FORT GIBSON LAKE, Okla. -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tulsa District recently held a prescribed burn training class at Fort Gibson Lake to teach natural resource specialists and lake maintenance staff how to properly and safely conduct a prescribed burn.
Classes for the last three years have been conducted at Fort Gibson Lake in conjunction with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conversation to meet U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulatory requirements.
Students attending the prescribed burn training broke into two groups; the basic course for beginner students, and an advanced course or "Fire Boss" course for advanced attendees.
"Prescribed fire is a science performed in a way and under conditions that allow us to safely do it," stated Tulsa District Environmental Biologist Stacy Dunkin. "They're not wildfires."
"When you see the Corps burning, we are burning according to plans, prescriptions and applicable science to accomplish our management objectives," added Dunkin.
For the past three years, Tulsa District selected the Fort Gibson Wildlife Refuge for prescribed burn training to safeguard the wildlife management and waterfowl area for the benefit of the American Burying Beetle, a nationally-identified endangered species.
Prescribed burns are the most cost effective and ecologically responsible way to manage land and assist in managing flood control projects in compliance with the American Endangered Species Act.
"We are trying to maintain and increase habitat and diversity," stated Dunkin. "Prescribed burns allow us to meet all those objectives."
According to Corps officials, the cost, per acre, at this training site is the lowest compared to other types of land management techniques.
Advanced students, called "Fire Bosses," are responsible for organizing crews, making burn plans, as well as organizing and directing their teams.
"We tell everyone involved exactly what the plan is, so that they know exactly what's going to happen," stated Natural Resource Specialist and Fire Boss, Levi Wagoner. "Safety is key, we want to make sure when we leave at the end of the day that everyone leaves with us."
Since the program's inception, Tulsa District has worked closely with Oklahoma State University officials, who provide functional area experts to assist with the training.
OSU has assisted in training over 120 Corps employees, which has greatly improved the District's ability to manage public lands.
"We want the public to know that when they see us burning, it's nothing to be feared," said Dunkin. "It's something to help us maintain and keep our federal lands beautiful."
USACE Tulsa District manages over one million acres of public land and water.