Governor Mark Sanford designated that March be observed annually as Prescribed Fire Awareness Month in South Carolina during a March 3 ceremony at the South Carolina State House in Columbia.
In his official proclamation, Sanford said, "As a key tool in the management of South Carolina's woodlands, grasslands and wildlife, prescribed fire is the most effective and economical protection against wildfires, through the reduction of fuels which have accumulated in the absence of fire, and is critical to the ecological integrity of our natural lands. Many native plants and animals require fire for their survival."
Currently, about 500,000 acres are prescribed burned on public and private rural lands in South Carolina annually, but according to conservation and forestry officials, at least one million acres should be burned annually.
The S.C. Forestry Commission, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the newly formed S.C. Prescribed Fire Council advocate prescribed burning as one of the most environmentally and economically feasible methods for managing the state's valuable natural resources.
Last year, state and federal agencies, as well as private entities, formed the S.C. Prescribed Fire Council to educate the public about the need and value of prescribed burning. One goal of the council is to inform South Carolinians of the importance of prescribed fire, according to Dr. Ernie Wiggers, council chairman and director of the Nemours Wildlife Foundation in Beaufort. The council, along with partner agencies and organizations across the state, supports and promotes education and training for the continued use of prescribed burning.
"Prescribed fire is the most economical and ecologically suited practice to keep South Carolina safe from wildfires and enhance the health and integrity of our natural resources," Wiggers said. "Professional foresters and other land managers throughout the state use prescribed burning for reforestation, aesthetics and forest access. The method is also effective for managing wildlife species such as bobwhite quail, eastern wild turkey, white-tailed deer, gopher tortoise and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker."
The state's ecosystems evolved with fire, and their sustainability and health require the regular application of fire. Prescribed burning is the only known forest management method for perpetuation of the biologically diverse longleaf pine ecosystem, Wiggers said.
"The use of fire is a traditional land management tool," said Johnny Stowe, chair-elect of the council and DNR wildlife biologist and forester. "Fire has shaped our state's ecosystems, culture and heritage for thousands of years. It is truly a multi-cultural phenomenon. Native Americans burned the land and the Africans and Europeans brought with them, from the Old World, a tradition of using fire to manage land. In more recent times, when the rest of the nation realized the benefits of prescribed fire, they came to the South to learn how to properly handle it."
Officials with DNR and the state Forestry Commission said the S.C. Prescribed Fire Council was the major influence in the establishment of Prescribed Fire Awareness Month. The council's slogan is "Keep South Carolina Safe, Promote Prescribed Fire."
The S.C. Carolina Prescribed Fire Council can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or for more information on prescribed burning assistance, call your local S.C. Forestry Commission office or visit the S.C. Forestry Commission Web site at http://www.state.sc.us/forest.