USA — As the executive director of Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, an internationally recognized leader in fire-ecology research, I would like to address the effects of prescribed burning on Florida’s air quality, particularly regarding carbon dioxide emissions and particulate matter, and address some myths associated with prescribed fires. As the founder of fire ecology, Tall Timbers supports the use of prescribed fires as an essential tool for managing natural ecosystems and reducing risk of wildfires.
One concern connected with prescribed burning is that it releases carbon dioxide. While this is true, the regrowth of vegetation that follows these burns sequesters approximately the same amount of carbon that was released so that prescribed burning does not increase carbon dioxide emissions.
Another misconception is that the fine particulate matter released by prescribed burning has a significant impact on our air quality. However, Florida has never exceeded the annual limits of fine particulate matter that have been established by the Environmental Protection Agency National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Additionally, the daily limits set by the EPA have not been exceeded in most years, with the only notable exception occurring in 2007 as a result of the more than 200 wildfires that burned across Florida. Actually, automobile exhaust is the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions.
On the national scale, Florida has some of the cleanest air in the country, and the state’s fine particulate matter has decreased during the past eight years, shows the EPA National Emissions Inventory. Additionally, the EPA and state regulatory agencies monitor the emissions of carbon dioxide and small-particle matter from prescribed burns, and haveincreasingly advanced the science of smoke management.
For example, the Florida Division of Forestry uses complex weather models and emissions estimates when authorizing prescribed burns in orderto minimize the concentration of smoke and ensure that conditions of good air lift and wind directions will carry smoke away from populated areas.
There is a tremendous benefit to public safety that is provided by frequent prescribed fires. Consider that during the extreme wildfire conditions in spring of 2007, the areas where prescribed burning is frequent reported no wildfires, no homes destroyed, no businesses lost and no school closings.
Why? Because dangerous levels of fuel build up had not occurred due to the frequent use of prescribed fire. In fact, in the regions where wildfires spread, previously prescribed burned areas provided a toehold for firefighters to work and control these dangerous wildfires.
Fire holds an essential place in our environment to maintain healthy ecosystems. For example, prescribed fire has made the north Florida Red Hills area home to the country’s largest population of the endangered red cockaded woodpecker on private land and has preserved other endangered species that have disappeared in most areas of the South. Because of this essential land-management tool, thousands of acres of pristine natural habitat and endangered species that have disappeared in most areas of the South are preserved in Florida.
In addition to wildfire protection, these benefits add to our state’s unique and beautiful natural environments.
We should be thankful for the responsible land stewardship that is promoted in our state through prescribed burns.