Managing Air Quality Impacts from Prescribed Burns

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U.S. Government Accountability Office




District of Columbia

Organization Overview:

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the "congressional watchdog," GAO examines how taxpayer dollars are spent and provides Congress and federal agencies with objective, reliable information to help the government save money and work more efficiently.

Project Name:

Managing Air Quality Impacts from Prescribed Burns
Project Type: 
Policy Analysis

Project Overview:

More frequent and severe wildfires are increasingly creating unhealthy air quality in communities across the western United States. These wildfires burn uncontrolled, making it impossible to manage the amount of smoke they produced or where it goes. Land managers often use prescribed burns to help reduce fuels on a landscape and thereby decrease the intensity of and spread of wildfires, helping to lessen the air quality impacts from wildfires. Prescribed burns are deliberate, planned fires designed to burn at a relatively low intensity within a confined
area. While prescribed burns also produce smoke, they can be planned in a manner that helps to minimize the amount of smoke and predict where the smoke will go. State air quality agencies have regulations and programs to help minimize the amount of smoke prescribed burns produce and their effect on air quality in nearby communities.

Comprehensive information on states’ programs to manage air quality effects from prescribed burns is not readily available. This project would use a literature review, internet searches, and semi-structured interviews of officials from selected state air quality agencies to qualitatively describe (1) the various state regulations related to managing the air quality effects from prescribed burns, (2) the key components of states’ prescribed burn air quality management programs and how the programs vary across states and (3) the mechanisms states use to evaluate the extent to which prescribed burn air quality objectives are met. The project supervisor can help student refine research objectives and interview questions, select the states to include in the project, and identify individuals to interview.


Student will prepare a research paper, including a statement of the issue, background information, scope and methodology, analysis of literature review and interview results, and any conclusions or suggestions for future work.

Fels Institute of Government

The Fels Institute of Government
3814 Walnut St. 
Philadelphia, PA 19104

(215) 898-7326