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Reducing barriers to prescribed fire on private lands in California
California has a grave fire deficit, threatening public safety and ecological integrity. Increasing prescribed fire is a state priority. Yet despite California’s rich history of community-based prescribed fire, today’s private landowners are not lighting the fires California needs. The reasons why are not well studied. This study explores the barriers private landowners encounter and the ways landowners have banded together to overcome them. It is the first study to survey the prescribed burn association (PBA) movement in California as a whole. Public administrators leading PBAs and several other private-lands burn groups are interviewed, and the groups’ administrative structures are compared. Also, motivated Butte County landowners are surveyed about barriers they have encountered to prescribed fire. Selected fire-relevant policies across the U.S. and the world are compared. Finally, policy recommendations are offered for public administrators seeking to increase prescribed fire on private lands in California. Previous research on impediments to prescribed fire has focused on public land managers or has been conducted outside of California. This study suggests California could increase prescribed fire on private lands by investing in PBAs, and also by creating a certified burner program that is equitable, accessible, and privileged with access to a gross negligence liability standard. These two approaches can be pursued simultaneously. Further research could explore how CAL FIRE public administrators could nurture community-based burn capacity, and how tribal burners and non-tribal landowners could work together to light more fires that have eco-cultural benefits.