Testimony: Environment Missouri supports HB 369, prescribed fire legislation

Environment Missouri testimony in support of HB 369, defining prescribed fires in Missouri. 

Firefighter safely performing a prescribed prairie fire
Controlled burn- Ted Erski from Pixabay
Bridget Sanderson

Former State Director, Environment Missouri

Chairman and Members of the Committee,

As the Director of Environment Missouri, a citizen-based environmental advocacy group, I speak on the behalf of our members across the state in support of HB 369. If passed, this bill will establish liability limits for damage, injury, or loss caused by a prescribed burn or the resulting smoke of a prescribed burn. Public landowners have continually used the technique of a safe, prescribed burn to assist in healthy soil, increased biodiversity, and wildfire prevention. However, Missouri is predominantly privately-owned land and private landowners do not have the same protections if they choose to utilize this crucial tool for ecological health. Environment Missouri urges members of the Committee to vote in support of the Prescribed Burning Act, HB 369.

Currently, Missouri is one of only five states that does not have a prescribed burn statute. By defining liability, insurance companies will be able to provide policies to prescribed fire practitioners. Like in other states across the nation, defining liability in prescribed fire legislation will not remove liability.However, depending on the city or county codes getting a permit to burn can be more prohibitive if private landowners do not receive insurance covering prescribed fires. Currently, in Missouri private landowners rarely utilize this land management tool because they do not have the same protections that public landowners do with regards to prescribed fires.

We have all witnessed the devastation the states west of Missouri have endured this past summer and fall due to uncontrolled wildfires. Missouri, fortunately, went through this fire season mostly unscathed. However, with increased temperatures and dry conditions Missouri’s likelihood for wildfires and the accommodating destruction will also increase. In fact, Climate Center found that by 2050, Missouri’s average number of days with increased wildfire potential will double. If we protect private landowners, like we do with public landowners, describing liability tied to prescribed fires, we can decrease our likelihood of wildfires by reducing the amount of fuel for the fires to spread. 

Prescribed fires are also a key tool in land management with regards to ecological health that has been used for centuries. Controlled, frequent fires assist in management of non-native invasive species, including the mustard grass and fescue in Missouri, weeds, and pests. By burning woodland areas responsibly, we can rid the area of overgrowth, depleting the population of invasive species. This allows for increased biodiversity of those plants and wildlife who have gained the ability to survive in native areas that tend to burn or replenish their populations after a fire. 

Soil health and agricultural practice have long seen benefits from prescribed fires. By burning the area, practitioners are taking the dead leaves of the underbrush and injecting their nutrients into the soil. It is also an excellent way for farmers in Missouri to clear their lands of previous harvests and weeds, and instead have fresh, healthy soil for future crops. A prescribed fire is much less expensive and involves less manual labor  than using alternative routes, including tilling and dangerous pesticides. Cattle can benefit from prescribed fires by producing more forage for cattle. As a former soil scientist, I have witnessed the importance of this regenerative farming practice, keeping farms at a healthy working level and preventing further agricultural issues like witnessed during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. If we do not provide the same resources to private landowners who want to practice prescribed fires we are setting up Missouri to have less biodiversity, less healthy soil for our farms, and higher potential for wildfires.

We respectfully urge the members of the Committee to vote yes for HB 369, in order to protect our farmers and our beautiful wildlands in Missouri. 


Bridget Sanderson


Environment Missouri


Bridget Sanderson

Former State Director, Environment Missouri

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