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First-of-its-kind guidebook leads landowners through smoke management

An illustration from the guidebook highlights the many factors that affect smoke.
By Rachel Bink (BSFR ’22)

Illustrated book de-mystifies science, best practices for an important part of prescribed burns


Prescribed burns are an essential part of forest management, but the main byproduct—smoke—often gives people pause.

Now, a new guidebook focused specifically on smoke management can help landowners and land managers across the Southeast. Co-written by Holly Campbell, public service assistant at the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, the lushly illustrated book is the first of its kind written specifically for landowners.

Prescribed fire has many economic and ecological benefits but requires knowledge and training to safely conduct and reap such benefits. Current resources on smoke management include complex smoke models and other tools and are typically developed for experienced prescribed burners.

This poses a barrier to landowners and others with less experience who want to try their hand at prescribed burns. Campbell’s guidebook, “Smoke Management Guidebook for Prescribed Burning in the Southern Region,” aims to de-mystify the process. The guidebook is available as a free download on Warnell’s website.

“The original idea was to have a product that burners, like landowners and others, could use in the field or just have to help as a reference to conduct a burn,” said Campbell. “We wanted to create a guidebook that could be used for on-the-ground implementation. Many documents are created for academics and experienced burners, but private landowners are sometimes missed. So, we wanted to create something that would be useful and would help them to implement their burns more safely.”

The book is the product of four years of extensive research into wildland smoke management publications from the U.S. Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency and other resources. Campbell also collected information from national prescribed fire and smoke management experts and practitioners.

Campbell said the original intent was to have a general guidebook for prescribed burning. But the more the team worked on the project, the more they realized a guidebook specifically for smoke management could be beneficial.

“There was just so much information, and nothing like that already existed for this target audience,” she said. “We wanted to create a smoke management guidebook that could be a companion to the Prescribed Fire Guidebook that’s in development, yet could still be a stand-alone document that provided a lot more detail and went into more depth on topics such as weather and best smoke management practices.”

The guidebook breaks complex smoke management practices down into easy-to-digest, step-by-step instructions for before, during and after a fire. It’s the only guidebook of its kind to provide this level of information about smoke management.

Co-authors include Jennifer E. Fawcett, extension associate at North Carolina State University; Leslie Boby, interim coordinator of Southern Regional Extension Forestry; and David Godwin, administrative director of the Southern Fire Exchange. The book includes tables, figures and photos sourced from federal agencies, but many were taken by Campbell and Godwin. A companion publication, “Southeastern Prescribed Fire Guidebook,” is expected to be published early in 2022.

Campbell said she hopes the “Smoke Management Guidebook for Prescribed Burning in the Southern Region” can help landowners and managers of all degrees of expertise to gain more experience with prescribed fires. Because the majority of forestland across the South is privately owned, it’s important to provide a one-stop shop so private landowners understand how to conduct prescribed burns and, specifically, to better manage smoke.

“We hope that it will have a lasting impact for the readers in that they will feel more knowledgeable about the subject, and more prepared to think about how they can include smoke management into their prescribed burn plans,” she added.

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