Stewart DPW branch manages forest resources
Jeff Mangun, chief of Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield's Forestry Branch of the Environmental Division of the Directorate of Public Works, points to the special steel caging surrounding the cab of one the bulldozers used to cut firebreaks. The reinforced cab, which is also air conditioned, protects the driver from falling debris and smoke inhalation.

FORT STEWART, Ga. - Fort Stewart is the largest Army installation east of the Mississippi River, covering nearly 300,000 acres. Anyone driving the "Green Tunnel" on GA-144 from Richmond Hill to the back gate can see that most of the installation is covered in forests. Managing Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield's forest resources is the job of the Forestry Branch of the Environmental Division of the Directorate of Public Works.

"Basically, we do wildfire management," explained Jeff Mangun, chief of Stewart-Hunter Forestry Branch. "We detect and suppress wildfires and conduct prescribed burning. We also manage timber, which includes marking and harvesting timber and regeneration of desired trees, like the longleaf pine. We're trying to restore longleaf pine here at Fort Stewart."

Mangun explained that longleaf pines once covered most of the Southeastern United States, but over-harvesting of these prized trees led to their decline. Only 5 percent of U.S. forests are now longleaf pine.

He said longleaf pine forests require frequent, regular burning to keep down hardwood and other pines that compete with for light and nutrients. Other benefits to prescribed burning include creating and improving habit for wildlife and diversifying plant species. Prescribed burning also improves conditions for military training.

"We haven't restricted tracer firing here at Stewart in 10 years, thanks to our aggressive burning," said Mangun. "Even though we do have range fires, we're able to let them burn themselves out because we've kept the fuel loadings (underbrush) down."

According to Forestry Technician David Pope, Stewart-Hunter Forest Branch set another growing season record last year, clearing 98,675 acres of underbrush through prescribed burning.

The growing season here is March through September, he said. Prescribed burning mimics the natural fires caused by lightning strikes during the spring and summer. Pope said that of the 267,000 acres available on Stewart for burning, 258,691 acres have been burned at least once during the last five years.

Pope explained the Forestry Branch's prescribed burning schedule starts before the growing season begins. Fire planners write a prescribed burn "prescription" for each area designated for burning. Each prescription is reviewed and analyzed by the DPW Environment Division. Once approved, burn teams carefully take action, conducting the burns according to weather conditions like high or changing winds that might affect the burn.

According to Mangun, one of the ways Forestry Branch is working to regenerate longleaf pines is through timber harvesting. He said Stewart-Hunter typically harvests 5,000 to 6,000 acres each year, which is one of the largest forestry programs in the Department of Defense. Income generated from these timber harvests - which are conducted by lumber companies selected through a bidding process administered by the Army Corps of Engineers - amount to approximately $5.2 million annually.

Counties surrounding Fort Stewart benefit from this timber harvest, Mangun said. After operating costs are deducted, about 40 percent of the revenues generated from timber harvesting on Stewart are distributed among Liberty, Bryan, Long, Evans, Tattnall and Chatham counties.

Mangun has a staff of 40 Army Civilians and 10 contractors, whose education and experience help make the Stewart-Hunter Forestry Branch so successful. A graduate of Northern Arizona University's forestry program, Mangun said he's originally from Illinois but also lived in Florida while growing up. Married with a daughter in nursing school, Mangun said he loves his job and living here in Coastal Georgia.

<i>NOTE: The above article is one of several about the many things Stewart-Hunter's Forestry Branch does to manage our forest resources that will be featured in The Frontline during coming weeks.</i>

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16