Controlled burning is an integral, if sometimes controversial, method of maintaining prairie lands in Ohio. While the Ohio EPA has approved controlled burns of prairie land since the 1970s, a 2013 ruling by the Environmental Review Appeals Commission (ERAC) cast doubt on the future of controlled prairie burns.
In the spring of 2013, the Portsmouth Local Air Agency issued burning permits for 709 acres of land in the Shawnee State Forest. Environmentalist Barbara Lund then sued the State to stop the burns. ERAC sided with Lund in the case Lund v. Portsmouth Local Air Agency, Case No. ERAC 13-016720 (Dec. 19, 2013), holding that the State failed to establish that the controlled burning of a prairie fell into the “silvacultural” or “wildlife management” exceptions to Ohio’s general prohibition on open burning. The court reasoned, on a textual basis, that since “silvaculture” is a word only intended to cover forestry activities, not prairies, and any impact on wildlife would be purely incidental, a controlled burn of a prairie did not fall within the existing open burning exceptions.
To remedy this situation, the Ohio EPA has proposed an amendment to OAC 3745-19-04 that specifies that “prairie and grassland management” as well as “invasive species management” are acceptable justifications for it to allow open burning. If adopted, the proposed changes will provide clarity for those seeking to employ open burns to manage prairie lands.