Tom Richardson is chief of the cultural and natural resources branch in the Garrison.
Tom Richardson is chief of the cultural and natural resources branch in the Garrison. (Photo Credit: Skip Vaughn) VIEW ORIGINAL

The Garrison’s Cultural and Natural Resources Branch and the Directorate of Operations are working, through a cooperative agreement with the Corps of Engineers, to develop and coordinate an updated wildland fire management plan for the installation.

The goal is for the plan to meet new Installation Management Command policy guidance on how installations should be handling wildland fire management and prescribed or planned burning, according to Tom Richardson, the chief of the cultural and natural resources branch, within the Environmental Management Division.

“The plan will address wildland fire response, but it will also address fire prevention and fuel load management which gets into a prescribed burning program,” Richardson said.

Proposals have been solicited from qualified organizations to develop the plan.

According to Richardson, the period of performance on the solicitation is one year. “By the time an award is made, we would expect to have a signed document in a year,” he said.

“For several years now, we haven’t had any prescribed burning because IMCOM has developed a new policy which requires certain types and certain levels of training certifications for wildland fire response and for prescribed burning,” Richardson said. “As the natural resources branch personnel don’t have those qualifications, we have not been in a position where we could have a prescribed burning program.

“Developing a plan of codifying and formalizing arrangements and agreements with different organizations,” whose personnel hold the required certifications and qualifications, “would allow us to eventually have a prescribed burning program.”

Richardson said an environmental benefit of periodic, planned burning is fire fuel reduction that could reduce the potential for an uncontrolled wildfire emergency. The quality of the timber of forestlands, pine forests in particular, benefits from periodic burning, he said.

The Directorate of Operations, Fire and Emergency Services Division is responsible for wildland fire response on Redstone.

“While we are developing a formalized plan, we do have plans in place and contingencies in place to respond to wildland fires should they occur,” Richardson said.

For the year to date, through Friday, 39,443 wildfires in the U.S. had burned 2.01 million acres, compared to 48,498 wildfires claiming 6.17 million acres during the same period in 2022, based on data from the National Interagency Fire Center.

The Alabama Forestry Commission on Aug. 25 issued a fire danger advisory for nine southwest Alabama counties until there’s significant rainfall. Current drought conditions and persistent high temperatures combined to create an atmosphere favorable for wildfires.

The commission reported on Aug. 25 that 112 wildfires had burned about 1,339 acres in the past 30 days, with more than half of that acreage in Mobile County.

Richardson said that some the installations in the western parts of the country that are faced with a higher wildfire risk and even some of the larger installations around the Southeast “have the capability in natural resources to respond to wildland fires and to perform prescribed burning operations.

“We’re in a position (at Redstone) where we have to coordinate with other agencies to get that done,” he said.

“As part of climate resiliency, we’re looking at plans on how to get ahead of the curve for anticipated climate change,” Richardson said. “Our wildfire risk is low. It is true that every five or six years, we may have a dry summer and, due to the nature of the mission activities on Redstone, in certain circumstances our risk could be elevated.

“The end goal, the end benefit for us is to give us the option of having a prescribed fire program because we’d have formalized agreements with agencies that could provide the people with the necessary certifications,” Richardson said. “We can better manage for invasive species like kudzu, privet and bush honeysuckle by a controlled burn. The other options for managing invasive species are very expensive.”