The Great Plains: Where prescribed burns are a community collaboration rather than a federal effort

A fire-focused NPR article had a concise central theme: Trees are not always good, fire is not always bad, and prescribed burning can bring a community together.

The article, written and beautifully photographed in 2022 by journalist Andria Hautamaki, told the story of the Loess Canyon Rangeland Alliance to paint a larger picture of the quick growth prescribed burn associations (PBAs) have had across the country, particularly in states without huge extents of government-owned land.

The Great Plains Fire Science Exchange estimated in 2022 that there were 113 PBAs throughout the United States. That exchange now estimates 135 PBAs, an 83 percent increase in under two years.

RxFire by Florida Panther NWR
Plants flourish after a prescribed fire. Image courtesy Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

PBAs got their start in California and are now found throughout the state. Despite this, California is an outlier in the average states with PBAs: nearly half of California’s land is federally owned. Other states with numerous PBAs (including Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas) have less than 2 percent of their land owned by the federal government.

Prescribed Burn Associations Interactive Map
PBA interactive map at

Instead of the USFS burning on federal land, stakeholders in non-West states must convince and collaborate with landowners to spread the gospel of prescribed fire.

“The only way you’re ever going to get fire on the ground is through the landowners, especially in states with a lot of private land,” John Weir, an Oklahoma State University extension specialist for prescribed fire, told Hautamaki during the story. “This is landowner helping landowner. Agencies are important; they help provide technical assistance. But it’s all about grassroots. Landowners can burn safely and effectively because they’re out there managing their own land.”

An abundance of privately owned land isn’t the only thing driving PBA popularity in non-West states. The negative perception fire has gained from numerous disastrous wildfires in recent years has hampered Rx burn efforts in the West. Midwest and Southern states, which don’t have that same negative association with burning, have seen a rise in a grassroots-led fire efforts rather than an agency push.

Previous data have also shown the community-prescribed fire drive to be safe and effective in overcoming common burn limitations related to expertise, equipment, and personnel. A 2012 survey of PBAs found the majority were effective at developing burn plans, working within burn windows, and limiting liability.

“The safety record of PBAs indicates they provide a safe and viable option for landowners and managers who use or would like to use prescribed fire on their lands,” the survey said.


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2 thoughts on “The Great Plains: Where prescribed burns are a community collaboration rather than a federal effort”

  1. Thanks for posting this Hunter. These landowner groups are leading the effort to control woody encroachment and restore grasslands. I encourage everyone to look in to this further. There are many really great stories and leaders out there that fly under the radar because they are not with an agency. It is a great example of teamwork toward a common goal.


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