This is What a “Prescribed Burn” Looks Like
Back in the spring of 2009, I took a daytrip down to south jersey to spend the day rambling around.
I happened upon a “prescribed burn”Â that had gotten out of control and wrote about it briefly, withÂ more photos here.
The so called “control burn” fire, which I assume was done for agricultural purposes, created a small wildfire that had several negative consequences.Â
ItÂ requiredÂ emergency police and firefighter response, caused air pollution, threatened nearby farms and residential buildings, and potentially destoyed important ecological values, like habitat.Â Â
So, while I am aware of the naturalÂ and necessary role of fire in ecological dynamics, especially in Pinelands forests,Â today I was somewhat surprised to listen to some environmentalists unconditionallyÂ support a bill that would promote and loosen protections on “prescribed burns”. The bill wouldÂ (See:Â S2169):
- make prescribed burns a “property right”
- put the NJ Forest Fire Service in complete control of the prescribed burn program with no mandatory safeguards and littleÂ public accountability
- fails to include technicalÂ requirements and public review ofÂ “prescribed burn plans”, such asÂ surveys or safeguards to protectÂ habitat,Â forests, threatened or endangered species,Â air or water quality, minimizeÂ safety risks or nuisance effects, or involve nearby property owners
- prescribed burn would be deemed to be in the public interest, would not constitute arson, trespass, or a public or private nuisance, and would not be considered to be illegal air pollution.
- eliminatesÂ any liability for damages caused by prescribed burns on private lands
Fire risks to the public and private property are largely caused by inappropriate development at the forest edge (and don’t forgetÂ that the “Tree Massacre” was justified by some at DEP as a fire prevention measure).
A prescribed burn program gives a false sense of assurance that fireÂ risks can be managed, thus inviting more inappropriate deveopment in fire risk zone, like Pinelands forests.
There is also potential risks for prescribed burn to do real harms – and even if done safely, thereÂ are competing objectives at play.
As such, balancing risks andÂ policy calls should not be made byÂ the NJ Forest Fire Service without public involvement and clear legislatively established standards to safeguard against unintended consequences and risk to public safety, private property,Â and ecological resources.
And eliminationÂ of liability fro damages or injuries caused by “prescribed burns” invites a lower standard of care and raises risks – what is known asÂ “moral hazard.
It is not good public policy to pass such a bill.
The environmental groups supporting the bill were acting more in their own interests as private landowners seeking to avoid public accountability and liability, than stewards of the public interest.