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Shaw increases mission flexibility while sustaining local ecosystem

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kyrii Richardson
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Shaw Wildland Support Module personnel and 20th Civil Engineer Squadron Airmen administered controlled burns at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range in Wedgefield, Jan. 18.

This prescribed burn was part of a bigger initiative to maintain 12,500 acres of military land while preventing wildfires, sparking growth in the ecosystem and keeping predators away from endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, who call the range home.

Historically, the Department of Defense has used its geographic area of responsibility to increase the population of the RCW’s preferred home, the longleaf pine tree, which only appears in the Southeast region of the United States.

Since the 19th century, 97% of the longleaf pine population has decreased, leaving thousands of the birds without homes. To counteract this trend, Shaw’s 20th CES Airmen conduct controlled burns and plant hundreds of acres of longleaf pine trees annually to restore the woodlands.

“We are big stakeholders in the RCW and other endangered species,” said Zach Brown, Shaw Wildland Support Module assistant module leader. “Between the single ownership and consistent controlled fires, DOD bases have been promoting various ecosystems for years.”

Shaw Wildland Support Module personnel take numerous steps to ensure safety during the burns. First, a management plan is created to identify the desired effect and the best method to achieve that effect. Once approval is received from local and federal wildlife conservation organizations, they can move on to the final steps, which includes coordinating with local weather authorities to pinpoint the perfect day to perform a burn. Each of these steps safeguards against the possibility of a burn causing forest fires or substandard air quality for the local community.

“As a burn boss, my biggest concern is where my smoke is going and who it’s impacting,” said Brown.

However, smoke isn’t the only concern; killing trees and reducing food supply are also actions that reduce or negatively affect the upward trajectory of the RCW population. Shaw Wildland Support Module personnel and 20th CES Airmen apply tactful and deliberate actions when adjusting operations to meet mission requirements, making sure not to harm the wildlife.

“Typically, controlled burns are low intensity fires with a fire break around them which contains the fires 100% of the time,” said Caroline Causey, 20th CES endangered species biologist.

By performing routine prescribed burns, members of Shaw largely decrease the likelihood of a wildfire by natural or mission-related causes. Ultimately, Shaw’s pilots have the opportunity to practice lethal force in a controlled environment at Poinsett Range, while decreasing their footprint on naturally occurring ecosystems.

“If we pre-burn every year in the projected high-impact areas, we can increase mission flexibility and reduce the chance for a wildfire,” said Brown.