A recent study called upon the Western U.S. to increase its prescribed burn practice as a preventative for large-scale wildfires. Prescribed burning is used to remove flammable undergrowth and dry, dead patches that add fuel to a wildfire.
As Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser explained, the practice can be difficult to carry out.
"Every area has a little bit different challenges on prescribed fire, but the similarities are always the risk of escape, just the cost of putting a fire on the landscape, public perception, smoke, and then liability on who's going to be the party conducting and responsible for the burn," Crapser said.
He recognized that some of those challenges can be more severe in Wyoming.
"Having the right weather windows for burning is tough every place. Sometimes it's especially tough here, because you know how fast the weather can change on you." Crapser said. "So you have a perfect window and then eight hours later you have something else happening."
Another challenge to burning is the division of land ownership in Wyoming. Areas that need to be burned sometimes cover land held by multiple agencies and private owners.
"Private land or state land prescribed burns are usually combined with other burns. So if the [Bureau of Land Management] has a place they want to do a prescribed burn, for example, and there's some private acreage in it and some state land acreage, they write a burn plan for the state portion of it, they send it through my office and the State Land's office for approval, and then we allow them to include the state land in their burn," Crapser said. "If a ranch has a chunk of land and it's intermingled with BLM, they can work the the BLM and have the BLM include their land in the prescribed fire."
Crapser said that despite the challenges to prescribed burning, it can be essential to ecosystem health and wildfire prevention, which is why Wyoming and many states continue to burn. These challenges also mean that Wyoming agencies aren't planning any drastic increase in prescribed burning in the near future.