Union County Smoke Management
Air Quality Links:
PRESCRIBED BURNING (FOREST LAND)
The burning of slash (forest residue) piles as a forest management tool. Forest landowners and managers in Union County conduct prescribed burning normally during the spring and fall months.
The burning of residue in grass seed and cereal crop fields for sanitizing fields due to fungus diseases and weed contaminants.
PRESCRIBED BURNING (FOREST LAND)
Northwest Interagency Coordination Center
Fire Season – local forest fire situation and fire weather forecasts.
Frequently Asked Questions (Prescribed Burning)
- Who has responsibility for slash burning, and isn’t slash burning under the same rules as the field burning program?
The Oregon Department of Forestry is responsible for managing the smoke from slash burning, which occurs throughout much of the year. It operates under a smoke management plan to try to minimize smoke intrusions into populated areas.
- Are there any smoke management requirements for forest landowners or managers who conduct burning?
Forest landowners and managers are encouraged to follow the daily smoke management forecast/advisory which are available 24 hours per day, 7 days a week during the fall and spring months by calling (541)963-8059.
- What is a smoke management advisory?
A smoke management advisory is a review of the weather forecast to determine if conditions are favorable for forest land burning that would reduce the likelihood of smoke intruding into the Grande Ronde Valley. It generally states the time of day, the direction(s), and distance from the Valley that are most favorable for burning and also the time, direction(s), and distance that might result in smoke problems in the Valley. The advisories are updated each day at about 2:00 p.m. and applicable for the following day.
- I am just going to burn a few slash piles; do I still need to adhere to the smoke management advisory?
It is always important to consult the smoke management advisory since slash piles could continue to produce smoke several days after ignition. The advisory might also predict unexpected or sudden weather changes that could adversely affect air quality.
- Do private landowners need a permit to conduct burning on their own forest land?
Yes, during fire season (normally from end of June through October each year) a landowner within the State fire protection district is required to obtain a burning permit. A permit is needed for any type of burning including debris burning, incinerator (burn barrel) burning, or slash burning. Outside fire season landowners are required to obtain permits for slash burning only.
The burning of residue in grass seed and cereal crop fields for sanitizing fields due to fungus diseases and weed contaminants, and for residue management.
Union County Smoke Management Office (Burn season only)
Union County Commissioners Office
Frequently Asked Questions (Agricultural Burning)
- Why do farmers burn grass seed fields?
Fire is a natural part of the grass plants life cycle. Grass seed in Union County is a perennial crop, meaning it is planted one year and then harvested for several years after that without replanting. After harvest each year the farmer needs to remove as much of the old residue as possible to ready the plant for the next years crop. Open field burning is the most effective and economical method to remove the residue. As a tool it effectively controls many diseases, sanitizes fields, stimulates growth, helps produce a higher quality seed and destroys “second generation” seeds that ensure seed purity. Field burning also helps to control weed, seed, and insect problems, which reduces the use of chemicals.
- Why do farmers burn cereal crop fields?
Burning off the old residue allows farmers to plant directly into the soil without having to plow or otherwise disturb the ground. This practice is known as no-till or direct seeding. No-till is being encouraged more and more to reduce wind and water erosion. No-till may occasionally be used without burning, but if the residue is too heavy or a weed or disease problem exists then burning is necessary.
- Who decides which days are burn days?
Burn season begins June 15th and lasts until September 30th. To have optimum burn conditions with the least impact on others, growers try to burn when the weather conditions, field conditions, and dispersion forecast are all optimum. The smoke management center in Imbler gathers weather data and a forecast each weekday during the burning season. If the conditions are right they allow one initial fire called a test fire. If the smoke from the test fire is dispersing correctly then more burning will be allowed. There is never any open field burning on Sundays or holidays. While this is not a state mandated regulation, growers in Union County have made Sundays, holidays and Union County Fair week off-limits in an effort to minimize any impact the smoke might have. There will be occasional burning on Saturdays.
- Why can’t the burning be done all at once, or on a pre-scheduled basis?
State and Federal laws would prohibit significant uncontrolled emission of pollutants. In addition, farmers are not capable of doing all the burning at once. If any fires escaped, our rural fire districts would have difficulty controlling them. All days are not ‘ideal’ for minimizing smoke impact.
