Authors: Bill Cary and Jamey Lowdermilk, of law firm Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, L.L.P., in collaboration with Jennifer Fawcett, North Carolina State University Extension

The Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability(SERPPAS) works across geographic and organizational boundaries to promote collaboration in making resource-use decisions supporting national defense, conservation of natural resources, sustainable working lands and communities, and coordination among states, communities, and military services in the SoutheastU.S. TheComprehensive Strategy for Prescribed Fire to RestoreLongleaf Pine in the Southeast was written to fulfill SERPPAS’sStrategic Action Plan goal of developing a comprehensive, regional strategy for increasing prescribed burning in the Southeast. The vision of the Strategy was to have region-wide application of prescribed fire at the scale and frequency needed for longleaf pine restoration and maintenance and has expanded to include other fire-adapted ecosystems across the South. Since a majority of forestland in the Southern region is privately held, an important goal of the Strategy was to minimize landowners’ risk of liability associated with prescribed fire.

Liability is an important consideration for private landowners and others who conduct prescribed burning, and liability concerns often are cited as a primary reason that landowners are reluctant to use prescribed fire. However, this concern is inconsistent with the facts of prescribed fire use, law, and liability. Minimizing the risk of liability will require increasing understanding of—and perhaps modifying—prescribed fire laws, developing robust and affordable liability insurance, and promoting public communication and outreach to alleviate concerns about fire-related risks.

Each of the thirteen states in the Southern region has a law in place related to prescribed burning, but the laws vary regarding the legal obligations imposed and the guidelines for liability protection. This Report summarizes these laws, associated regulations, and known court cases for each Southern state in order to help increase understanding and minimize landowners’ risk of liability associated with prescribed fire.