FARMINGTON – In an effort to improve forest management, the Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pushed through a House bill intended to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
According to House Bill 57, a prescribed burn is considered in the public interest and is not considered a nuisance.
It was sponsored by Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo; Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena; Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe; and Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview. Lujan Grisham signed it Thursday.
The new law allows a prescribed burn where private property owners or their authorized agent can perform pile burns under favorable weather and environmental conditions for community protection, watershed resilience, silviculture, wildland fire hazard reduction, fuels reduction, rangeland improvement, wildlife management, habitat improvement, invasive species management and ecological maintenance or restoration.
“The Prescribed Burning Act is an important proactive action for our state to ensure our forests and watersheds provide clean water and other benefits for future generations – while recognizing and mitigating the impacts of a changing climate,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement.
A prescribed burn does not include agriculture burning to clear fields or to manage invasive plant species, orchards or irrigation ditches.
A private landowner can conduct a prescribed burn unless the state forester or county municipality has prohibited burns, typically ordered during dry, windy weather.
Prescribed burns must follow precautionary measures, such as having enough hands on deck, notifying fire officials, having a contingency plan and using appropriate techniques. Landowners will be liable for property damage or personal injury if the fire was conducted or extinguished negligently.
San Juan County Fire Chief John Mohler said he doesn’t anticipate much change in the county with the new law, but it could benefit the rest of the state.
“It is my understanding that San Juan County will not see much change as we already have a burn permit process,” Mohler said. “But much of the state does not.”
Mohler added the bill will help provide training to landowners about how to safely ignite burns. In addition, if landowners participate in the training and permit process, Mohler said it can help lower their liability if a burn gets out of hand.
The training provided should limit burns getting away; therefore, a win-win for landowners and the state forestry, the agency responsible for both state and private land fires in N.M., Mohler said.