UNH Cooperative Extension, UNH faculty, and the N.H. Prescribed Fire Council compiled the first comprehensive prescribed fire data set in the state. Through an internal UNH Cooperative Extension grant, Ben Kaufhold, a UNH student, identified the quantity, size and distribution of prescribed fires that occurred in New Hampshire in 2014 and 2015. Prescribed fires, commonly known as controlled burns, can provide benefits for agriculture, wildlife, forestry, and public safety.
Kaufhold notes, “It was an exciting opportunity to learn and make a meaningful contribution to the state’s forestry and public safety needs. The research has a direct impact by improving data collection processes and providing a baseline for forest management policy decisions. It can also improve the accuracy of emissions modeling, a public health benefit. There is a lot that can be done with the research results.”
The research, presented in a UNH Extension publication and as a geographic information system (GIS) shapefile layer, is not only important to existing prescribed fire practitioners, but also to municipalities. Fire departments, and conservation commissions in particular, will have access to prescribed fire statistics in their town and region and can use that information to be more deliberate in meeting local and statewide natural resources and public safety goals.
Due to the intricacies of how fire data is collected in the state, Kaufhold’s research required him to reach out to 234 municipalities, non-profits, private entities and state and federal agencies. With a 100 percent response rate from private entities and state and federal agencies, and a roughly 90 percent response rate from municipalities, the data represent an accurate assessment of prescribed fire use in New Hampshire on an annual basis.
The effort was co-sponsored by the N.H. Prescribed Fire Council, who plan to use the data to inform state prescribed fire needs. “A secondary result of Ben’s project was an improvement in communication among landowners that use prescribed fire. This effort will hopefully lead to further cooperation between entities that use this land management technique in New Hampshire,” says John Neely, Chair of the N.H. Prescribed Fire Council.
Andy Fast, Extension Forester in Belknap and Strafford Counties and Kaufhold’s mentor for this project, said, “Coming into this project, we made some assumptions, but we did not know for sure where, how much, and why we burn. Some of the results surprised us.”
Some of the key findings include:
- Prescribed fires occur on approximately 400 to 500 acres annually in New Hampshire.
- 40 to 50% of the annual burns are implemented by municipal fire departments for training purposes.
- Almost half of the prescribed fires are conducted via grass fuels.
- Prescribed burning occurs in 15 to 20% of New Hampshire municipalities on an annual basis.
- Public entities have traditionally been burning small acreages (i.e., less than 10 acres), whereas private entities are burning at a larger scale, averaging 20 to 30 acres.
UNH Cooperative Extension hopes to continue expanding the dataset, with support from UNH faculty and the N.H. Prescribed Fire Council, to improve the conclusion and recommendations through additional internship opportunities or other funding mechanisms.
Ken LaValley, Dean and Director of UNH Cooperative Extension, said, “Over the last couple of years, we have made a concerted effort to raise funds for student internships. This internship is an excellent example how these funds are leveraged to create exceptional learning opportunities for students of our state’s flagship institution and support pressing community needs.”