Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Bills Aim to Ease Prescribed Burns to Prevent Wildfires

Mose Buchele

Larry Joe Doherty on his ranch, where he use prescribed burning. If passed, two bills could make this practice easier.

Two bills promoting responsible prescribed burning received a public hearing in the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee Wednesday morning.

Both bills would indirectly influence the ease with which landowners could use this wildfire prevention technique on their land.

SB 702 by state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, would establish standards for prescribed burners, as well as training, education and insurance for those doing the prescribed burning.

The bill received support from witnesses from the City of Austin and the Texas Forestry Association.

Another bill, SB 764, from state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, limits the liability from prescribed burning on government-owned agricultural lands. This would make it easier for the government to use the practice, even under a burn ban.

State Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, introduced the bill on behalf of Sen. Watson. He says a lot of work has ben done to help prevent wildfires in rural areas, but more still has to be done to safeguard more densely-populated areas.

“[This bill] addresses that shortfall by allowing counties to self-insure,” he says. “Prescribed burns are one of the preferred ways to prevent wildfires and this just deals with the insurance aspects of that.”

That bill also received support from the City of Austin and the Texas Forestry Association.

Advocates of prescribed burning say burning off dry grass can help prevent wildfires by taking away the fire’s fuel.

Larry Joe Doherty, the president of the Prescribed Burn Alliance of Texas, told StateImpact Texas last year why he became a supporter of the practice.

“It takes three things for a wildfire to start,” Doherty says, “Oxygen, ignition and fuel, and if any one of those three are missing, you’re not going to have a fire!”

Both bills passed through Senate Committees with unanimous votes. but were left pending in the House Committee today.

Olivia Gordon is a reporting intern with StateImpact Texas.


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