FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Late winter and spring is the time of year when the Fort Jackson Forestry Branch's prescribed burn team is in high gear. Current conditions are right to allow prescribed burning -- which is also called, controlled burning -- on approximately 34,000 acres of training land.

"There are only a limited number of days each year when we can conduct a prescribed burn," said Sara Clayborne, Fort Jackson's fire management officer. "We look at weather conditions, predicted smoke dispersal, amount and type of fuel to be burned, fuel moisture, forest type, terrain, where Soldiers are training, and many other factors to determine when and where to burn."

Both dormant season and growing season prescribed burns are conducted on the installation. Each has its benefits, and both are useful tools in achieving the desired goals and objectives of the burn.

Dormant season burns are typically conducted during the winter when vegetation is not growing. These burns are especially useful in reducing fuels on the forest floor such as leaves, pine straw, grasses, and limbs.

"Fuel reduction is important on our installation as accidental wildfires occur throughout the year, and they are much easier to extinguish where prescribed burns have been conducted," Clayborne said.

Growing-season burns, which are conducted after the new leaves appear in the spring, are much better in controlling undesirable vegetation, particularly hardwoods. These burns also help stimulate herbaceous vegetation and grasses that many wildlife species depend on for food and cover. Also, growing-season burns most resemble the natural burns which historically have occurred in the Southeast from lightning strikes.

"Growing-season burns are essential in keeping our pine forests open and park-like," said Fort Jackson wildlife biologist Nicole Hawkins. "Our endangered red-cockaded woodpecker requires old growth open pine forests for survival. Chemical treatments to remove undesirable vegetation cost 10 times as much per acre as prescribed fire, and mechanical treatments are at least 20 times more expensive."

Prescribed burning is widely recognized by forestry and natural resource managers as one of the most cost-effective land management tools available. Few, if any, alternative treatments can compete regarding effectiveness and costs. And, a single prescribed burn can have multiple benefits for many species of plants and animals that inhabit Fort Jackson, including our Soldiers in training.

Drill sergeants have been asked about the type of forested lands they prefer to use on the installation when training Soldiers in the field. The majority agree that they prefer to train in open pine stands where they can see their Soldiers and give them verbal instructions as they train. Stands that are maintained by prescribed fire provide ideal training lands.

"Our goal in the Forestry Branch is to prescribe burn all our timber stands on a three-year rotation," Clayborne said. "Last year we had a record-breaking burn season with 12,688 total acres being prescribed burned, and 8,215 acres of those burned during the growing season. If the current warmer-than-normal temperatures continue this year, growing season burns may begin earlier than normal."

In the next few months, when someone sees a large smoke plume over Fort Jackson, he or she should aware that it is probably not some catastrophic wildfire, but the Forestry Branch's prescribed burn team improving training lands with a prescribed fire.