How Western States Can Encourage Prescribed Fire on Private Lands

Jan 17, 2023

Burn Back Better: How Western States Can Encourage Prescribed Fire on Private Lands provides an analysis of western state policies and focused recommendations to help increase private lands prescribed fire. Released in January 2023, the report is a collaboration between the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), the national leader in creating market solutions for conservation, and Tall Timbers.

Much of the wildfire debate understandably focuses on the role of federal lands, which make up a majority of forested acres in many western states. But expanding the use of prescribed fire on state, private, and tribal land would have significant benefits for forest resilience, community protection, and environmental conservation. State policymakers and private land managers may be able to ramp up the use of prescribed fire more quickly than the federal government.

Informed by a workshop featuring leading prescribed fire experts from across the West, this report is the most comprehensive analysis of prescribed fire policy in the 11 western states, with a focus on state-level policies affecting the use of prescribed fire on private lands. It analyzes in detail the most significant obstacles to prescribed fire in the West, describes western states’ recent progress on these fronts, and proposes reforms that could unleash private landowners and entrepreneurs to scale up prescribed fire. Below is a summary of the report’s key topics and recommendations. Each topic is analyzed in the report with more detailed recommendations for how these reforms could be implemented.


  1. Improve permitting systems to remove bureaucratic obstacles to prescribed burning.
  2. Develop more flexible approaches to setting “burn days” in which different types of prescribed fires can be implemented.
  3. Design training opportunities and other resources to educate and support, rather than regulate, landowners’ use of prescribed fire.
  4. Clarify and improve liability regimes to reflect the public benefits of prescribed fire.
  5. Harness private investment to benefit forest health through catastrophe bonds.

Access the report directly.

From Burn Back Better: The aftermath of the 2021 Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon demonstrated the benefits of prescribed fire. Areas that had been both mechanically thinned and treated with prescribed fire were far more resilient than areas that had either been unmanged or only thinned.

About the Author
Morgan Varner
As director of research at Tall Timbers, Morgan coordinates research efforts including fire science, rare species, and game bird management. His research interests include biodiversity conservation and how management activities promote or diminish ecological function. Morgan also guides non-research programs in prescribed fire training and private lands prescribed fire implementation, and he serves as a policy resource for elected officials.
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