A gross negligence standard ... brings the risk profile of prescribed fire back into balance. By reducing the uncertainty that comes with a simple negligence standard, the gross negligence lowers the perceived risk. And because a change like this would represent a statewide vote of confidence for the importance of prescribed fire, it would also elevate its acceptable risk. Other efforts to support prescribed fire (like development of insurance options) may be helpful, but they don’t have the rebalancing power of a changed liability standard. [Changing the liability standard] is the most direct route to changing the comfort and culture around prescribed fire (Quinn- Davidson, 2021).
States with a “gross negligence” standard typically require burners to be certified to be eligible for being held to that standard. There has been an attempt to create such a certification in Oregon, but it hasn’t gotten off the ground. In 1999, the Oregon State legislature passed a bill (ORS 526.360) approving a Certified Burn Manager (CBM) program as the first step toward raising the state’s liability threshold and promoting prescribed fire use through education and certification. However, the bill was never funded and therefore not implemented. In 2002, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) wrote a draft of a training course. Unfortunately, the draft course has been sitting on the shelf for the past nineteen years. Members of the Oregon Prescribed Fire Council (OPFC) agree that the CBM program should be implemented, and legislation passed in Oregon’s 2021 legislative session calls for studying liability for prescribed fires ( HB 2571) and requires the state Board of Forestry to initiate rulemaking to encourage cross-boundary burning and the establishment of a CBM program (SB 762).
We asked members of the National Extension Wildfire Initiative (NEWFI), part of the Association for Natural Resources Extension Professionals, about the barriers to using prescribed fire as a land management tool in their states. The word cloud to the right captures what they had to say. The Fire Program team believes that the key to eliminating barriers is not only a revised legal standard but more robust,
consistent education and training in the use of this highly effective tool. Proper prescribed fire education and training could help alleviate fear of fire and would “promote professional development in fire; foster collaboration, learning, and network building; and provide flexible opportunities, with an emphasis on local context to train a variety of professionals and landowners with disparate needs” (Spencer et al., 2015). You’ll read about our work to create this education and training in the next section.
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