Agriculture burning exemptions remain in force

Agriculture burning exemptions remain in force

It was the Utah Farm Bureau who initially sponsored and has continued to shepherd the agriculture burning exemption. Utah Legislators continue to recognize the need for flexibility in certain types of agriculture burns. Often the window of opportunity to burn during critical seasons is very narrow and necessitates a law that limits unnecessary delays. 

Often times, there is confusion over what exemptions apply for agriculture burns. Farmers, often in urban areas, will phone their county Fire Department to request a permit to burn stubble. The county Fire Department generally responds with something like they cannot issue permits, even for agriculture burning, between June 1 and October 31, the closed fire season. The farmer then calls Utah’s Division of State Lands, Forestry and Fire to get authorization. This leads to a denial of any jurisdiction for agricultural burning. The farmer then calls the State Health Department or the Division of Air Quality who has stringent standards to conform to the United States Environmental Protection (EPA), which effectively prohibit open burning from June to October. Needless to say, the farmer becomes increasingly frustrated, mad and disgusted. 

So, when is a permit required? Utah law (65A-8-211) states that June 1 through October 31 is the closed fire season in Utah. During the closed fire season, it is a class B misdemeanor to “set on fire, or cause to be set on fire, any flammable material on any forest, brush, range, grain, stubble or hay land without first securing a written permit from the state forester…” However, the same section also states, “a burning permit is not required for (a) the burning of fence lines on cultivated lands, canals or irrigation ditches if the burning does not pose a threat to forest, range or watershed lands (b) due care is used in the control of the burning, and (c) the individual notifies the nearest fire department of the approximate time the burning will occur.” 

So, burning of fence lines on cultivated lands, canals and irrigation ditches are exempt from the permit requirements, even during the closed fire season. All other open burning requires a written permit during that five-month season. Of course, exemptions in no way relieve the need for caution in all burning activities. 

The above discussion is based on the Forestry and Fire Control laws. There is also a set of laws dealing with air pollution control. In Utah law (19-2-114) a broad exemption is granted to farmers and ranchers that exempts legitimate agricultural burning from any permit requirement. In essence, no agricultural burns can be prevented because of air quality. 

At times, there is also confusion on what authority cities, counties or county health departments have that may negate agricultural burning exemptions provided in the Utah law. 

Utah law (11-7-1) states, “Every incorporated municipality and every county may require that persons obtain a burning permit before starting a fire on any forest, wildland urban interface, brush, range, grass, grain, stubble or hay land, except that a municipality or county may not require a burning permit for the burning of fence lines on cultivated lands, canals or irrigation ditches, provided that the individual notifies the nearest fire department of the approximate time that the burning will occur.” 

Counties, cities and boards of health that have adopted ordinances or regulations denying farmers and ranchers the right to do agricultural burning without a permit are out of step with the law. State law empowers cities, counties and health departments to enact and enforce ordinances to control air pollution that are consistent with state law. 

What is the obligation to notify fire control officials of an intent to burn? Although some burning activities are exempt from permit requirements, common sense suggests a phone call to the fire department is best to avoid a false alarm. Cooperation between landowners and fire control officials should assure continuance of existing exemptions. Furthermore, to be good neighbors, farmers should avoid heavy burning when the clearing index is such that smoke would hang low over an area. 

Utah law clearly places financial responsibility for damages from uncontrolled fires with those who lost control. We need to be extremely careful with our burning. For more information, please contact Sterling Brown at scb@fbfs.com.