Thursday, October 9, 2014

Research Q of the Week: A Burning Question (10/9)

Question: The leaves are changing color and falling off the trees. Do our city residents need permits to burn the leaves they rake up in their yards?

Answer: Whether someone is required to obtain a permit for open burning of leaves depends upon where they live.

Open burning of leaves without a permit issued by a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forestry official or one of its fire marshals is generally prohibited. 

This is the rule that applies to cities located in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. This general rule also applies to non-metro cities that have not adopted an ordinance allowing open burning of leaves.

(The Twin Cities metro in this instance is defined as: Anoka; Carver; Dakota, excluding the city of Northfield; Hennepin, excluding the cities of Hanover and Rockford; Ramsey; Scott, excluding the city of New Prague; and Washington counties.)

Non-metro has discretion
There is a broad exception to the open burning permit requirement. State law gives non-metro cities some discretion to determine whether to allow open burning of dried leaves. These cities may adopt an ordinance permitting open burning of dried leaves between Sept. 15 and Dec. 1. The ordinance must include conditions necessary to minimize air pollution, fire danger, and any other hazards or nuisance conditions. City ordinances can require residents to obtain a local open burning permit, but it is not necessary under state law for city open burning of leaves ordinances to require permits.

Open burning of leaves is still a no-no during air pollution alerts, warnings, or emergencies declared by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Cities that adopt an open burning of leaves ordinance must provide a copy to the DNR and MPCA.

Nothing in state law requires non-metro cities to adopt an ordinance that allows open burning of leaves. State law simply authorizes cities to do what works best for them. If a non-metro city determines that safety, environmental, health, and nuisance concerns outweigh the possible benefits of open burning of leaves, it could either not adopt an ordinance permitting open burning of leaves or it could adopt an ordinance prohibiting open burning of leaves.

For answers to all your burning questions, see the League of Minnesota Cities information memo on Open Burning in Cities

Written by James Monge. Contact the League's Research and Information Service staff by emailing, or by calling (651) 281-1200 or (800) 925-1122.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

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