A new bill from activists in the Florida Legislature would handicap Florida’s prescribed burning program, putting our state, our homes, and our people at great risk.
Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, proposed SB 1102 and HB 6085 this legislative session to strip protections from last year’s Right to Farm Act. Their proposal could weaken or eliminate one of the state’s most successful land management programs when it comes to protecting our people and environment.
Prescribed burning is an important tool for foresters and forester landowners to manage and care for the land. Prescribed fire helps reduce the spread of some forest diseases and can help slow the spread of some invasive species. It provides nutrients back into the soil, allowing for the healthy growth of plants and trees. It also protects habitats for endangered species.
Not only does prescribed burning benefit the environment, but it also protects our residents. Without regular controlled fires, trees get stressed by overcrowding, and flammable vegetation continues to build up.
Prescribed burning reduces the buildup of fuels that contribute to uncontrolled wildfires so that when wildfires inevitably occur, they burn with less intensity, reduced spread and fewer smoke impacts on communities and firefighters.
Prescribed burning also contributes to better air quality. In both the updating of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for PM 2.5 (81 CFR 164, pg. 58010) and the updating of the Exceptional Events Rule (81 CFR 191, pg. 68216), the EPA clearly documents the role of wildfire as an emissions source and the relevance of prescribed fire use and fuels management to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire.
Florida’s prescribed burn program is highly regulated and closely monitored. The Florida Forest Service Certified Prescribed Burn Manager program educates prescribed fire practitioners regarding their legal and good-neighbor responsibilities along with basic information on fire behavior, smoke management and other topics.
The Florida Forest Service, in partnership with DEP, uses 185 ambient monitors at 95 monitoring sites to measure environmental air quality before authorizing burns. The use of weather forecasts and sophisticated smoke models determine the best days to conduct a burn while minimizing impacts from prescribed fire emissions.
Florida has earned national recognition for its prescribed burning program. Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency have acknowledged the effectiveness of the program in managing the land, protecting the people and improving our air quality.
Last year, the Florida Legislature passed a bill to strengthen Florida’s Right to Farm Act. Importantly, this law enables the Florida Forest Service and forest landowners to continue to use prescribed burning to manage and care for their land.
This law earned overwhelming support in both the Florida House and Florida Senate. The Governor signed the measure into law. Now, Senator Farmer and Representative Eskamani want to undo last year’s work to limit or discontinue prescribed fire. The consequences of such actions would be dire for our state.
Science and experience prove that discontinuing prescribed burns will perpetuate conditions that generate catastrophic air quality issues and put communities and individuals at risk. Fuel will build up to the point where eventually wildfires become unmanageable under initial attack.
We’ve seen this destruction and tragic loss of life in other states like Colorado, Arizona and California, where prescribed burning is infrequently used as a tool to manage their lands.
We urge the Florida Legislature to oppose SB 1102 and HB 6085. These measures will pose extreme harm to our state.
Jim Karels retired in 2020 as Florida’s State Forester after 35 years with the agency. He also served as the President of the National Association of State Foresters (NASF) and the Chairman of the NASF Wildland Fire Committee.
Alan Shelby is the executive vice president of the Florida Forestry Association.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: New bill to eliminate Florida’s prescribed burn program poses great harm to our state | Opinion