The Bayonet

Tuesday, Jun. 10, 2014

Prescribed burns reduce risk of wildfires

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With summer set to officially begin June 21, members of the Fort Benning community should be ready to take the necessary precautions to combat higher temperatures and potential dry conditions.

The same holds true for the Land Management Branch, as wildfires can often be a concern during this time of year.

However, the branch is well prepared to deal with wildfires by dealing with them before they ever occur.

Stephen Hudson, the branch's lead forester, said thanks to the postwide prescribed burning program, wildfires are roughly five times less likely to occur on Fort Benning.

"Prior to our burn program, there were a little over 500 wildfires annually," Hudson said. "Since we instituted a three-year burn cycle of 30,000 acres a year, that's gone down to less than 100 annually."

Most prescribed burning occurs from December through the end of May, with site preparation burns conducted during the fall in order to prepare for tree planting.

That leaves the summer months for Fort Benning officials to focus solely on combating wildfires.

Thanks to recent wetter conditions, Hudson said the risk of wildfires is lower than in years past.

"This year, save for the past few weeks, has been unseasonably wet," he said.

"The past seven or eight years, we've had some real drought conditions during the summer months. Even last year, there was a lot of rain during the summer and that really helped us out. If we continue with periodic rain showers and thunderstorms, that's going to be really helpful in terms of controlling wildfires."

However, the prescribed burning program does more than just prevent wildfires.

"It ultimately benefits what we do here, which is supporting training missions," Hudson said. "It opens up the training areas and improves access and creates conditions that are conducive to training. ... It's definitely a benefit to wildlife. It creates a habitat and improves the ecosystem. It promotes a healthy forest, and also reduces the numbers of the animals we don't want on us, like ticks and chiggers.

"It also helps with asset protection. There are several assets and several training structures on the landscape and when fires are conducted in a controlled setting, we can protect those assets. When it's a wildfire, it can result in asset loss."

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