Prescription Burn Bosses in New Mexico get a major legislative win!

Being a burn boss is not an easy task. The number of variables they must take into consideration when planning a burn are many, and can sometimes take months to plan, which is why many ranchers, farmers, and big landowners forego hiring professional burn bosses to administer burns on their properties. Hiring a professional burn boss can be expensive and for good reason. The insurance alone can cost burn bosses in excess of $50,000 for a single general liability policy, and that policy can be subject to a go-no-go approval from the insurance company on the actual day of the burn. That’s right, an insurance company that has zero boots-on-the-ground experience actually burning can make a decision to deny coverage on the day of the burn if they want to. Whereas a farmer can have a burn endorsement added to their general liability policy for a couple thousand dollars.

Professional Burn Bosses are in a tough position but the state of New Mexico has just offered up a major win for these conductors of “the show.” New Mexico House Bill 57 introduces “The Prescribed Burning Act,” which will allow private landowners to conduct prescribed burns, provide for prescribed burn permits, limit civil liability, institute a prescribed burn manager certification process, and expand the uses of the Forest Land Protection Revolving Fund.

Why have the “Prescribed Burning Act”? Prescribed burning is considered to be in the public interest, and is not considered to be a nuisance to the public, and it has proven to be a valuable wildfire mitigation technique. In 2020, the Medio Fire was threatening to impact the Santa Fe Ski Basin but was stopped because of the work that burn practitioners had performed the year before.

The act encourages the responsible use of fire as a tool. A qualified burn boss takes on financial responsibility whenever they perform a burn. This act doubles the financial penalty for damages created by a non-qualified burn boss, or landowner. This incentivizes burn practitioners to get trained before putting any fire on the ground.

Furthermore, ecosystems require regular fires to stay healthy, but decades of fire suppression have stifled the process, leaving our forests, woodlands, and watersheds open to a range of ecological and human threats. Low-intensity fire improves soil fertility by converting nutrients bound up in the tissues and surfaces of decayed plants into more accessible forms. This recycling effect increases mineralization rates by influencing soil microorganisms. The endangered Pecos sunflower in New Mexico is a good example of a plant that relies on this process for survival. There are numerous advantages of prescribed burns some are listed below.

Reducing hazardous fuels lessens the risk of devastating wildfires affecting watersheds and communities.

Minimizes the spread of harmful insects and diseases. Encourages new growth of native vegetation. Fire is a low-cost, fast way to dispose of the woody debris that is left over from the cutting projects.

It costs less than $200 per acre for a federal agency to perform a prescription burn. Clearcutting trees can cost $500-$2,000 per acre, while suppression of a forest fire costs up to, $100,000-$1 million + a day, depending on circumstances.

Follow this link if you’d like to take a look at New Mexico House Bill 57 for yourself.

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