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Prescribed fire: A natural Resource manager’s multi-use tool

Members of the prescribe burn team light fires on the forest floor during prescribed burning at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range, Sumter, S.C., Jan. 28, 2015. The team was scheduled to burn throughout the week while the weather permitted. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Diana M. Cossaboom/Released)

Members of the prescribe burn team light fires on the forest floor during prescribed burning at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range, Sumter, S.C., Jan. 28, 2015. The team was scheduled to burn throughout the week while the weather permitted. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Diana M. Cossaboom/Released)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- One of the most effective and efficient tools available to natural resource managers at Shaw Air Force Base is prescribed fire.

The resource management goal of the prescribed fire program at Shaw is to protect and enhance native ecosystems and the species they support to sustain military missions. The prescribed fire program results in a reduction in forest fuels, fewer high-intensity wildfires, and thus fewer interruptions to flight training on Poinsett Electronic Combat Range.

Prescribed fires also remove undesirable vegetation, promoting fire tolerant native species such as longleaf pine. The abundant biodiversity on Poinsett Range is from the robust prescribed fire program promoting an herbaceous layer of vegetation that is beneficial to all wildlife, especially the federally endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker.

Natural resource managers at Shaw actively manage 6,000 acres of upland pine forests for the RCW at Poinsett Range. Through close coordination with range operations, the Shaw Fire Department, cooperation with outside agencies and consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the RCW population at Poinsett Range reached a record high of 28 active clusters in 2015, which is a 560 percent increase since 2001.

This documented success should afford Shaw greater flexibility and consideration from the USFWS should the U.S. Air Force mission dictate changes that might affect the RCW population. Prescribed fire has been, and will continue to be, a key component in the success of the RCW management program at Poinsett Range. 

The year 2015 was also a landmark year for the prescribed fire program at Poinsett Range with 2,344 acres burned, exceeding the amount burned in any previous year.  Much of this success is attributed to Shaw's partnership with the Carolinas Wildland Fire Support Team, a new regional wildland fire team established by the AF Wildland Fire Center to help the Air Force achieve their resource management goals.

This regional approach began with qualified fire personnel from the USFWS and U.S. Forest Service who help implement the prescribed fire program at Poinsett Range, Joint Base Charleston, North Auxiliary Airfield, and other Air Force installations in the southeast.

Through these partnerships, Shaw has increased fire protection and safety with fewer mission restrictions and a more effective prescribed fire program.