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Georgian DNR, Nature Conservancy Team Up for Prescribed Fire

From Georgia Department of Natural Resources

-- A new joint effort by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division and The Nature Conservancy will help prevent wildfire damage in Georgia and promote healthy forests.

For the first time, the two groups are working together to hire a four-person seasonal burn crew that will be headquartered at Moody Forest Natural Area, a 4,500-acre south Georgia property managed by the
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and The Nature Conservancy. This unique step in ongoing collaborative efforts will allow for more prescribed fires in more locations.

"The two agencies can burn more acres working together than they can separately," said DNR wildlife biologist Shan Cammack.

The Wildlife Resources Division and The Nature Conservancy are members of the Georgia Prescribed Fire Council, which kicked off Prescribed Fire Awareness Week on Feb. 3.

"Prescribed fire is a safe way to apply a natural process and to ensure ecosystem health by reducing the risk of wildfires," said Matt Snider, fire manager for The Nature Conservancy in Georgia and Alabama and a member of the Georgia Prescribed Fire Council's Steering Committee.

A seasonal sweep of fire is considered essential to the management of fire-dependant wildlife including quail, eastern wild turkeys, songbirds and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Prescribed fire also is the only known method for perpetuating the longleaf pine wiregrass ecosystem, which is Georgia's most diverse type of forestland.

The new burn team will be a mobile unit, which means it can quickly adapt to changing conditions. Conducting successful prescribed fires is a precise practice, requiring that all the factors influencing the fire's growth and intensity be just right. Plans must sometimes be scrapped because of unfavorable conditions. With a mobile unit, land managers can make plans to burn at multiple sites, and, if one location doesn't work, the team can move to the next site on the list.

In many locations there are only a few days a year that are favorable for burning. When those days arrive the team has to be ready. A mobile unit will help make sure those opportunities are not missed.

In 2007, wildfires burned along Interstate 75 from Valdosta to northern Florida, burning more than 500,000 acres. The smoke spread, closing roads and creating hazardous smoke levels in metro Atlanta for 12 days from April to June. Damage was estimated at more than $100 million. More than 6,000 people were forced to evacuate.

"Much of the damage on private lands from last summer's wildfires in the Okefenokee area was due to fire suppression," said Cammack. "Burning promotes a healthy forest and it is going to happen anyway so it is much better when we can control it."

Prescribed Fire Awareness Week, which runs through Saturday, Feb. 9, helps forest managers and state and federal officials educate the Georgia Legislature and the public on using prescribed fire as a tool for reducing the risk of wildfires.

Buying a nongame wildlife license plate or making a donation via the State Income Tax Checkoff supports work such as seasonal burning that benefits nongame in Georgia. The tax checkoff and sales of bald eagle and hummingbird tags provide vital funding for the Nongame Conservation Section. Projects vary from monitoring sea turtles to promoting awareness of prescribed fire.

Wildlife license plates are available for $25 at all county tag offices. Tags also can be bought by checking the wildlife license plate box on mail-in registration forms. Visit http://mvd.dor.ga.gov/tags for online renewals.

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