds to solidify its existence and work to promote prescribed fire in Oklahoma and the region. The need for statewide organization to bring all the burn associations together and assist them with training and finding equipment is very important and OPBA will work to help Oklahoma’s landowners achieve their land management goals.