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** Archived Article - please check for current information. **

February 6, 2012

Prescribed burns planned at Forty Acre Rock Preserve in Lancaster County

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources' Heritage Trust Program will work with the S.C. Forestry Commission to conduct several prescribed burns on about 400 acres of Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve/Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster County over the next few months.

The entire preserve encompasses 2,267 acres, so the 400 acres to be burned is about 17 percent of the total acreage. The areas to be burned are upland sites dominated by pines, and/or upland areas where longleaf and shortleaf pine grasslands will be restored, according to Johnny Stowe, wildlife biologist and heritage preserve manager with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"The main goal of these fires is 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 is to reduce fuel loads and thereby help prevent intense wildfires."

DNR burned 87 acres Jan. 31, the area to the right of the entrance road that runs from the parking lot “The Rock.” “We are delighted with the way that burned turned out,” Stowe said. “We regret any inconveniences that these burns cause to visitors, but after we conduct one more burn in the immediate area of ‘The Rock,’ to the left or south of the entrance road, the rest of the burns will be away from the trails.”

In early 2010, the DNR conducted the first prescribed burns on Forty Acre Rock Preserve since the state acquired the land in 1981. Stowe said: “We carried out those burns when conditions were right to burn only the top layer of fuels, with the aim of beginning the process of reducing fuel loads while restoring fire-dependent plants and animals. When fire has been suppressed for three decades it is vital to slowly re-introduce it, taking care not to kill desirable trees, such as shortleaf and longleaf pine. We are very happy with the way those burns turned out, and now that we’ve been able to monitor results for two years, we are ready to burn again. It will take awhile to restore these areas.”

While these carefully planned prescribed burns will take place over several days, according to Stowe, it is impossible to plan far ahead of time and choose the exact dates the burns will occur because weather and other factors dictate when conditions are right. Firebreaks have been plowed and/or raked in preparation for the burns, and prescribed fire management plans are being written to guide the trained professionals who will conduct the burns. The fires will be carried out by Certified Prescribed Fire Managers and other qualified support staff that will follow the legal and other guidelines required to conduct such burns, thereby ensuring public safety.

Wildlife habitat, including deer and turkey feeding and cover areas, will in the long run be enhanced by these prescribed fires, Stowe said. The preserve's major hollows, creek bottoms and other sites forested in large oak and other hardwood trees will not be 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.

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