ASSEMBLY AGRICULTURE AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE

 

STATEMENT TO

 

ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE SUBSTITUTE FOR

ASSEMBLY, No. 1275

 

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

 

DATED:  FEBRUARY 24, 2014

 

      The Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee reports favorably an Assembly Committee Substitute for Assembly Bill No. 1275.

      The committee substitute would establish a process for certifying individuals, and for allowing landowners and lessees, to conduct prescribed burns of forested and other undeveloped lands, in order to prevent uncontrolled and damaging wildfires and to accomplish various land management objectives.  The committee substitute would establish the procedures to be followed in conducting prescribed burns on lands, and would authorize the New Jersey Bureau of Forest Fire Management in the Department of Environmental Protection, under certain conditions, to conduct prescribed burns on any area of land within the State which is determined by the State Firewarden or designee to be in reasonable danger of wildfire.

      Specifically, the committee substitute would direct the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to develop and administer a program for the certification of prescribed burn managers.  The program would include at least the following subjects: safety, legal aspects of prescribed burning, fire behavior, prescribed burning tactics, smoke management, environmental effects, and preparation of prescribed burn plans.  A landowner or lessee who wishes to conduct a prescribed burn on their own land would not have to become certified as a prescribed burn manager.  The committee substitute allows the DEP to charge a reasonable fee to cover the costs associated with the program.

      Under the committee substitute, the DEP would be directed to approve a properly prepared and filed prescribed burn plan prepared by a certified prescribed burn manager or the landowner or lessee prior to the burn unless the DEP determines that the plan presents an unreasonable risk of uncontrolled wildfire or harm to public health or safety.  The DEP may also charge reasonable fees to review a filed prescribed burn plan and to issue an authorization to burn.

      The committee substitute authorizes the Bureau of Forest Fire Management to enter into a written agreement with a landowner, or a lessee with the landowner's written permission, to conduct a joint prescribed burn or mechanically replicate a burn on the landowner's property.  If the prescribed burn is conducted by the bureau at the request of a landowner or lessee, the bureau may assess the reasonable and normal costs against the landowner or lessee, which would be payable within 90 days after assessment.  If the landowner or lessee does not pay the assessed costs within 90 days, the costs may be deemed to be a penalty collectable in a summary proceeding pursuant to the “Penalty Enforcement Law of 1999.”  However, the committee substitute provides that no fees or costs would be assessed to a landowner or lessee for a prescribed burn conducted by the bureau on land which is determined by the DEP to be in reasonable danger of wildfire. 

      All fees, costs, and penalties that are paid in accordance with the requirements and provisions of the committee substitute would be credited to a special dedicated account in the General Fund and appropriated to the DEP to help pay for the administration and operation of its forest fire programs.