ARB Amends Statewide Agricultural Burning Guidelines
SACRAMENTO – The California Air Resources Board (ARB) today amended the state's agricultural burning guidelines to reduce the public health impact of smoke from controlled burns. The amended guidelines will focus on improved coordination among government agencies and better communication with farmers, ranchers, forest land managers and others who need to burn.
ARB Executive Officer Michael P. Kenny said, "ARB staff have worked with land managers, local air districts and the public to make every effort to minimize smoke impacts during open burning."
The guidelines are modeled on the Sacramento Valley Agricultural Burning Plan, which relies on weather forecasting and local burn permits issued to rice farmers. Local air districts in the Sacramento Valley have successfully controlled who will burn and when, depending on weather conditions and the need to burn. This permitting process helps assure minimum health effects from agricultural burns. Today's Board action extends that model to all California air districts and includes prescribed burning, one of the ways land is managed to prevent wildfires and promote forest and wildland health.
Agricultural burning refers to the intentional use of fire for vegetation management ; both in agricultural settings, such as fields and orchards, as well as in wildlands, including rangeland and forests. Revisions to the burning requirements cover growers who burn agricultural waste and land managers who use prescribed burning on rangelands and in forests.
Land managers asked for revised guidelines that enable more prescribed burns to protect Californians from catastrophic wildfires, property loss and life-threatening emergencies. Prescribed burning promotes forest and wildland health while reducing the threat of wildfires from accumulated undergrowth. In 1998 about 200,000 acres of forest and wildlands were treated using prescribed burning. Land managers project that 340,000 acres will be burned in 2003 due to a dangerous accumulation of combustible fuel. Prescribed burners in California include the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the military, private land owners and others. With 80,000 acres, the U.S. Forest Service treated the most land in 1998.
The guidelines include a provision that those burning make every reasonable effort to reduce the amount of fuel burned. Clearing brush, incorporating and composting agricultural waste or using other means of reducing fuel helps reduce smoke.
Today's action followed 15 public workshops with key land management agencies, private land owners and local air districts as well as numerous written comments. Over 500 people attended these workshops and the Board held 23 separate meetings via conference calls and in person in order to make sure all concerns about the revised guidelines were considered.