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Forest Service’s proposed changes to prescribed fire regulations are causing a stir

Forest Service’s proposed changes to prescribed fire regulations are causing a stir

Forest Service resumes prescribed fire program, but some fear new rules will delay projects

by Kale Williams

By Kale Williams

March 3rd, 2017

The U.S. Forest Service’s proposed revisions to existing regulations on prescribed fire are being met with a mix of skepticism and enthusiasm.

The agency’s proposal would give fire managers the discretion to make fire decisions based on the size of the fire, the extent of the fire’s spread, and other factors. The new plan also would eliminate the requirement that all fire managers submit a fire plan, and instead allow a fire chief to do so if he or she determines it’s necessary.

The proposal is scheduled for public comment through April 12, and the Forest Service plans to issue its final version of the regs in late summer or early fall.

But critics of the proposal say the change is a big one. They say it creates opportunities for forest managers to delay some fire work if they want, and they say the change could make planning projects that require fire under difficult.

“If they want to wait until the next fire plan cycle to do this work, that will certainly create an opportunity for forest managers who don’t have a fire plan to stall projects,” said Tom Miller, managing director of the Alaska Conservation Fund.

Miller was not at Monday’s hearing. He was at Monday’s press briefing in Fairbanks.

The changes to the regs have sparked a debate among forest managers and Alaska’s congressional delegation, which voted last month to give Forest Service plans for prescribed burned land back to the agency. Two groups have spent a combined total of nearly $1.8 million to advocate for the changes.

The first public hearing was held March 1 at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Office Building in Fairbanks. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-

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