The North & Central Florida Prescribed Councils and the South Georgia Prescribed Fire Council have taken the lead the past several years networking prescribed fire managers in the Southeastern United States. Other states around the country are beginning to follow their lead. On October 20, 2015 I attended the North Florida Prescribed Fire Council in an attempt to catch up on recent developments in fire ecology and fire management.
The Southeastern United States has been a leader in the use of prescribed fire while the rest of the nation lags behind, especially the Western United States, where fire exclusion for decades has resulted in increasingly huge catastrophic wildfires Catastrophic wildfires in the West are due to increasing fuel loads caused by light fire exclusion that periodically wipes the forest floor clean of debris and increases ecosystem health in light fire ecosystems.
There are many obstacles to the use of prescribed fire in both public and private forests, savannas, and prairies. In this article I would like to concentrate on the problem of increasing prescribed fire liability and regulation in the southeast region of the United States. This region is comprised of many private forests and plantation lands that have historically led the nation in the use of prescribed fire for ecosystem health and forest income.
In particular I want to point out that while public land managers are paid for regulation compliance and have their liability costs paid for by the taxpayer, the private landowner and companies that use prescribed fire on private lands have to pay out of pocket. In effect private landowners and private land managers are subject to a double standard having to deal with rising costs associated with regulation and liability compared to public land management agencies.
This issue an increasing regulation and liability was brought home to me by a panel discussion at the North Florida Prescribed Fire Council annual meeting called RX Fire Escapes and Insurance Ramifications moderated by Doug Williams. The panel consisted of Donnie Johnson North Florida Forestry Services, Matt Walker Southern Forestry Consultants Inc. and Lamar Monroe Monroe Forest and Wildlife Management. These individuals do a lot of prescribed burning so ultimately over the years they are bound to make a mistake and have a fire get out of control. They talked about their experiences fielding questions from over 200 people attending the Council meeting in Tallahassee Florida.
These land management companies that use prescribed fire have seen their prescribed fire liability and regulation cost skyrocket the past few years to the extent that some individuals have had to think about getting out of the prescribed fire business. They even have had to take fire out of their company names because insurance companies would increase their rates based just on the name.
Insurance costs are rising for several reasons, high among them being the fire suppression costs charged by the Forest Service if a fire gets away or lawsuits that are either frivolous or unfounded charged to scam insurance companies. Private landowners and companies are liable if just a puff of smoke is claimed to have caused a car crash on a highway.
These men cited horror stories that they had experienced that were driving their insurance rates to rise to sky high levels. One was where a private landowner cut his timber after a normal burn claiming that the fire damaged his timber and sued for land preparation and planting costs as well as lost revenue from timber growth. Another had people threating to sue because they left the windows open in their houses at night and claimed their need to replace the furnishings. Another was where a greenhouse owner said their smoke caused orchids to flower at the wrong time.
Conservationists and land owners need to take this insurance liability and increased regulation costs seriously if they want to better managed private forests and ecosystems in light fire environments. Prescribed fire cuts wildfire costs dramatically for the taxpayer so public forest services should not be charging for fire suppression costs. Liability burdens should also be shouldered by the taxpayer at least to some degree to protect ecosystems and prevent wildfire on private lands. Let's end this double standard between public land management agencies and private landowners and companies that use prescribed fire to properly maintain the nation's forests and the ecosystems.
Ed Komarek is a writer
and author living near Cairo Georgia who writes books on diverse subjects of
national and international interest including the book Fire In Nature, A Fire
Activist's Guide. His other two books
are UFOs Exopolitics and the New World Disorder and Enlightenment: The Long Hard Road (From Shamanism to
Consciousness Science), His three books are free to read on their websites
accessed through his portal website. http://komarek.weebly.com/