Creating the Right Certified Prescribed Burn Manager Program for Washington

A prescribed fire is set in the Methow Valley. (Photo by Ken Bevis, DNR)

By Rob Lionberger, Eastern Washington Stewardship Forester, Forest Health Division, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, rob.lionberger@dnr.wa.gov

Washington state has a unique opportunity to build a legislatively backed program for enabling those who wish to use fire as a tool to do so safely and responsibly. Washington House Bill (HB) 2733, passed in 2018, directed the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to develop and implement a certified prescribed burn manager program with the intent of safely increasing the pace and scale of prescribed burning in Washington. With deliberate thought, input from our partners and stakeholders, and the example of 20 other states in various stages of implementing similar programs, we are designing a program custom-fit to our state.

HB 2733 intends to cover all non-federal burners in the state, including private landowners, non-profit organization staff, private contractors, college students, and state employees, as well as anyone interested in certification as a burn manager in Washington. The DNR will provide training and education for those who wish to be certified, but certification is not required to lead a burn in the state.  However, certification will have several benefits, including a reduced liability standard and potentially streamlined approval for burn permits and smoke management requests. There will also be some continuing education and burning experience required to remain certified. The program addresses decertification of burn managers who violate burning and smoke laws or regulations as well.

The DNR has made some good progress this year already, including a focus group in central Washington for stakeholders, partners, and interested parties to be able provide input during the planning process. We intended to have two more such meetings in eastern and western Washington as well, but the current restrictions on meetings have made those unlikely to happen before the program is out for a trial run, in June or July. The basics of the program came from that initial productive meeting, but you can help shape the final product with your feedback. The team at DNR is drafting the pre-work, classroom curriculum, and field requirements now, in addition to the recertification and decertification processes.

If you are interested in learning more about burn manager certification in all 21 states that have the program, please check out the Forest Stewards Guild report here. I rely heavily on this great resource to understand the various states’ approaches. If you are interested in becoming a certified burn manager or just want to find out more about the program in Washington, please contact me at rob.lionberger@dnr.wa.gov or 509-703-9988.

Rob Lionberger is acting as the Prescribed Fire Program’s Prescribed Fire Training Specialist in DNR’s Forest Health and Resiliency Division. He is currently actively working on the creation and implementation of the certified prescribed burn manager program for Washington state.