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Economics and Prescribed Fire Law in the United States

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Prescribed burning is increasingly recognized as a useful but risky land management and conservation tool. Common law relating to prescribed fire is generally predicated on negligence rules. However, virtually all states also have statutory law specifying liability rules or criminal penalties for prescribed burning, and the laws in many states have been changing substantially in recent years. We develop an economic model of the incentive and welfare effects of prescribed burning, where both the burner and potential victims of escaped fires can reduce expected damage with precautionary effort. The model provides implications regarding the comparative advantages of strict liability versus negligence rules. We then examine the characteristics and geographic distribution of prescribed fire liability law in the United States in the context of the model. Specifically, we discuss possible economic underpinnings of the recent emergence of statutes in southeastern states that are more supportive of prescribed fire use, despite its associated risks.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Jonathan Yoder is Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Washington State University (research completed while at Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics). 2: Marcia Tilley is a Professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Oklahoma State University. 3: David Engle is a Professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Oklahoma State University. 4: Samuel Fuhlendorf is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Oklahoma State University.

Publication date: 01 June 2003

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