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March 5, 2010

DNR conducts first prescribed fires in decades at Forty Acre Rock

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ Heritage Trust Program recently conducted prescribed burns on about 125 acres of Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve/Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster County.

The two areas burned at Forty Acre Rock lie to the southeast of the entrance trail from the parking lot to "The Rock," and on the east side of Nature Preserve Road north of the powerline.

Both areas burned were upland sites dominated by pines on upland areas where longleaf and shortleaf pine grasslands will be restored, according to Johnny Stowe, wildlife biologist and heritageForty Acres Rock preserve manager with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Stowe led the burn team that carried out this first step in the restoration effort. "Next," Stowe said, "we’ll be tackling the invasive exotic species such as Chinese wisteria, tree-of-heaven, and princess tree, which are spreading and threatening the biodiversity of the preserve and wildlife management area. Plus, we have more acreage to burn.

"The main goal of these fires was to restore and maintain the natural character and ecological integrity of the longleaf and shortleaf pine grassland ecosystem that naturally belongs on parts of the preserve’s highest ridges, but has declined as a result of fire suppression," Stowe said. "Another important goal was to reduce fuel loads and thereby help prevent intense wildfires."

Recommendations of the Longleaf Alliance from its brochure, "Restoration of Fire to Long-Unburned Longleaf Pine Forests," were used during the Forty Acre Rock prescribed burns. According to Stowe, "The research of Dr. John Kush of Auburn University’s Longleaf Pine Stand Dynamics Laboratory, on how to get fire back into fire-suppressed forests, played a major role in this and other on-the-ground restoration projects in the longleaf pineywoods. Dr. Kush’s pragmatic, management-oriented research has been an invaluable guide to land managers such as myself." Kush’s research forms the basis for the brochure "Restoration of Fire to Long-Unburned Longleaf Pine Forests."

The carefully planned prescribed burns at Forty Acre Rock took place over two days, according to Stowe. Firebreaks were plowed by the South Carolina Forestry Commission, then raked and cleared with leafblowers in preparation for the burns, and prescribed fire management plans were written to guide the trained professionals who conducted the burns. All fires on DNR lands are carried out by Certified Prescribed Fire Managers and other qualified support staff who follow the legal and other guidelines required to conduct such burns, thereby ensuring public safety.

Dr. Austin Jenkins, executive director of the Katawba Valley Land Trust, assisted with the burns. "The Katawba Valley Land Trust has had a strong interest in the protection of property in this area," Jenkins said. "While the acquisition of these natural lands is an important first step, it is even more rewarding to see second steps take place, such as the reintroduction of fire to this landscape that has long been thirsting for it. Through sound research, we know that the plants and animals that live on these lands do best when fire is given its place within the forest, and so I am excited to watch as they begin to thrive, just as they did long ago."

Lancaster County DNR Law Enforcement Officer Shean Coates helped make the restoration project work smoothly and efficiently, according to Stowe. Coates informed hunters and other preserve visitors, as well as neighbors and local law enforcement, fire departments and emergency responders, about what the DNR was planning to do, and why.

Wildlife habitat, including deer and turkey feeding and cover areas, will be enhanced by the prescribed fires, Stowe said. The preserve’s major hollows, creekbottoms and other sites forested in large oak and other hardwood trees were not burned.

Formed by state law in 1976, the Heritage Trust Program has protected 83,959 acres on 73 state Heritage Preserves found throughout South Carolina.

South Carolina's natural resources are essential for economic development and contribute nearly $30 billion and 230,000 jobs to the state's economy. Find out why Life's Better Outdoors.

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