January 25, 2024
COLLEGE STATION, Texas—Texas A&M Forest Service awarded 126 recipients grants to conduct prescribed burns this year. For the 2024 fiscal year, the agency has approved more than $705,000 in grant funds to private landowners in Texas with a goal to treat 25,104 acres.
With Texas lands being 95% privately owned, the responsibility of conservation lies with thousands across the state. Through prescribed fire grant programs, Texas A&M Forest Service strengthens the conservation network by providing resources and funding assistance to landowners and land managers to conduct prescribed fires.
Prescribed fire is a strategic land management tool that uses low-intensity fire on a specific area of land to achieve set goals. Prescribed fire is proven to be the most effective and efficient land management tool for decreasing the risk of catastrophic wildfires by reducing hazardous fuels.
“If forests and land are left unmanaged, the buildup of leaves, twigs and underbrush significantly increases the chances of larger, more uncontrollable wildfires in that area,” said Andy McCrady, Texas A&M Forest Service Program Coordinator. “That is why it is a top priority of ours to connect Texas landowners and managers with grant dollars and agency resources. Through our efforts with this program, more Texas land can be safely and effectively treated with prescribed fire.”
While community protection is viewed by many as the most significant benefactor of prescribed fire, other facets of Texas’ ecosystem benefit as well. Prescribed fires help create resilient landscapes; encourage the growth of native species; improve soil health; create open forest conditions that allow wildlife to travel and forage more easily; minimize the spread of pests, insects, invasive species and diseases; and give firefighters a safe place to work when wildfires occur.
“Prior to settlement in Texas, wildfires occurred naturally on the landscape,” said McCrady. “Our ecosystem relied on fires for regulation. We believe in treating our lands with prescribed fire when it is safe and relevant to do so, as we know it will restore the normal, natural and essential process for the land.”
Texas A&M Forest Service offers four grants to landowners to complete prescribed fires on private lands across the state, each with their own unique goals. Residents in the Panhandle and West Texas are eligible for the State Fire Assistance for Mitigation – Plains Prescribed Fire grant. The remaining available grants focus on East and Central Texas and include the Community Protection Program grant, State fire Assistance for Mitigation – Central and East Texas grant and Neches River and Cypress Basin Watershed Restoration Program – Prescribed Fire grant.
These grant programs reimburse landowners up to $30 per acre, for a maximum of 800 acres per recipient.
Applicants apply in the Fall and are notified of their grant award between October and December, depending on the grant. Once contracts are signed the burns are typically conducted from January through June.
“While Texas A&M Forest Service proudly conducts prescribed burns on public lands as part of our conservation education efforts, we do not conduct the burns in these grant programs,” said McCrady. “All the prescribed burns in these four grant programs are conducted by a private or commercial Certified and Insured Prescribed Burn Manger. The Texas Department of Agriculture oversees that licensing program in the state of Texas, and by having one of those individuals conduct the burn, it provides liability protection for the landowner and ensures best practices are being followed.
McCrady explained that most of the burn managers conducting these prescribed fires are contractors and the grant programs require them to be licensed through the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Certified and Insured Prescribed Burn Manager Program. This certifies that prescribed fires being conducted in tandem with this program are done so safely and take into account all ecosystem factors.
Following the burn, management goals and the ecosystem are monitored by McCrady and his team. According to McCrady, the landscape recovers quickly from prescribed burning.
“Prescribed burning in Texas is most often conducted in the winter or spring during mild weather conditions,” said McCrady. “Within a few weeks, these sites will show green shoots of new growth and by the end of the growing season native grasses, wildflowers and more palatable browse have replaced the overgrown brush and litter, all of which will increase wildlife value and make for the beautiful Texas landscape we all love.”
The Texas Longleaf Conservation Assistance Program, an additional Texas A&M Forest Service forest conservation assistance program for East Texas landowners, is now accepting proposal applications. Prescribed burning is considered a conservation method and is eligible under this grant.
For more information on prescribed burning, burning safety, benefits and more, visit https://tfsweb.tamu.edu/PrescribedBurns/.
For more information on grants provided by Texas A&M Forest Service and partners, visit https://texasforestinfo.tamu.edu/fundingconnector/.