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Smoke Management Program specifics

Program overview

The Smoke Management Program of the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) administers the open field burning rules in the Willamette Valley. The program roles are to:

  • coordinate, register, and distribute burn permits
  • authorize burning activities during the field burning season
  • provide ground surveillance during burn activities
  • monitor acreage burned and collect burn fees
  • enforce the rules that govern open field burning, propane flaming, and stack burning of grass and cereal grain in the Willamette Valley
  • manage the alternatives to field burning financial assistance program.

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Laws and rules

The authority to regulate open field burning is given to the Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) by Oregon Laws 1991, Chapter 920. The pertinent statutes are Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 468A.550 through 468A.620.

EQC is in charge of making the rules for field burning and ODA is in charge of running the Smoke Management Program. The program is enforced through Oregon Administrative Rules (OARs). Chapter 603, Division 77, Chapter 837 Division 110, and Chapter 340, Division 264 are the guidelines for Willamette Valley field burning.

Through an agreement with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), ODA manages the field burning program. The goal of the program is to offer opportunities for open field burning, propane flaming, and stack burning with minimal smoke impacts on the public. Permission to burn in the Willamette Valley is granted only after careful evaluation of daily weather and field conditions.

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Visibility protection standard

In 1980, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established rules protecting visibility in certain federal areas. Oregon has 12 of these Class I protected areas, which include 11 wilderness areas that are mostly along the crest of the Cascades, and Crater Lake National Park. For several years, DEQ monitored visibility in several Class I areas and worked with an advisory committee that represent agricultural, timber, environmental interests, and the public, in developing a plan to meet the federal goal.

Beginning in 1982, DEQ determined significant visibility problems during the summer months in federally protected areas. It was determined that the cause of the visibility issue was the result of field burning and forest slash burning. Thus, EQC designed changes to the regulations on field burning in 1986, 1992, and 2009. These changes included banning field burning on weekends from July 1 through September 15, with an exception of when natural visibility is already hindered by clouds, fog, or rain. There is also an emergency clause, which allows the Director of ODA to modify the restrictions under unusual and severe hardship conditions.

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The Smoke Management Program is a cooperative effort between the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Oregon Seed Council (OSC), and the grass seed growers of the Willamette Valley.

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Open field burning became common practice in 1948. In 1975, field burning came under the authority of DEQ, which had the ability to issue permits and cite violations. In 1990, ODA resumed responsibility for the Smoke Management Program and shared enforcement duties with DEQ. In 1991, the Oregon Legislature passed a new limitation to phase down acreage burned and limit certain types of burning. By 1995, ODA assumed full responsibility for the field burning program.

In June of 2009, the Oregon Legislative Assembly passed Senate Bill 528, further reducing the acres growers are allowed to burn.

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Every field of grass seed or cereal grain residue to be open field burned or propane flamed in the Willamette Valley must first be registered with and approved 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.

A registration form is really a permit application. It uniquely identifies the grower registrant and each candidate field for open field burning or propane flaming. The information must be accurate because it forms the basis for issuing burn permits later. Field information includes the total number of acres available for open field burning, the total number of acres available for propane flaming, latitude/longitude coordinates of the field, county zone number the field is located in, whether the field is a problem field, crop type, and whether the field is located in a priority area near a city, airport, or designated highway, and individual field acres.

A cereal field can only be listed if the grower has completed the "oath or affirmation" section of the registration in which the grower promises that, if burned, a small-seeded seed crop which requires flame sanitation will be planted on that land the following year.

Registration of potential fields to be burned begins in mid-March and must be completed on or before April 1st.

Registration mapping of fields
ODA provides a registration map of each district upon which every field registered must be drawn and reference coded. In June, the overlays are blueprinted and returned to the permit agent for use during the burn season.
It is the growers´ responsibility to show the exact location of each field by drawing in the field boundaries.

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It is illegal to burn any grass seed or cereal grain field or residue in the Willamette Valley without a permit. Permits for open field burning or propane flaming are issued by the permit agent to the grower for specified fields and for stack burning for specified locations on the day of the burn, in exact accordance with the times, places, amounts, burn type and other provisions and limitations announced by ODA. One field, one permit; one location, one permit. No exceptions.
A grower is issued a validation number just prior to burning. This number details exactly which field and which burn type is permitted and is proof that a permit has been issued for that burn. A grower cannot burn a field in a manner other than that specified in the validation number.

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Burning restrictions

Burning is restricted or prohibited in a number of areas in the Willamette Valley. Examples include areas close to certain types of roadways, near hospitals, and directly under high-powered transmission lines. A complete list of burning restrictions and prohibitions are be found in Oregon Administrative Rules 603-077-0119. You may also call the Oregon Department of Agriculture in Salem, Oregon for further information at (503) 986-4701.
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Summary of responsibilities

Environmental Quality Commission (EQC)
Sets policy for the DEQ and adopts rules regulating field burning pursuant to state laws ORS 468A.550 through 468A.620 and 468A.992.

Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA)
Conducts a Smoke Management Program within the Natural Resources Policy Area. The ODA duties include:
  • Oversee all employees and contractors who work in the program, including at a minimum, permit agents and field coordinators.
  • Coordinate, register, and issue of first-phase permits.
  • Administer and verify permit agent records.
  • Authorize and monitor burning activities during the field burning season, including the times, places, and number of fields to be burned.
  • Provide ground surveillance service during burning.
  • Monitor acreage burned and receive fees collected by permit agents.
  • Enforce regulations.
  • Manage the research and development program.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)
Provides weather/smoke condition monitoring and smoke impact study.

