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Sometimes Fire is the Answer
Published Thursday, September 7, 2017

UNH Cooperative Extension, UNH faculty and the NH Prescribed Fire Council compiled the first comprehensive prescribed fire data set in the state, titled "Extent of Prescribed Fire Use in New Hampshire." Through an internal UNH Cooperative Extension grant, Ben Kaufhold, a UNH student, identified the quantity, size and distribution of prescribed fires that occurred in NH in 2014 and 2015. Prescribed fires, commonly known as controlled burns, can provide benefits for agriculture, wildlife, forestry and public safety.

“It was an exciting opportunity to learn and make a meaningful contribution to the state’s forestry and public safety needs," says Kaufhold. "The research has a direct impact by improving data collection processes and providing a baseline for forest management policy decisions.”

The research was presented in a UNH Extension publication and as a geographic information system shapefile layer. 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.

Kaufhold’s research required him to reach out to 234 municipalities, nonprofits, 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 NH on an annual basis.

The effort was co-sponsored by the NH 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," says John Neely, chair of the NH Prescribed Fire Council. "This effort will hopefully lead to further cooperation between entities that use this land management technique in New Hampshire.” 

“Coming into this project, we made some assumptions, but we did not know for sure where, how much, and why we burn," says Andy Fast, extension forester in Belknap and Strafford Counties and Kaufhold’s mentor for this project. "Some of the results surprised us.”

Some of the key findings include:

Prescribed fires occur on approximately 400 to 500 acres annually in NH.
40 to 50 percent 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 percent of NH 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 NH Prescribed Fire Council, to improve the conclusion and recommendations through additional internship opportunities or other funding mechanisms.

"Over the last couple of years, we have made a concerted effort to raise funds for student internships," says Ken LaValley, dean and director of UNH Cooperative Extension. "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.”

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