November 15, 2008
Social Circle, Georgia - With the burn season fast approaching,
it is worth recounting some of the habitat benefits that recently
came to light as a result of prescribed fire.
But first, in late October the Board of Natural Resources adopted
a resolution recognizing the ecological and economic importance of
prescribed fire for conservation. The measure by the board, which
sets policy for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, will
help ensure that rare wildlife species all over the state are
managed in a way that best aids recovery efforts.
Examples of such species include the discovery in September of a
large population of pondberry, a federally endangered wetland
shrub. Richard Carter, a botanist at Valdosta State University,
found Lindera melissifolia on Mayhaw Wildlife Management Area in
Miller County. Without conducting growing or warm-season burns,
this plant may have continued to go unnoticed due to the excessive
woody shrubs that had become dominant in the area.
September and October also saw the discovery of several
populations of endangered American chaffseed (Schwalbea americana)
at Doerun Pitcherplant Bog Natural Area near Moultrie by Carter
and ecologist Wilson Baker.
Other plants that depend on fire include pitcherplants and the
endangered smooth purple coneflower. Populations of smooth purple
coneflower (Echinacea laevigata) exist on only 25 sites in two
counties in northeastern Georgia - Habersham and Stephens. Because
of the coneflower’s need for full sunlight to bloom and produce
fruit, regular fires are necessary to prevent shade-producing
woody shrubs and trees from encroaching on the habitat.
Prescribed burning is also a critically important management tool
for restoring and maintaining the longleaf pine wiregrass
ecosystem, Georgia’s most diverse type of upland habitat.
The DNR along with the Georgia Forestry Commission, the U.S.
Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of
Defense, Georgia Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy,
Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, Tall Timbers Research
Station, and several other public and private organizations are
partners in the Georgia Prescribed Fire Council. The council
educates the public about the benefits of prescribed burning and
encourages its use in forestry, farming, and wildlife management.
As a result of one of these partnerships, Rayonier, a global
forest products company, received a Leadership in Conservation
Award from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative for the use of
prescribed fire to help hairy rattleweed (Baptisia arachnifera),
an endangered plant found worldwide only in two Georgia counties.
In addition to benefiting Georgia’s rare plants, a seasonal sweep
of fire is considered essential to the management of
fire-dependant wildlife including bobwhite quail, eastern wild
turkey, numerous songbirds and the endangered red-cockaded
Prescribed fire involves the safe application of fire to help
promote and maintain healthy ecosystems and reduce the risk of
damage from wildfires. Burns can be done throughout the year
depending on the objective with most conducted in the winter and
Georgians who want to help conserve fire-dependant wildlife and
animals not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as
native plants and habitats, are encouraged to buy a wildlife
license plate featuring a bald eagle or a ruby-throated
hummingbird. They can also donate to the Give Wildlife a Chance
state income tax checkoff. Both programs are vital to the Nongame
Conservation Section, which receives no state funds.