Writing a Burn Plan
Prescribed fire in Nebraska is regulated by the state legislature. You must file an application for a burn permit and a written burn plan that includes the items outlined in Chapter 81 Section 520.05. The local fire chief evaluates each plan and issues a burn permit if it complies with Nebraska’s burn plan requirements and the fire chief determines that the controlled burn plan would be conducted with due regard for the safety of people and property.
If you plan to burn CRP land, ensure this activity is scheduled in your plan of operations and allow time for approval from your FSA office prior to conducting your prescribed fire. Additionally, burn plans will be and prepared for each site following Prescribed Burn Design Procedures (338DP) and recorded using the NRCS Burn Plan Template (NE-ECS-72). Pheasants Forever wildlife biologists with appropriate job approval authority may be able to assist you in preparing a written burn plan.
Here are a few useful resources to help with planning and implementing a prescribed fire:
Firebreaks delineate burn unit boundaries and help to confine prescribed fires while protecting people and property outside of burning areas. Permanent features such as roadways and rivers make excellent firebreaks. Temporary firebreaks can be established by disking, haying, or mowing around a burn unit. The minimum width of a firebreak depends on the fuel type you plan to burn. As a general rule, firebreaks need to be at least twice as wide as the height of adjacent vegetation. We recommend firebreaks that are ten times as wide. For example, a 50 to 60-foot firebreak would be appropriate for burning a stand of big bluestem or switchgrass.
Wildlife managers can also use firebreaks and burn rotation to strategically diversify the landscape while ensuring undisturbed vegetation is available for refuge and nesting cover. Disked firebreaks serve a dual purpose when planted to annual food plots or early-successional plants establish from the seed bank. Sunflower, ragweed, croton and bare ground provide key habitat requirements for attracting mourning doves and quail. If you are worried about weeds or erosion, consider using green firebreaks. In non-burn years, a simple legume planting of alfalfa and clovers provides attractive cover for pheasants, quail, and pollinators as well as green browse for deer and turkey. Contact Pheasants Forever if you need assistance with a firebreak design or seed mix.
Equipment that is used for prescribed burning can be expensive for just one landowner to purchase. Thanks to Nebraska Environmental Trust grants, prescribed burn associations have access to mobile trailers with all of the necessary equipment and protective gear for members to conduct safe and effective prescribed burns.
Burning with Purpose
People often ask “when is the best time to burn?” The answer depends on land management goals and objectives. In other words, why are you burning and what are you trying to accomplish with prescribed fire? A typical scenario is burning a grassland CRP field to satisfy mid-contract management requirements. That’s a reasonable short-term objective but it lacks clarifying details. In the NRCS Conservation Planning process, objectives are described as desired future conditions, which are defined in quantitative and/or qualitative terms as the ecological, economic, and social conditions we want to reach, at some point in the future. For example, a short-term objective may be to remove 90% of the accumulated dead standing vegetation and ground thatch so that there is adequate bare ground to successfully interseed legumes. Use before-and-after photos, seeding evaluations, and other methods to help evaluate whether prescribed burning met the desired objectives.
All burn plans must include the land-management objective to be accomplished and the types and conditions of the vegetative matter to be burned on the land and in adjacent areas. For reference, the Prescribed Burning Design Procedures includes different burn plan designs, such as burning for eastern redcedar control.
Fire Effects and Interactions
Objectives can also help determine what conditions may be needed or avoided to work towards desired future outcomes because fire (or the absence of fire) does not impact plant species equally. Understand that the timing, intensity, and frequency of fires produce different outcomes. Fire consumes dead and living plant material, which impacts vegetation composition, patterns, stand structure, and other plant community dynamics. Prescribed burning can benefit plant species that are well-adapted to fire, while suppressing plant species that are poorly-adapted. Fire is part of an ongoing ecological process and one burn does not usually achieve all management goals. Land managers may need to integrate other management tactics such as interseeding, grazing, or spraying to maximize use of naturally occurring processes. Without fire, the accumulation of dead vegetation and woody encroachment degrade grassland quality.
Most prescribed fire activity occurs in spring. In general, early-spring burns favor dominance of cool-season species and late-spring burns favor warm-season dominance. To increase forb diversity and cover, consider setting back warm-season grasses with growing season burns in summer or early-fall. For more information, use the Fire Effects Information System to find research studies and scientific reviews of fire effects on plant species and communities.