Georgia Wildlife Resources Division
2070 U.S. Hwy. 278, SE, Social Circle, GA 30025
50-year plan: In 2007, a 50-year resource management plan was initiated for Georgia’s largest state park, FD Roosevelt. An array of partners contributed to the management plan, including all WRD sections, the Georgia Forestry Commission, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Callaway Gardens, and local public and private stakeholders. Finalized in 2009, the 50-year plan outlines goals and objectives to conserve and maintain the resources of the park. Among the stated priorities in the plan is the maintenance of a prescribed fire program to serve multiple management objectives.
(Above left: A component of fire-adapted communities, little bluestem is a native warm-season grass that provides nest sites for birds and seeds as food for small mammals and birds. Right: A longleaf seedling sprouts beside a cone. Longleaf seeds germinate on recently burned ground. Excessive amounts of pine litter can inhibit germination.)
To date: There have been four prescribed burns totaling 1,535 acres, or 17% of the park. Initial fires have generally been set during wet weather to reduce fuels safely and minimize negative impacts to recreation and aesthetics. One burn is planned for 2011. Prescribed burns include a lengthy planning and review process that details burn objectives, weather parameters, safety measures, contingency plans, equipment needs and many other aspects.
(Right: A controlled burn creeps toward a road. Prescribed fires involve thorough planning, including use when possible of roads, creeks and other barriers as firebreaks to minimize disturbance.)
According to FDR fire program goals, prescribed fire is being used to:
• Reduce fuels throughout the park. Several wildfires in the last decade have threatened structures, including historic CCC buildings on the park as well as structures on adjacent private lands, and have killed old growth longleaf pines. Prescribed burning allows the safe reduction of fuel loads under controlled conditions, protecting the old growth longleaf pine, historic structures, and neighboring landowners from catastrophic wildfire.
• Protect native ecosystems. FDR has two key forest/woodland types populated by longleaf pine. One type, montane longleaf pine/Georgia oak, is globally endangered and found nowhere else in the world. Both types include numerous hardwood species. Due to past fire suppression, fuel loads have reached dangerous levels around many of the old-growth longleaf pines, with litter depths exceeding one foot in some cases. The goal of prescribed burns in these communities is to reduce the threat of wildfire to existing longleaf pine. The goal is not to convert them to pure longleaf pine, but to maintain the oak-longleaf pine forest cover types.
(The same area on FDR the day before a prescribed burn (left), then two months (middle) and nine months later. Biologists estimate the area had not been burned in at least 80 years, suppressing the continuation of longleaf pine and oak/hickory forests.)
Prescribed fire perspective:
• Combined, the above communities constitute almost 60% of the habitats considered for prescribed fire at FDR. Other forest types are included within burn units to avoid constructing permanent firebreaks that may negatively impact water quality and aesthetics/recreation. Through a prescribed fire needs assessment, DNR will look for ways to minimize burn unit size and impacts on trails and other key recreation sites.
• Many longleaf pines at FDR are several centuries old. One of the oldest longleaf pines ever recorded was sampled on Pine Mountain; it was nearly 400 years old (determined by Arvindh Bhuta of Virginia Tech in 2005). Old growth longleaf is a particularly rare and valuable component of Georgia’s forested landscape.
(Above: Fire program goals include reducing fuels in the forest and restoring native ecosystems.)
Summary: Fire is only one aspect of the 50-year resource plan. Other tools mentioned include management of deer, invasive species, and fisheries, monitoring vegetation changes, monitoring fire effects, rare species conservation, and safeguarding of rare plant species. The prescribed fire program is working to protect the remaining longleaf pine on the park from catastrophic wildfire. It is not a goal of the prescribed fire program to change the forest cover types of the park.
There is strong support from numerous conservation organizations (Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, Longleaf Alliance, Georgia Prescribed Fire Council and others) for DNR’s current management efforts at FDR. Fire has been an important factor in shaping the forests of FDR State Park, and prescribed burning is a necessary and desirable management tool to protect and perpetuate these forests.
(Top: This burned area will green up a week or two after the next rain. Bottom: Come spring, new life colors the landscape in the wake of controlled burns. Dwarf violet iris is part of the longleaf and dry oak forests at FDR State Park.)
Wildlife that benefit from prescribed fires include the brown-headed nuthatch (left), fox squirrel and red-headed woodpecker. (Woodpecker photo: Phillip Jordan)