Legislature: Prescribed Burning Act Unanimously Passes House Floor


Legislation reinstating prescribed burns in New Mexico to manage the state’s hundreds of thousands of acres currently at risk of severe wildfires unanimously passed the House of Representatives Thursday. 

With bipartisan sponsorship from Rep. Matthew McQueen (D-Galisteo), Rep. Gail Armstrong (R-Magdalena), Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), and Sen. Pat Woods (R-Broadview), House Bill 57: the Prescribed Burning Act allows private landowners to conduct prescribed burns under proper conditions, and establishes a voluntary training and certification program for landowners and contractors interested in conducting these burns. 

Under HB 57, private landowners, contractors, and other private practitioners are liable for civil damages if found negligent in starting, controlling, or extinguishing a prescribed burn. Prescribed burns in this bill exclude agricultural burning to clear fields. 

“Unfortunately, an 1882 territorial-era statute still on the books imposes strict liability and double damages for harm caused as a result of burning, thus discouraging the prescribed burning necessary to keep our rangelands and forests healthy,” said Rep. McQueen. “House Bill 57 changes this from a strict liability standard to a negligence standard and further limits the liability for certified prescribed burn managers.” 

He continued: “After more than 100 years of suppressing fire, which is a natural part of our southwestern ecosystem, New Mexico is moving to facilitate prescribed burning as a management tool.”

House Bill 57 passed the House floor with a unanimous 63-0 vote and will be heard next in the Senate. 

Members of the public can track legislation on the New Mexico Legislature website, access committee meetings and House floor sessions via the Webcasts tab, or participate by Zoom to provide public comment on committee hearings. During the 2021 Legislative Session, the House of Representatives is focused on passing critical legislation while protecting the health and safety of the public, the staff, and the legislators.