The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced today the agency will be conducting prescribed burns on DEC managed land in different areas of the state from late March to early May. The first burns will occur on Long Island. Prescribed fire is a tool used to manage fire-dependent ecosystems in a manner that develops a resilient natural balance of fire in the desired vegetation. These fires are regulated by law and regulation and require technical expertise to conduct the burns safely.
Before any prescribed fire is conducted, a burn plan is developed. Burn plans outline management's objectives, as well as parameters that must be satisfied before any prescribed fire can take place. Careful consideration is given to environmental factors such as current and expected weather conditions and smoke management considerations in close coordination with the National Weather Service. These burn plans are executed by nationally certified burn bosses. Every burn boss in DEC is a fully credentialed and certified Forest Ranger.
Prescribed burns accomplish more than simply using fire to manipulate habitat for a land management objective. The burns serve as an opportunity to develop partnerships among different DEC divisions. Working with the Divisions of Lands and Forests, Operations, and Fish and Wildlife creates the potential to train more staff to become wildland firefighters, supporting efforts to implement prescribed burns in the future and response to wildland fires.
In 2022, DEC and partner agencies burned hundreds of acres of grassland habitat and dozens of acres of forested lands. These treatments included controlled burns on two of DEC's largest Long Island properties, the Otis Pike Pine Barrens State Forests and the Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest, as well as on several other smaller, DEC-managed properties in eastern Suffolk County.
While DEC makes the necessary notifications before conducting any prescribed fires, the public is encouraged to report smoke columns to local authorities. More information on wildfire prevention may be found on the FIREWISE New York webpage.
While prescribed burns are happening with multiple trained wildland firefighters on hand, the annual residential brush burn ban is in effect from March 16 to May 14. Open burning of debris is the single-largest cause of spring wildfires in New York State. When temperatures warm and the past fall's debris and leaves dry out, wildfires can start and spread easily, further fueled by winds and a lack of green vegetation. Each year, DEC Forest Rangers extinguish dozens of wildfires that burn hundreds of acres. In addition, local fire departments, many of which are staffed by volunteers, all too often have to leave their jobs and families to respond to wildfires caused by illegal debris fires. DEC will post the Fire Danger Map for the 2023 fire season on DEC's website once there is a moderate risk anywhere in New York.