The objective of smoke management is to match burn levels to the airshed’s dispersion capabilities while minimizing smoke impacts. To do this, the Smoke Management Office specifies the times, places and amount of burning to be allowed. This is continually re-evaluated and adjusted throughout the burn day by tracking smoke drift, plume rise and indications of shifting winds.
- What is the difference between open field burning and propaning?
An open field burn is when the straw from the crop is left on the field and used as a fuel to carry the fire across the field and burn the other residue, which is not as flammable. With the straw from the field baled, they will use a propane flamer to help burn the field. A 30-foot wide flamer will have torches placed every eight or ten inches along its width. By driving slowly across the field, a farmer can burn each plant using the propane as fuel.
Open field burns are the ones that result in large columns of smoke rising up into the air that can be seen from a distance. Propane flaming produces less visible smoke. Because the farmer has to cover the entire field, propaning takes much longer. Usually it is also necessary to go over the field a second time two or three days later when conducting a propane flaming burn. Propane flaming does not burn as hot as an open burn and doesn’t work in all conditions.
- Why don’t farmers bale and/or propane all their fields?
Propaning is expensive, which makes it economically prohibitive, however, the majority of farmers have committed to reducing smoke impacts. Perhaps more significantly, the fire does not burn as hot, so controlling disease and pests is not as optimal as open burns. Also of importance, the baled straw has a limited market. A world market for straw has been developed with the help of Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Research and Development department and a large percentage is shipped overseas for uses such as power production, mushroom growing, and animal bedding. A surprising amount is used for cover for overwintering protection on crops like carrots. The straw is not a viable or nutritious feed. In past times when farmers put the straw residue into stacks, these stacks were then burned, creating the same scenarios as we are dealing with now.
- Does complaining do any good?
Complaints provide supplemental information on the extent and location of smoke problems, although the Smoke Management Office does have observers and measuring devices that are monitoring air quality. Often, burning can’t be stopped before a smoke problem develops, and there is little that can be done but wait for clearing. Complaints are tabulated and reported to the County Commissioners, the Smoke Management Review Committee, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Department.
- What is being done to solve the smoke problem over the long run?
ODA operates an extensive research program each year for developing alternatives to field burning. For the 1997-99 biennium over $1,000,000 has been budgeted for research and development. Projects include developing alternative crops, alternative field management practices, and straw utilization. This program is continuous, and funding comes primarily from fees paid by grass seed growers.
- Who has responsibility for slash burning, and isn’t slash burning under the same rules as the field burning program?
The Oregon Department of Forestry is responsible for managing the smoke from slash burning, which occurs throughout much of the year. It operates under a smoke management plan to try to minimize smoke intrusions into populated areas
WOOD STOVE BURNING
RESIDENTIAL OPEN BURNING
Contacts (Non–emergency numbers):
La Grande Rural Fire District (541) 963-6895
La Grande Rural Fire District (Burning Permits) (541) 963-4295
City of Elgin (541) 437-2253
Imbler Rural Fire District (541) 534-6351
City of Island City (541) 963-6895
Island City Burning Permits (541) 963-4295
City of Union (541) 562-5197
SMOKE MANAGEMENT PROGRAM
The grass seed industry in Union County has long been of importance to the economic health of the county and to the communities that provide the infrastructure that benefit from this industry.
The maintenance of the rural lifestyles that contribute to the quality of life are valued by the residents of Union County. To continue to provide the open spaces that are so valued here requires the continuation of a strong partnership between the rural and urban residents of Union County.
The commodity that is provided by the grass seed industry helps to protect one of the most critical natural resources we have – soil. Not only does the growing of grass seed help to stabilize and protect the soils where it is planted, it also helps to protect the precious and valuable soils of Union County from loss when erosive winds blow across our landscape.
The opportunity to periodically burn agricultural residue is a vital part of this industry. However, the impact to our communities and those sensitive to the smoke is a serious concern for all residents. The Union County Smoke Management Plan is intended to minimize health and lifestyle impacts.
Program Overview – Union County administers the open field burning rules by conducting a smoke management program through its Smoke Management Office. The program includes:
- Coordinating, registering, and issuing of permits.
