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New Mexico program trains landowners on prescribed burns

  A firefighter keeps an eye on a May prescribed fire in Colorado
A firefighter keeps an eye on a May prescribed fire in Colorado

New Mexico has a new program to train private landowners to safely conduct burning operations on their properties.

Until fairly recently, landowners who conducted a burn would be liable for double damages if it escaped. But a 2021 state bill led to the creation of a prescribed burn manager program that is now up and running. Those who complete it will only be liable for actual damages if something goes awry.

“This just was an avenue to increase fire on the landscape at ease without having to worry about that civil liability,” said Brian Filip, prescribed fire coordinator for the New Mexico Forestry Division.

Many ecosystems depend on regular wildfires, and prescribed fires can return nutrients to the soil, among other benefits. They also can substantially reducethe risk of severe wildfires.

A major national wildfire policy commission recently recommended “dramatically increasing the amount of beneficial fire on our landscapes.”

“Wildfire is a natural process, and the use of fire is vital to both fire-adapted ecosystems and fire-adapted communities,” the report said. “Fires serve to reduce flammable materials that fuel undesirable high-severity wildfires, thus mitigating risk to communities and fire-adapted landscapes.”

Filip noted that efforts to educate and enable landowners to burn safely on their properties have been widespread in the southeast for some time. He added that he’s “happy to see it’s moving West.”

Filip says that some 40 students are enrolled in the pile-burning course, and 12 are enrolled in the course for wider ranging burns.

Vernon Muller, the forestry division’s resource protection bureau chief, said a lot of work went into the legislative effort behind the burn manager program, including creating a working group and bringing together key stakeholders.

“We were able to put a comprehensive report together to share with the legislative body and to educate on the values of actually introducing fire back into the landscape,” he said. “But also the values of having an established program to increase safety and awareness around conducting these types of activities.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Murphy Woodhouse