Heard named chief ranger

Published 8:00 pm Friday, October 29, 2010

RODNEY HEARD is the chief ranger of the Forestry Commission's Decatur County unit, which is one of the bigger and more active units in the state.|Carol Heard

Rodney Heard, who has been with the Georgia Forestry Commission’s Decatur County unit since 1993, was named the chief ranger effective Monday.

The promotion, however, comes at a time when the Forestry Commission is cutting its budget and positions.

Heard has been acting chief ranger for more than a year since the retirement of Ronnie Martin. With Heard’s promotion, the vacancy for a fourth ranger in the local unit will not be filled. The unit will be operating with three rangers—as opposed to four under Martin—and one chief ranger.

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Heard said the unit will also lose a truck and tractor that is used in fire suppression.

There are 255,200 acres of forest land in Decatur County, and the Forestry Commission is hired by landowners to plow fire breaks on those lands and sometimes conduct prescribed fires.

“We’ll continue to serve Decatur County landowners,” Heard said. “We’re going to try to do as much burning as we can.”

The Forestry Commission is also called upon to fight brush fires.

Across the state, austerity cuts have been instituted, and the Forestry Commission has been one of the agencies affected. The commission has lost 120 positions statewide since 2009. Eight of those positions are in the 16-county southwest district that Decatur County is in.

Forestry officials say the response time may increase by 15 minutes as a result of the budget cuts.

Rangers say last year around this time it was very wet and they only had approximately 35 brush fires. This year, they’ve already had 147 brush fires and they are fighting those fires with less employees.

Heard said despite the more than one inch of rain that fell Thursday, conditions are still relatively dry and care should be used when burning yard debris or doing other outdoor burning. Of course, all outdoor burning must be approved by Forestry or the city’s fire department.

Heard has been acting chief ranger since Martin’s retirement last year. Prior to joining the Forestry Commission, Heard was a research aide with International Paper Company in Bainbridge.

Heard is a graduate of Bainbridge High School, and he is married to Lynn Heard. He has two daughters and three grandchildren.