By Mr. Wallace McBride (Jackson)June 29, 2018
Believe it or not, it actually can get hotter at Fort Jackson.
While temperatures in the state have brushed against triple-digits in recent weeks, the Environmental Division of the Directorate of Public Works has pushed forward with its responsibility for conducting controlled burns on the installation, even as the season for controlled burns comes to an end.
Controlled burning is common tool of forest management, one structured on Fort Jackson to meet multiple goals, said Ian Smith, fire management officer for the Directorate of Public Works, Environmental Division.
"It reduces the threat of wildfires because it reduces the fuel load in the woods, the amount of pine straw and stuff on the ground," Smith said. "So when we do have wildfires, they're not as severe."
Clearing the woodland clutter also enables Fort Jackson's training mission, he said. It allows an ease of movement throughout the forested areas which account for much of the installation's acreage and provides better lines of site for drill sergeants.
As an added plus, clearing overgrowth from training areas also results in fewer wildfires, he said.
"We've tried to fireproof the area where (Soldiers) train the most," he said. "Fires are more easily contained because prescribed burning reduces the amount of available fuel for them."
A significant factor in Fort Jackson's need for controlled burns is the presence of the red-cockaded woodpecker, one of the first birds protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In order to thrive, the red-cockaded woodpecker requires specific conditions within a mature pine forest -- a habitat that burns frequently.
"The Army, though an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is mandated to conducted prescribed burning to provide habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers," Smith said. "A lot of the concentrations of woodpeckers are on federal lands, particularly military installations, because they have such a good burn history."
The federal protection of this species requires that it's entire habitat on Fort Jackson be burned every three to five years, he said.
"In general, our goal is to burn 11,500 acres," he said. The installation usually reaches its acreage goal, Smith said, but this year has been difficult because the weather has either been too dry or too wet.
"We just haven't had the weather to burn the way we needed to," he said. "Our historic high year was in 2016, when we burned 17,318 acres."
South Carolina has smoke management guidelines to mitigate the impact of controlled burns to the public. While the red-cockaded woodpecker's habitant dictates how much forestry needs to be burned, the weather has final say on the schedule. Burn season officially begins Nov. 1, with the current season ending July 1.
"This time of year, after we've had a quarter of an inch of rain, we can burn for seven days," he said. "We're mostly concerned with where the smoke is going to leave the post. You estimate the tonnage of fuel that's on the ground that's going to be consumed, which is translated into how much smoke is going to be produced."
Roads and fire breaks set incremental boundaries within the post for these burns. Many of the fire breaks were installed in the 1960s on post to help mitigate wild fires, he said, a role that performs double duty these days by helping set forestry management boundaries. Once loose pine straw and other potential "fuel" sources are removed, these sandy trenches help stop the spread of fire --whether or not they were intentionally set.
Smith said many of the wild fires on Fort Jackson this year were started by artillery or tracer rounds or other kinds of live-fire training, especially in the east impact area. Because of the post's forestry management program, though, these fires are fewer -- and less severe -- than they might otherwise be. After all, the red-cockaded woodpecker is a fire-dependent species and we here long before Camp Jackson was established in 1917.
"We try to burn around where woodpeckers are now, as well as where they used to be, because those are still pretty good habitats for them," Smith said.