The liability and environmental consequences of not burning in California
Document Type: Conference Paper
Author(s): S. R. Bakken
Editor(s): D. C. Bryan
Publication Year: 1997

Cataloging Information

  • archaeological sites
  • education
  • erosion
  • erosion control
  • fire hazard reduction
  • fire protection
  • fire suppression
  • liability
  • natural resource legislation
  • public information
  • season of fire
  • wilderness fire management
  • wildfires
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 1, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 36132
Tall Timbers Record Number: 10478
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Abstract Status: Okay, Fair use, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


In California, the percentage of wildland which is prescribed burned has been declining for many years. Fear of litigation, environmental concerns, and public perceptions seem to be the stumbling blocks. Is the reverse true: if we stop prescription burning, will we alleviate our liability, and environmental and public concerns? The answer is an emphatic NO! Before each wildfire season, the fear of property loss and liability, and the use of public nuisance law drives the annual fire prevention fuel clearance on wildlands, causing damage to sensitive plants and animals, archeological sites, and soil structure. Once wildfire starts in the wildland-urban interface, buildings are clearly at risk, but there may not be a significant threat to native ecosystems that have evolved in the presence of fire. The principal goals of fire suppression are to protect human lives and structures, yet much of the suppression activities take place on the wildlands resulting in more damage to natural and cultural resources than would have occurred from the fire itself. After the smoke has cleared, the fears of property damage and liability arise again, this time from land movement and flooding exacerbated by denuded hillsides and winter rains. Government agencies respond with emergency erosion control activities on wildlands.

Bakken, S. R. 1997. The liability and environmental consequences of not burning in California, in Bryan, D. C., Proceedings of the environmental regulation & prescribed fire conference: legal and social challenges. Tampa, FL. Center for Professional Development, Florida State University,Tallahassee, FL. p. 131-138,