Texas A&M Forest Service awarded 81 recipients grants to conduct prescribed burns this year. For the 2022 fiscal year, the agency has approved $522,950 in grant funds to private landowners in Texas with a goal to treat 18,250 acres.
Texas is a local government state with 95% of property privately owned. This means the management of lands, trees and forests—as well as the benefits they provide—rests in the hands of Texas landowners. Texas A&M Forest Service builds the capacity of landowners by providing grants, including prescribed fire grants, to help them manage their lands.
Prescribed fire is a strategic land management tool that uses low-intensity fire on a specific area of land to achieve set goals. Prescribed fire is the most efficient and effective land management tool for decreasing hazardous fuels and the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
“Over time, leaves, twigs and understory brush build up in our landscape and increases wildfire risk,” said Andy McCrady, Texas A&M Forest Service fuels program coordinator. “By conducting prescribed fire, you’re removing these hazardous fuels from the landscape in a safe and controlled manner.”
Protecting the public with prescribed burns
Beyond protecting communities from destructive wildfires, prescribed fire creates resilient landscapes; encourages the growth of native plant species; improves soil health; creates open forest conditions that allow wildlife to travel and forage more easily; minimizes the spread of pests, insects and diseases; and gives firefighters a safe place to work when wildfires do occur.
“Before Texas was fully settled, wildfires occurred in the natural landscape frequently, and our ecosystem actually relied on wildfires to remove the understory of forests and other areas,” said McCrady. “That’s why it is so important to treat our land with prescribed burns, to help restore this normal, natural and essential process for the land.”
According to Texas A&M Forest Service surveys, an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 acres are treated with prescribed fire in the state each year. Of those, Texas A&M Forest Service provides grant funding to an average of 11,650 acres annually.
Cost is a limiting factor for many landowners when it comes to managing their land, and these grants provide reimbursement to landowners up to $30 per treated acre. This can be significant support to landowners as many prescribed burning contractors cost between $25 and $35 per acre.
Texas A&M Forest Service offers four grants to landowners to complete prescribed fires on private lands across the state, each with their own unique goals. For residents in the Panhandle and West Texas, the State Fire Assistance for Mitigation – Plains Prescribed Fire grant is available. The remaining available grants focus on East and Central Texas and include the Community Protection Program grant, State Fire Assistance for Mitigation – Central and East Texas grant and Neches River and Cypress Basin Watershed Restoration Program – Prescribed Fire grant.
Apply for grants
Depending on the grant, applicants must submit their application in July or September and will be notified of award money by late December. Once contracts are signed and burn letters are given, the burns are typically conducted January through March.
Prescribed fire is not without its risks, and there are requirements and restrictions related to the grant funding.
“While Texas A&M Forest Service has a robust public land prescribed burn program, we do not conduct prescribed burns for the public,” said McCrady. “Landowners typically do not personally conduct the burns either, instead they hire licensed and insured burn managers. We manage the funding, make sure each burn manager has proper licensing, review burn plans and monitor the ecosystem that will be burned.”
McCrady said most burns are conducted by contractors, and the grant program requires contractors to be licensed through the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Certified and Insured Prescribed Burn Manager Program.
Before burn managers can start ignitions, they must notify McCrady and his staff to make sure every procedure and safety precaution within the burn plan have been met. Once McCrady gives the go-ahead, the prescribed burn can be conducted on the award recipient’s designated property.
Following the burn, management goals and the ecosystem are monitored by McCrady and his team. According to McCrady, the landscape recovers quickly from prescribed burning.
“In Texas, prescribed burning is often done in the cool season and the following growing season, or the spring, so the property will fully recover,” said McCrady. “By the end of that first growing season, you’ll see very little negative evidence of the fire, besides the reduction of the fuels that were meant to burn, and a transition to more native grasses, wildflowers and tender resprouting wildlife browse.”
For more information on prescribed burning and Texas A&M Forest Service grants, visit https://tfsweb.tamu.edu/PrescribedBurns/.