- Authorizing burning activities during the field burning season.
- Providing ground surveillance service and limited weather forecasting.
- Monitoring acreage burned and receiving fees from those who burn.
- Enforcing rules governing open field burning and propane flaming.
- Collecting fees ($10.00 per acre open burned, $2.00 per acre rapid fire propane burning) from growers.
- Providing monies collected from grower fees to the research and development program administered by the ODA.
Registration – Every field of grass seed or cereal grain residue to be open field burned or propane flamed in Union County must first be registered with and approved by the Smoke Management Office as dictated by the ODA. There are no exceptions. Open field burning or propane flaming any plot of land of grass seed or cereal grain residue not listed on a registration form is illegal.
Registration is essentially a permit application. It identifies the grower registrant and each candidate field for open burning or propane flaming. Field information includes: the total number of acres available for open field burning; the total number of acres available for propane flaming; coordinates of the fields and location; crop type; and individual field acres.
Permits – It is illegal to burn any grass seed or cereal grain field or residue in Union County without a permit. Permits for open field burning or propane flaming are issued by the Smoke Management office to the grower for specified field and acreage on the day of the burn, in exact accordance with the times, places, amount, burn type and other provisions and limitations announced by the ODA. One field, one permit; one location, one permit.
Daily Operations, Burn Season – Burn season is designated from June 15th to September 30th . The Union County Smoke Management Office has the responsibility to set the times, places, amounts and other burning restrictions as needed throughout the day. Within the limits of the rules, burn decisions are made in an effort to allow reasonable burning opportunities with minimal impacts on the public. In general, good open field burning conditions develop mid-day and deteriorate sometime before sunset.
Background – The Smoke Management Program is responsible for overseeing open field burning and propane flaming of all grass seed residue and cereal grain residue within Union County. The program administers open field and propane flaming rules. The objective of the program is to increase the degree of public safety by preventing and minimizing smoke intrusions to the public, highways and freeways within Union County.
The Smoke Management Program is a cooperative effort involving the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Union County Seed Growers Association, approximately 6 local fire protection districts, and about 45 growers.
- Burning of grass seed fields began in the 1940;s when farmers and OSU agronomists found it to be the only effective method of controlling fungus disease and weed contaminants. It is still the most cost effective method for sanitizing fields. Agricultural field burning is also conducted in central Oregon and the Willamette Valley, Idaho, Washington, California, Hawaii and in other countries.
- The objective of smoke management is to match burn levels to the airshed’s dispersion capabilities while minimizing smoke impacts. To do this, the Smoke Management Office specifies the times, places and amount of burning to be allowed. This is continually re-evaluated and adjusted throughout the burn day by tracking smoke drift, plume rise and indications of shifting winds.
- Burning usually begins in early July and continues through September or until the fall rains begin. (There are no official beginning or ending date to start or finish). In a typical summer, more than 75% of the burning takes place on just 10 to 15 separate days.
- Direct cell phone communications between the Smoke Management office and the grower, constant ground surveillance, and continuous monitoring of winds and smoke allow a rapid response to developing changes or problems. Growers can be fined for burning without permission or after a “stop burning” order is issued.
- Growers pay a $10.00 per acre to register and burn their fields. Propane flaming is $2.00 per acre to propane flame. $2.00 of this amount pays to operate the Smoke Management Office, which is directed by Union County. $8.00 per acre of these monies goes directly to the State of Oregon, Department of Agriculture to be used for research relating to field burning and residue removal.
- Control strategies have been developed to remedy impairment from field and slash burning, particularly in relation to the 12 Class I wilderness areas in Oregon. To compensate for potential lost burning opportunities, short and long term strategies were developed. Short-term strategies (1-5 years) include encouraging a shift to more early season burning, when feasible, and making improvements in smoke management and grower burning capabilities. Long-term control strategies (5-15 years) rely on research and development of alternate crops not requiring burning, straw utilization and other alternatives.
- Since 1990 open field burning has been reduced from 10,607 acres to 3,642 acres in 2000. The number of acres burned in each of the past three years has been approximately 4,000 acres. The percentage of grass acres open burned has declined from 87% in 1990 to 27% in 2000, and 0% since 2013.