Rangers watch over the woods

Published 7:12 pm Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Tuesday evening, Forest Ranger Van Smith updated Decatur County Commissioners on the local forestry office’s work during the past year.

The chief role of the Georgia Forestry Commission’s Decatur County unit is to suppress forest land wildfires and set up firebreaks, Smith said. Of the county’s 399,040 acres of land, 255,200 acres—or about 64 percent—are considered forest land under the GFC’s protection, he said.

In addition, forestry rangers provide a variety of other services, including the following: Making recommendations on forest management and prescribed burning, preparing detailed forest management plans, advising contractors on site preparation, giving tree planting advice and conducting educational programs.

Smith’s presentation included a variety of statistics.

Forestry rangers responded to 64 wildfires in 2009, down slightly from 72 in 2008. Flames escaping prescribed burns were the largest single cause of forest fires, accounting for 21, down one from 2008. There were 13 residential fires, after eight in 2008 and 34 in 2007. There were 14 wildfires believed to be acts of arson, compared with eight in 2008 and 17 in 2007.

Each year, local forestry rangers are also called upon to assist with fighting fires in other states.

To help free up time for protecting and caring for forests, the GFC has set up a burn permit hotline, 877-OK2-BURN (652-2876). To help save the state money, GFC rangers remain parked at the office on Fridays unless a wildfire starts, Smith said. You can also get more information online at www.gatrees.org.

Back in July, Decatur County became the first county in South Georgia to develop a community wildfire protection plan, which identifies areas that have a higher potential risk for wildfires and property loss. To get a copy of the plan, citizens can visit the Decatur County Forestry office on Dothan Road in Bainbridge.