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ARS Home » Plains Area » Mandan, North Dakota » Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #293344

Research Project: New Technologies to Enhance Sustainability of Northern Great Plains Grasslands

Location: Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory

Title: The role of prescribed burn associations in the application of prescribed fires in rangeland ecosystems

item Toledo, David
item KREUTER, URS - Texas A&M University
item SORICE, MICHAEL - Virginia Polytechnic Institution & State University
item TAYLOR, CHARLES - Texas A&M Agrilife

Submitted to: Journal of Environmental Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/25/2013
Publication Date: 12/12/2013
Publication URL:
Citation: Toledo, D.N., Kreuter, U.P., Sorice, M.G., Taylor, C.A. 2013. The role of prescribed burn associations in the application of prescribed fires in rangeland ecosystems. Journal of Environmental Management. 132:323-328.

Interpretive Summary: Risk and liability concerns regarding fire affect people’s attitudes towards fire and have led to human-induced alterations of fire regimes. This has, in turn, contributed to brush encroachment and degradation of many grasslands and savannas. Efforts to successfully restore such degraded ecosystems at the landscape scale in regions of the United States with high proportions of private lands require the reintroduction of fire. Prescribed Burn Associations (PBA) provide training, equipment, and labor to apply fire safely, facilitating the application of this rangeland management tool and thereby reducing the associated risk. PBAs help build networks and social capital among landowners who are interested in using fire. They can also change attitudes towards fire and enhance the social acceptability of using prescribed fire as a management practice. PBAs are an effective mechanism for promoting the widespread use of prescribed fire to restore and maintain the biophysical integrity of grasslands and savannas at the landscape scale. We report findings of a project aimed at determining the human dimensions of using prescribed fire to control woody plant encroachment in three different eco-regions of Texas. Specifically, we examine membership in PBAs as it relates to land manager decisions regarding the use of prescribed fire. Perceived risk has previously been identified as a key factor inhibiting the use of prescribed fire by landowners. Our results show that perceived constraints, due to lack of skill, knowledge, and access to equipment and membership in a PBAs are more important factors than risk perceptions in affecting landowner decisions about the use of fire. This emphasizes the potential for PBAs to reduce risk perceptions regarding the application of prescribed fire and, therefore, their importance for restoring brush-encroached grasslands and savannas.

Technical Abstract: Although the ecological thresholds for restoring fire-adapted ecosystems back to their original state are better understood than in the past, the key hurdle to reintroducing historical fire regimes at landscape scales is a social one. The objectives of this study were to assess the human dimensions of prescribed fire and evaluate the role of Prescribed Burn Associations (PBAs) in promoting the adoption of prescribed fire at the landscape scale. The study was conducted in 12 counties in Texas, consisting of clusters of four counties in each of three ecoregions. A self-administered questionnaire was mailed to 1187 landowners to gather information regarding landowner attitudes and perceptions towards the use of prescribed fire as a rangeland management and restoration tool. We received 585 useable responses (129 PBA-members and 456 non-members), representing an overall response rate of 49%. Most (86%) survey respondents slightly agreed to strongly agreed with the use of prescribed fire and most (89%) slightly agreed to strongly agreed that prescribed fire is beneficial land management tool that they would use. There are, however, significant differences between PBA member and non-member attitudes and perceptions regarding fire and actual application of prescribed fire. PBA membership was a significant explanatory variable for the application of prescribed fire at all sites. Our research suggests that PBAs can significantly reduce landowners’ risks of an intentionally ignited fire burning out of control by sharing experience, labor and equipment, which ultimately increases the potential capacity for using prescribed fire as a rangeland improvement tool at landscape, watershed and even regional scales.