External Relations

External Relations Committee

Chair: Gary Werner, Ice Age Trail Alliance 

For more information on our External Relations committee, or to join the committee, please contact Gary Werner. Participation in the committee is open to any interested member of the WPFC.

Our Mission

Prescribed fire is an essential process for conserving natural plant communities in Wisconsin. Prescribed burning is an established practice among all major state and federal agencies, large nonprofit conservation organizations, private contractors and landowners who engage in ecosystem restoration and management in the state. Learn more about why we burn.

The Wisconsin Prescribed Fire Council (WPFC) strives to make the use of prescribed fire in Wisconsin safer, more effective, and more accepted for all practitioners. Read more about our mission.

The External Relations committee focuses on the following aspects of our mission:

    • Provide a unified voice representing the prescribed fire community in Wisconsin
    • Encourage cooperation among non-profit conservation organizations, government agencies, for-profit businesses and private individuals
    • Serve as a liaison between agencies and other practitioners
    • Engage partners to remove barriers to implementing more prescribed fire safely and effectively
    • Reduce the gap between the state’s fire needs and current use of prescribed fire, by promoting safe and effective prescribed burning

The WPFC has identified several barriers to implementing prescribed fire at needed scales, including current regulations and permitting. The council is willing to facilitate determination and development of a burn certification program as a means of removing barriers to implementing prescribed fire while mandating a high standard of safety, intentionality and professionalism among practitioners.

Specific desired outcomes include:

Create a more nuanced permitting system for prescribed burns in areas of agency jurisdiction Engage with agencies and partners to devise and implement a more nuanced permitting system that is supported by a burn manager certification program Safer and more effective prescribed burning for ecological outcomes.

A permitting system that distinguishes trained and experience prescribed burn practitioners from debris pile burners.

Increased professionalism among practitioners.

More prescribed burns implemented each year.

Enact legislation that reflects the current extent of prescribed fire for land management and ecosystem restoration Propose modifications of laws that are antiquated and not specific to prescribed fire Legislation that allows safe and effective use of prescribed fire.

Legislation that is compatible with a more nuanced permitting system.

Laws that are compatible with a prescribed burn certification program.

Support the development of programs that provide incentives for private landowners to engage in ecosystem restoration Explore a tax-incentive program for ecosystem restoration/conservation, with the explicit recognition that prescribed fire is essential Increased application of prescribed fire on the landscape.

Improved resilience of native plant communities on private land. Increase in ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration.

Promote professionalism in the prescribed fire community Advocate for funding.

Use funding for training and programming.

Increased safety among practitioners.

Reduced potential negative outcomes of prescribed fire.

The Wisconsin Prescribed Fire Council’s Implementation and Standards Committee has developed several documents regarding standards of fire training and fire application specific to Wisconsin.

A recent step in meeting these outcomes has been the creation of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Prescribed Fire Dashboard. Through this dashboard, you can view the specifics of any prescribed fire conducted on DNR land. You can also look at prescribed fires within specific date ranges or locations. Prescribed burn data are available from 2019 to present.

While still a work in progress, this dashboard presents many opportunities for advancing the use of prescribed fire in Wisconsin. The WPFC’s External Relations Committee has been instrumental in getting this dashboard off the ground, working directly with the WDNR to incorporate the needs of fire practitioners. Our committee is continuing to work with the WNDR to integrate additional features to this dashboard to help meet prescribed fire goals and even improve legislation in the state.

If you want to provide input on how to further improve this dashboard and assist in prescribed fire external relations, consider becoming a WPFC member and joining the External Relations Committee!

Open Burning in Wisconsin

Open burning is regulated by state law. “Open burning” is a catch-all phrase that includes debris pile burning as well as controlled burning, or prescribed burning. State regulations dictate what types of materials can be burned, and by who. State regulations also determine who has authority to create and enforce additional burning restrictions.

    • Certain types of materials can never be burned legally in the state. https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/OpenBurning/BeforeYouBurn.html
    • Commercial and government entities may be subjected to additional regulations and licensure. https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/OpenBurning/Summary.html
    • The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) has jurisdiction over open burning in specific areas of the state where the department holds (wild)fire protection responsibility. In these “intensive” and “extensive” protection areas, the department employs a permitting process for open burning. (https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/ForestFire/permits.html)
    • Incorporated cities and villages are exempt from the WDNR’s open burning permitting system.
    • In areas outside of WDNR fire protection areas, local municipalities and fire authorities have jurisdiction to regulate open burning. Some municipalities have no regulations beyond those dictated by state law. Other municipalities have local ordinances restricting open burning or may employ some form of open burning permitting system.

Wisconsin state statutes related to open burning do not distinguish between prescribed burning and other forms of burning. State regulations, therefore, are antiquated and do not reflect the current use of prescribed fire as an ecological land management tool. The council has identified opportunities for minor revisions of current laws. Although advocating for revisions, the council is not advocating for limiting the authority of agencies to perform fire suppression activities.

Wisconsin has a low degree of liability protection for open burning in the form of strict liability. Strict liability means that a person or entity is legally responsible for harm even if no negligence is found. Strict liability laws are an impediment to the prescribed fire community’s collective capacity.

What Are Other States Doing?

The 2018 National Prescribed Fire Use Survey Report is a report of states’ prescribed fire use, prepared by the National Coalition of Fire Councils in collaboration with the National Association of State Foresters.

Major findings:

    • Nationwide, the top three impediments limiting prescribed burning include weather, capacity, and air quality/smoke concerns.
    • Impediments limiting prescribed burning in the Northeast region (which includes Wisconsin) include weather, capacity, air quality, liability/insurance, and resources.
    • Generally, states that have the strictest liability correlate with the least amount of prescribed fire (some exceptions, e.g. California).
    • 23 states offer some form of prescribed burn certification program.
    • 37 states require some form of prescribed burn permit or authorization. Some states, like Wisconsin, only require a burn permit or authorization during specific times of the year or in specific regions of the state.

Learn more about what other states are doing in an interactive web map developed by Stacey Marion, Theodore Nguyen and Josh Riebe in May 2021. 

Past Government Relations Work

Over the past several years the WPFC has provided input on a number of policy issues. The council:

    • Opposed the proposed elimination of Forestry Mill Tax revenue and replacement with General Purpose Revenue (GPR). View the letter sent to the Wisconsin Legislature.
    • Provided input to the WDNR in the development of a state Smoke Management Plan.
    • Provided input to the US EPA on proposed changes to smoke management regulations.
    • Worked to provide insurance coverage for burn practitioners

The WPFC is active in addressing prescribed fire issues including outreach and education, training, membership, policy, and cooperation and partnership. Learn more about our history and accomplishments.

Other Resources

Economics and Prescribed Fire Law in the U.S. (abstract)