In age of wildfires, some South Carolina forest managers seeking to move to smaller controlled burns

March 28, 2018 / Comments (0)

Civic News

Post and Courier


Smoke will plume above the state’s timberlands again this winter, looming over nearby neighborhoods as forest owners strike a match to clear away pinestraw, fallen limbs and other debris that stunts growth and can fuel destructive wildfires.

The tradition is a century old, going back to the days when remote forests could be burned thousands of acres at a time. More than 12 million acres in South Carolina are forest and most have to be burned at some point or eventually they will erupt in wildfire.

But each year more homes and forest visitors crowd those acres. And the damage that these controlled, or prescribed, burns cause to trees and habitats is becoming more of a concern across South Carolina.

As a result, at least some of the burns this year will be across smaller pieces of land than in the past, and large-scale burners such as the U.S. Forest Service are at least listening to critics who say smaller burns make it easier to protect the ecosystem and stay more acceptable to people nearby.

“They can be just as effective if not more effective (than large-scale burns),” said Rebecca Turner, programs and policy director for American Forests, a nonprofit woodlands advocate.

Large wildfires have become nearly an annual nightmare in the state and across the nation. There was the 2016 Pinnacle Mountain blaze that was one of a series of fires across 60,000 acres in South Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina. The smoke from it blew all the way to Charleston.

Out west, the nearly 300,000-acre Thomas fire still burns in Ventura County in California, the largest in the state’s modern history.

The destruction to property and ecosystems has been in the billions of dollars.

While cutting down the size of burns makes them more expensive and time-consuming to conduct, the advantage is that smaller burns allow fire managers to work closer to populated areas where the risk of wildfire is the greatest.

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