Review of Laws and
Site Fire Management
Wildfire Planning
Prescribed Burn Plan
Measures and
  Site Fire Management Plan

The Site Fire Management Plan details specific ecological and technical information needed to justify a fire management program at a site. It is intended to ensure that background information about the site has been researched and reviewed, and that a burn program is both ecologically justified and technically feasible. It describes how fire will be applied across a landscape over time. The Site Plan provides good maps of the location, the conservation targets, burn units, and any significant features that will affect fire management planning. Details of fire management implementation and burn execution should be included in the Prescribed Burn Unit Plan.

A "site" includes geographic areas in a range of scales, for example, a single preserve, several geographically proximate preserves of similar fuels and conservation goals, or a multi-owner landscape that is managed cooperatively. The Site Fire Management Plan may be incorporated into other documents as long as all issues are addressed. The Site Fire Management Plan Documentation Worksheet can be used to document other plans containing the components of site fire management planning.

The information needed in (or obtainable for) a Site Fire Management Plan may vary considerably from one site to another. Much depends on the state of knowledge, site characteristics, size and complexity of the site, and the need to initiate fire management in a timely fashion. A large, complex, multi-owner site will need a more detailed plan than a site with a single rare species population. Consult your Fire Manager about specific aspects that should be included given your situation.

A Site Fire Management Plan is always required when the Conservancy intends to initiate ecological management burning on land it owns, leases, or holds an easement on, and is usually required in other situations. All parts of a Site Fire Management Plan do not necessarily have to be completed before a burn program can be initiated. Consult your Fire Manager or the Fire Management Coordinator about situations where certain requirements might be waived or postponed.

The Fire Manager must approve the Site Fire Management Plan. She/he may seek advice from others, within and outside the Conservancy, in the review process. Adequate time must be allowed for all reviews. The Plan may be designated provisional and remain in effect for an established length of time. The Plan should be considered a legal document. It should be archived at the local level.

Once approved, the Site Fire Management Plan remains in effect until conditions change or new information becomes available that affects the implementation of the plan. The Fire Manager should take an active role in stimulating the production and revision of Site Fire Management Plans.

Components of a Site Fire Management Plan

The Site Fire Management Plan should include the following elements:

Site Background Information

This portion of the Site Fire Management Plan should include:

  • A general description of the site including location, topography, vegetation, conservation targets or species of concern, and cultural environment.
  • A descriptive review of the natural and historical role of fire in the area.
  • A general description of the fire environment of the site, including fire weather, fuels, wildfire history, and managed fire history.

Fire Management Justification

The Justification for Fire Management documents that fire management is needed in a given situation and that we have sufficient information to back up that assertion. The Justification is usually site-specific, or covers a narrowly defined region or area of conservation action. It explains how fire management will contribute to the Conservancy's goals of preserving priority species, communities or landscapes at the preserve or site in question. It meshes biological and ecological information on the conservation targets or systems with site-specific information on fire history and past land use. This may be represented in part as an ecological model.

For more detailed guidance on this topic, see Developing a Fire Management Justification.

Fire Management Goals

The information in the Justification provides the basis for the next step of the planning process, establishing fire management goals. This is often the most challenging step in the fire planning process because the goals serve as the basis for all fire management action taken at the site. The goals should also reflect the Conservancy's conservation interest at the site, that is, they clearly identify how the fire program will improve biodiversity health and abate threats to the priority systems. The more specifically a planner can state goals, the easier it is to define management actions that may contribute to achieving those goals and to monitor how successful management has been.

Examples of poorly articulated goals are: "Maintain the natural integrity of the system"; "Increase species diversity"; "Perpetuate a certain species"; "Reintroduce fire as a natural process." Better goals are: "Sustain an array of four different successional stages of a community through rotational management treatments on a 40-50 year cycle"; "Reduce an exotic species to 25 percent of initial basal area"; "Maintain the population of a particular species within 25 percent of current numbers when averaged over a 10-year period"; "Provide the ecosystem perturbation needed to maintain over a long term the current diversity of a mid- to late-successional species in a certain community." Note that reintroducing fire to a system may be a programmatic goal, but it is not an ecological one. Ecological goals should focus on the desired results of fire management.

Well-stated goals allow the planner to identify specific objectives to accomplish through individual burn treatments. For instance, the planner can ask, "What is the best treatment to initiate the successional cycle?" or "What factors might cause a species population to decline and how could the appropriate timing of fire counteract those factors?" In developing or refining management goals, remember that ecosystems are inherently dynamic. It is inappropriate to try to "freeze" natural communities. Seeking to maintain a certain successional stage is reasonable if it is not too narrowly circumscribed.

