Suppression of fire in the Southern Plains has led to proliferation of woody plants and fuel load accumulation that spurs wildfires. These effects have led to calls for widespread application of prescribed fire to reduce fuel loads, but there is substantial landowner resistance to the use of this land management tool. Here we explore factors that affect perceptions of landowners in the Southern Plains about prescribed fire liability and their willingness to apply this land management tool. This region was selected for the study because of the preponderance of private landholdings and widespread woody plant encroachment. The study used a mail survey of 1 853 landowners in 16 counties in Texas and Oklahoma, resulting in a data set from 680 respondents (37% useable response rate). Logistic regression models were developed to test three hypotheses relating to the likelihood that a landowner will apply prescribed fire. The study corroborated that landowners who perceived higher levels of fire-related legal liability were less likely to apply prescribed fire on their land or assist with its application on other properties. In addition, burn bans were found to inhibit landowner willingness to apply fire during periods that result in higher woody plant mortality. Oklahoma respondents, landowners who believed prescribed fire to be an affordable woody plant management tool, and members of prescribed burning associations (PBAs) were more likely to use prescribed fire. These results have important implications for policies aimed at overcoming resistance to the use of prescribed fire to curb woody plant encroachment and reduce fuel load accumulation. Specifically, language in state statutes pertaining to prescribed fire should be modified to reduce landowner concerns over legal liability; PBAs should be established more widely; and public cost-sharing funds for woody plant management should prioritize prescribed fire.
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