Commissioner Fried Announces Second Phase of Improvements to Prescribed Burning Program

Clint Thompson Environment, Florida

Tallahassee, Fla.– Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and the Florida Forest Service announced today a second phase of major enhancements to the prescribed burning program, which is authorized by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Nicole “Nikki” Fried
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Prescribed burning in Florida is a national model for successfully managing statewide forests and lands through safe, controlled, carefully managed prescribed fire. A scientifically sound practice, prescribed burning is used to reduce the threat of wildfires and manage agricultural lands for cattle grazing, sugarcane and timber.

In October 2019, Commissioner Fried implemented phase one of enhancements to Florida’s statewide prescribed burning program, which included utilizing the Air Quality Index, fog advisories and the smoke dispersion index, banning nighttime burning in certain areas, and requiring an 80-acre buffer during high fire danger in the EAA, among other improvements. The improvements also included the first major changes to sugarcane burning procedures in nearly 30 years.

“This second phase of prescribed burning improvements delivers on our promise to enhance public safety, reduce smoke and ash impacts for Everglades communities, and reduce the risk of wildfires,” said Commissioner Nikki Fried. “By updating the current zone structure to reflect population growth and creating a pathway to certification for using prescribed fire, we are making continued proactive changes for the safety of the communities closest to agricultural burning.”

“We want to ensure all prescribed fire applicators are held to the same standard across the state,” said Erin Albury, State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service. “The prescribed burner certification is a critical piece of phase two that will greatly improve the authorization program for both sugarcane burners and Florida’s communities.”

As part of phase two, Commissioner Fried announced the following changes:

  • Implementation of the Florida Certified Prescribed Burn Manager Training Course for EAA burners, which will train individuals in public and private agencies and organizations that are charged with the responsibility of conducting prescribed fires.  This advanced training will directly reduce smoke impacts through smoke screening tools on all burns, and will train burners to consider fire weather parameters, map and mitigate smoke, and reduce potential community impacts.
  • Redrawn zone boundaries to better protect the public by reducing potential smoke impact to all communities within the EAA. The original zones were drawn in 1992 when the population in the current Zone 4 was approximately 33,364. Since then, the population has grown by 67.3 percent to approximately 55,833 residents, without the zone map adjusting to account for this population growth. This zone map redesign, the first major realignment since 1992, takes that population growth into account for the first time. Currently, there are four burn authorization zones; the re-aligned zone map will create two additional zones. These zone updates are based on historical weather patterns, wind direction and speeds, and community locations. The most notable updates will be in zone four, where the population continues to grow. The zones have been redrawn to lessen the potential smoke impact across all communities. The redrawn zone map will take effect on January 1, 2021.

“Commissioner Fried is taking decisive action to improve our communities,” said Janet Taylor, President of Glades Lives Matter and a former Hendry County Commissioner. “These improvements take our population growth into account for the first time in thirty years, and Commissioner Fried is saying loud and clear that our lives matter – we thank her for that.”

“As Commissioner Fried promised, these redrawn zone boundaries and new prescribed fire certification will help reduce the risk of wildfire while maintaining good air quality,” said Mayor Joe Kyles of South Bay. “I appreciate Commissioner Fried’s and the Florida Forest Service’s commitment to these improvements and safer Glades communities.”

“We appreciate Commissioner Fried’s initiative and commitment to review and strengthen the prescribed burn program to ensure it remains a safe and effective tool for agriculture, wildfire prevention, and forestry management for our communities,” said Mayor Steve B. Wilson of Belle Glade.

Commissioner Fried also continues to encourage adoption of green harvesting by working with corporate partners on the manufacturing and purchasing of sugarcane biomass. These improvements will impact Florida’s commercial sugarcane industry, which is located primarily south of Lake Okeechobee. Additional details regarding certification opportunities for sugarcane burners and the implementation of burn authorization zones updates are expected to be released prior to October 1, 2020, the beginning of the sugarcane harvest season.

The Florida Forest Service, a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, manages more than 1 million acres of state forests and provides forest management assistance on more than 17 million acres of private and community forests. The Florida Forest Service is also responsible for protecting homes, forestland and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire on more than 26 million acres.