By Joe Johnson
Keeping Georgia’s 24 million acres of forestland healthy depends a lot on Mother Nature. Sunshine and growing conditions are critical, yet forest managers rely on another important tool that has a lesser known but important role – fire.
Governor Brian Kemp has declared February 5-11 “Prescribed Fire Awareness Week” in Georgia. Begun in 2005, the observance marks the importance of fire in the landscape as applied by trained practitioners. Prescribed fire’s benefits include the reduction of wildfire risk, improvements in wildlife habitat, and enhancement of reforestation processes.
“Prescribed fire is one of the most important tools for cultivating healthy forestland,” said Georgia Forestry Commission Director Tim Lowrimore. “Prescribed fire protects lives and properties because it clears the forest floor of vegetative debris that can fuel dangerous wildfires, plus it plays a strong role in forest regeneration.”
Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) CommissionerMark Williams said last year DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division burned more than 75,000 acres on state-managed land, a record high for the agency.
“Prescribed fire is one of the best, most cost-effective tools for conserving and restoring fire-adapted habitats,” Williams said. “The bottom line is that prescribed burning is a safe way to apply a natural process, ensure the health of Georgia’s ecosystems and reduce the risk of wildfire.”
Many songbirds, white-tailed deer, and the endangered red cockaded woodpecker are fire-dependent species. Georgia’s native long leaf pine ecosystem is reliant on fire as well.
Annually over one million acres of forestland are prescribe-burned across the state, with a five-year average of 1.25 million acres.