Oregon Seed Council (OSC)
Represents the seed industry and operates/maintains the field burning radio network.

Permit Agent (PA)
ODA contracts with permit agents to administer registration of acreage, issue burn permits, collect registration and burn fees, and keep records for open field burning, propane flaming or stack burning, within their permit jurisdictions.

Grower responsibilities
  • List and map every candidate field registered for open field burning and propane flaming.
  • Obtain a burning permit for specified fields from permit agent contracted for that fire district (including payment of fees).
  • Contact and obtain fire permits from the local fire district for permitted burns.
  • Burn in accordance with the announced schedule and monitor the open burning radio frequency over which burn authorizations are issued.
  • Expedite open field burns using rapid-ignition techniques whenever feasible.
  • Actively extinguish fires when prohibition conditions are imposed by the ODA, and attend burns until effectively extinguished.
  • Stop or refrain from burning inside a critical non-burn area or a priority area when the local winds would cause the smoke to noticeably affect the nearby city, airport, or highway (even though a permit for the burn was issued).
  • Have adequate lighting and extinguishing capabilities at the field.
  • Safe and lawful field burning conduct.
  • Learn and adhere to the provisions of the State Fire Marshal´s fire safety buffer zone regulations.
  • Follow all other laws and rules related to open burning of grass seed or cereal grain crop residues.

Growers are encouraged to exercise sound judgment for the general success of the program, including:
  • Prepare the field adequately.
  • Turn down permits and wait for another day if the burn cannot be done quickly or within the allotted time, or if atmospheric conditions deteriorate.

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Daily operations

From June 15th to October 15th, ODA sets the times, places, amounts, and restrictions for burning 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. Propane flaming and stack burning advisories are given in the morning radio announcement. In general, good open field burning conditions develop mid-day and deteriorate sometime before sunset. All fires should be out at fires out time and any active flames or major sources of smoke should be extinguished with water.
  • Prior to 8:00 a.m.: The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) determines and relays to Oregon Emergency Management (OEM) an advisory for propane flaming and stack burning of grass seed and cereal grain residue. ODF also determines and relays to the OEM an advisory for agricultural burning in rural areas outside of "special control areas."
  • At 9:00 a.m.: Issue a general open field burning weather forecast over the radio system including the advisory for propane flaming, stack burning, and agricultural burning. To view the forecast and advisory, visit the Oregon Agricultural Weather Center.
  • When conditions are appropriate: Take measurements of upper level winds and temperatures to determine the potential locations for open field burning test fires.
  • At 12:00 Noon: Broadcast an updated propane flaming and stack burning advisory and open field burning weather forecast over the radio system. Burning authorizations, or prohibition messages, will be broadcast subject to weather and field conditions, observed/forecast weather and observed smoke buildups. To view the updated forecast and advisory, visit the Oregon Agricultural Weather Center.
  • At 4:00 p.m. Friday: From June 15 through October 15, broadcast weekend burning advisory.

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Meteorological conditions

Open field burning, propane flaming, and stack burning are dependent upon weather conditions. To view the latest Willamette Valley weather forecast and burn advisory, visit the Oregon Agricultural Weather Center.

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Visibility and smoke impacts

A nephelometer is used as a reliable indicator of smoke in the air. This instrument indicates smoke levels by measuring the amount of light scattering that occurs when a beam of light is sent through an enclosed volume of air. Since nephelometers are insensitive to ambient humidity, sun angle, and darkness, they have prevailed over visibility observations as the standard by which smoke intrusions are analyzed.
Nephelometers have been set up by the DEQ in major population centers throughout the Willamette Valley. The amount of light scattering that is caused by the tiny smoke particles is given a numerical value. The numerical values or "b-scat" can indicate smoke intensity and overall ventilation capabilities. Currently, nephelometers are located in Portland, Salem, Corvallis, Lyons, Sweet Home, Silverton, Eugene, and Springfield.
In general, the nephelometer b-scat readings correspond to the following visibility observations:
  • 1.0 b-scat clear, no noticeable smoke, visibility 35 miles
  • 2.0 b-scat noticeable smokey haze, visibility 15 miles
  • 3.0 b-scat moderate smoke haze, visibility about 10 miles
  • 4.0 b-scat haze becoming heavy, visibility about 7 miles
  • 5.0 b-scat heavy haze, visibility about 5 miles
  • 10.0 b-scat heavy smoke, visibility about 2 miles
  • 20.0 b-scat heavy smoke, visibility less than a mile
Whenever b-scat readings exceed 1.8 above the background level (the smoke levels prior to any intrusion) for a period of one hour, an hour of official smoke impact is recorded for that station. A b-scat reading of 5.0 above background for one hour counts double, or for two hours of smoke impact.
Between June 16 and September 14 of each year, smoke impact hours are defined as follows:
"Heavy" hours are 5.0 X 10-4 B-scat or more above background; equivalent to visual range of 5 miles or less. (One hour of heavy smoke impact is equal to two hours of moderate smoke impact.)
"Moderate" hours of smoke impact are defined as resulting in hourly nephelometer measurements exceeding 1.8 X 10-4 B-scat above the prior 3-hour background; equivalent to visual range of 12 miles of less.
"Light" hours of smoke impact are defined as resulting in hourly nephelometer measurements exceeding 1.0 X 10-4 B scat above the prior 3-hour background.
"Light" hours of smoke impact were not recorded prior to the 1999 season.
"Significant" hours of smoke impact are defined as resulting in hourly nephelometer measurements exceeding 1.8 X 10-4 B scat above the prior 3-hour background.

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