Prescribed fire is a useful tool for building resilient landscapes in fire-prone areas across the globe. In the western U.S., prescribed fire is employed by federal, state, and Tribal land managers and planned during particular meteorological and air quality conditions to manage air quality impacts. As agencies prepare to plan and permit more prescribed fire, an ongoing question will be whether existing air quality conditions constrain the potential for more prescribed fire. We performed a set of spatial and statistical analyses to evaluate how prescribed burns are potentially constrained by federal air quality standards. In doing so, we also examined if the answers to these questions differed when applied to different land management agencies that administer prescribed burns in the West. Analysis of the results shows that the geographic distribution of air quality conditions has not been constraining the implementation of prescribed fire plans, and climate change-driven changes to air quality, such as increasing ozone levels, may make prescribed burning more difficult under current air quality constraints. Furthermore, results demonstrated regional air quality issues for specific pollutants, suggesting an ongoing need for regional air quality assessments in the planning of prescribed burning across the western U.S.
Bone C, Shultz C, Huber-Stearns H, Kelley J, and Cunnin E. 2023. Evaluating the potential role of federal air quality standards in constraining applications of prescribed fire in the western United States. Applied Geography 157: 102996. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeog.2023.102996