Governor Mark Sanford recently re-designated that March be observed as Prescribed Fire Awareness Month in South Carolina, continuing the precedent he set last year at this time.
In his official proclamation, Sanford said, “As a key tool in the management of South Carolina’s woodlands, grasslands and wildlife, prescribed fire is the most effective and economical protection against wildfires, through the reduction of fuels which have accumulated in the absence of fire, and is critical to the ecological integrity of our natural lands. Many native plants and animals require fire for their survival.”
Currently, about 500,000 acres are burned annually using prescribed burning methods on public and private rural lands in South Carolina, but according to conservation and forestry officials, at least one million acres should be burned annually.
The S.C. Forestry Commission, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the S.C. Prescribed Fire Council advocate prescribed burning as one of the most environmentally and economically feasible methods for managing the state’s valuable natural resources.
Two years ago, state and federal agencies, as well as private entities, formed the S.C. Prescribed Fire Council to educate the public about the vital need and value of prescribed burning. One goal of the council is to inform South Carolinians of the importance of prescribed fire, according to Johnny Stowe, council chairman and DNR forester and wildlife biologist. The council, along with partner agencies and organizations across the state, supports and promotes education and training for the continued use of prescribed burning.
“The use of fire is a traditional land management tool,” said Stowe. “Fire has shaped our state’s ecosystems, culture and heritage for thousands of years. It is truly a multi-cultural phenomenon. Native Americans burned the land and the Africans and Europeans brought with them, from the Old World, a tradition of using fire to manage land. In more recent times, when the rest of the nation realized the benefits of prescribed fire, they came to the South to learn how to properly handle it.” Stowe said many Southern species and ecosystems evolved with fire and require frequent burning for maintenance. Longleaf pine woodlands and savannas and species that depend upon them, such as bobwhite quail, suffer when fire is taken out of the system, according to Stowe.
Officials with DNR and the state Forestry Commission said the S.C. Prescribed Fire Council was the major influence in the establishment of Prescribed Fire Awareness Month. The council’s slogan is “Keep South Carolina Safe, Promote Prescribed Fire.”
“By legally and carefully using fire,” Stowe said, “we can actually help prevent catastrophic wildfires, since prescribed fire removes fuel that could later burn in wildfires.”