Goals are often directed toward "products" or ecosystem structure, such as population numbers, species composition, or habitat qualities. Goals may also be tied to "process" or ecosystem function, for example to reestablish the appropriate fire regime in a particular community. Accomplishment of such a goal will be based upon well-founded inferences about the natural role of fire in the community. Without an idea of an appropriate range of fire intensity, frequency, season of occurrence, and scale, it is impossible to say whether the goal is being reached.

Lastly, the fire planner should put fire management in perspective with other site management goals. Is fire management compatible with other ecological and programmatic goals? If not, which goals will take priority?

Fire Regime Proposal

The Fire Regime Proposal gives the spatial and temporal details of fire management at a site, that is, where and when fire treatments will occur. It answers the question: How will fire be applied to the landscape over time? It serves as a bridge between general management goals and applications of treatments at the field level to achieve those goals. The Proposal usually covers an entire preserve but may be restricted to a portion of the preserve or to a single management unit within a preserve. It may also encompass several closely related sites or preserves that are integrated into one master management design. The Proposal may initially involve only one or several units of a potentially larger design in order to facilitate the initiation of a burn program.

In the Fire Regime Proposal, burn units are defined and an initial burn schedule outlined. There are several approaches to formulating a burn schedule. The most appropriate method depends in part on the conservation goals for the site in question and whether fire management will be used for restoration or maintenance. Sometimes the life history requirements of a particular target will determine the schedule of burns.

A Fire Regime Proposal should stay in effect until it is deemed necessary to modify the burn regime assigned to the unit, alter the unit boundaries, or change the management objectives or goals. Burn schedules (i.e. season, frequency, and type of fire) should be flexible within an acceptable range. Allow for variability and manager discretion by thinking in ranges rather than fixed values. Then the manager has the latitude to make adjustments to the schedule in the Prescribed Burn Plan.

For detailed guidance on this topic, including a basic format, see Developing the Fire Regime Proposal.

Key Constraints

In this section, discuss any extraordinary constraints that limit successful fire management implementation at the site. For example, are there legal restrictions that must be overcome? Are there hazards or toxic waste concerns on the property or nearby? Endangered species issues? Is prescribed fire implementation dependent on key partners? Include how these issues will be addressed.

(Note: This section was added 10/2/06. Site Fire Management Plans completed prior to this date should incoporate this information in the next update.)

Smoke Management

In today's climate of stricter air quality laws, it is essential to give adequate planning to smoke management. We must manage our smoke responsibly in order to protect our reputation within the local community, to maintain public safety, and to avoid legal problems.

In the section of the Plan, state overall smoke management concerns, including any air quality restrictions. How will the potential for adverse impacts from smoke affect burning at the site? Is the site near a Class 1 area, or is the site in an area declared non-attainment for a particular pollutant that will impact fire management? If the state has adopted a Smoke Management Program, include a reference to the information.

Neighbor and Community Factors

Understanding the human context of a site is essential for long-term success of a fire management program. In this section, give an assessment of the local community and how it will be affected by your burn program. What is the general attitude of the community regarding the Conservancy's conservation interest in their region? Do the local people understand the role of fire in managing the site? Do they fear the possibility of a managed fire escaping control? Or is fire a commonly used management tool which people are accustomed to? A careful and sensitive assessment of local attitudes will determine the steps which should be undertaken to maintain good neighbor relations.

If the local community does not support the use of fire at a site, you must enter into a two-way education program: you must become educated about the concerns of your neighbors, and you must educate your neighbors about the role of fire at the site in question. You should determine who the key people are in the community, and find opportunties to meet and explain your intentions. You must find avenues for neighbors to express their concerns, such as open town meetings or city commission meetings. This process may take considerable time, but you will eventually reap the benefits of the effort and time investment in a more efficient and effective fire management program. Initiating burns prematurely may result in negative responses ranging from ill will to legal action.

If the local community does accept the use of fire in the area, do not neglect or abuse their support. It is wise to be proactive in maintaining good relations through such means as letters of notification before burns, knocking on neighbors' doors on the day of the burn to let them know what will be happening, and neighbor letters or an article in a local paper after the burn season to let people know the positive results you've achieved.

The Conservancy has a public education brochure available titled "Why is TNC burning at this preserve?" that can be helpful with neighbors.

In addition to an assessment of the potential impacts of a fire management program on the community, this section of the Site Fire Management Plan should describe the steps you will take to build or maintain good neighbor relations.


High quality maps are an important feature of the Site Fire Management Plan. The Plan should include sufficient maps to orient the reader and fully illustrate the features essential to the fire planning process. We encourage programs with GIS-capability to use this tool in the fire planning process. The necessary maps may include those showing:

  • location of site within the county
  • site/preserve boundaries
  • fuel types
  • burn units
  • smoke sensitive areas
  • conservation targets, rare species populations
  • hazards or features which constrain fire management

Last updated July 20, 2017.

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