February 2, 2023

Spring burn ban bill brought off table, amended version passes Senate committee

USDA Forest Service

The Senate Conservation Committee passed a bill on Thursday on a 5-2 vote that would ban prescribed burns in the spring months when the National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning.

SB 21, sponsored by Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, initially was tabled by the committee. The committee made the rare decision to bring the bill off the table to be heard again after Griggs made some changes. The previous version would have completely banned prescribed burning in the spring.

After Griggs submitted a committee substitute that limited the ban to days when there are red flag conditions, many of the opponents said they supported the bill or no longer opposed it. Some concerns remained about tying the hands of people who are tasked with conducting prescribed burns.

State Forester Laura McCarthy said there is always a “go, no go” decision the night before a prescribed burn and that test fires are lit the day of the prescribed burn to see how the fire will behave.

The bill comes after a prescribed burn on a windy day last spring got out of control, leading to the Hermits Peak Fire, which soon became the largest in state history and joined with another fire, the Calf Canyon Fire.

Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerillos, and Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, voted against the bill. 

The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.