Commission Agenda Item No. 11
Presenters: Jeff Sparks
Chris Schenck

Fire Programs
August 22, 2019

I.      Executive Summary:  The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Wildlife and State Parks Wildland Fire Programs staff will provide an update on their respective programs, which use prescribed fire as a tool to manage natural resources across Texas.

II.     Discussion:  TPWD manages over 1.4 million acres of public land, including 95 state parks and 50 wildlife management areas (WMAs) representing all ecoregions in Texas.  Prescribed fire is the most common land management tool used by TPWD to maintain and restore natural habitats, manage fuel loads to reduce the risk from catastrophic wildfires and protect resources, infrastructure, and neighboring landowners and communities.  Together, TPWD teams have steadily increased the number of burns and acres treated from approximately 8,000 in 2012 to more than 30,000 acres in 2018.

The variety of habitats and environmental conditions across the state demands a well-trained and ecologically-savvy wildland fire team. Using a science-based wildland fire management approach in a safe and responsible manner is the foundation of both the State Parks and Wildlife Divisions’ Wildland Fire Programs.  Both divisions follow National Wildfire Fire Coordinating Group (NWCG) training and operational standards.  Collaboration among the divisions is critical to train staff and implement prescribed fire across the Texas landscape.  Although each division has distinct goals and objectives, they work together by sharing equipment and staff resources to meet each division’s goals. Collaborative efforts are paramount as both divisions operate primarily with collateral-duty firefighters.  TPWD utilizes the same NWCG standards and qualifications as other land management and fire agencies, and often assists the Texas Forest Service and federal partners in both prescribed fire operations and wildfire response across the state.

In addition to managing state-owned lands with prescribed fire, TPWD assists with private lands fire management through its technical guidance program.  WMAs offer prescribed fire workshops and field demonstration tours where biologists train private landowners to implement prescribed fire on their property.  State Parks staff provide outreach and education events to both park visitors and neighbors about the value of prescribed fire for restoration and management of native habitats.  Both WMAs and state parks provide valuable venues for demonstrating the positive effects of prescribed fires.

State parks and WMAs are also important areas for fire management science and research.  TPWD manages more than 1,500 permanent long-term vegetation plots that are monitored to determine if prescribed fire activities are meeting stewardship objectives. TPWD partners with various universities to conduct research related to fire management activities on state-managed lands.