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Forestry unit: Wildfires on the decrease

COVINGTON - The Georgia Forestry Commission's local unit reported a decrease in wildfires by about 50 percent for fiscal year 2009.

From July 1, 2008, through June 30, 2009, there were 21 wildfires in Newton County that burned nearly 44 acres, according to Chief Ranger Mike Sapp.

That's a reduction of about 50 percent from years past, which Sapp attributed to more rainfall and quick responses from the fire department that prevented the fires from spreading.

Most fires were caused by burn piles left unattended, Sapp said.

Sapp presented the information during a recent Board of Commissioners meeting as part of the Forestry Commissions regular annual report.

The local unit, headquartered on the Access Road in Covington, covers Newton, Rockdale, DeKalb and Henry counties. It took over Henry County operations this year after two offices there were closed and consolidated with existing units.

In Newton County, the unit covers 176,900 acres, with 98,200 of those forested land.

During fiscal year 2009, there was a total of 292 burns on 1,529 acres. Rangers conducted 12 prescribed burns covering 1,108 acres. Prescribed burns are controlled burns that rid the forest floor of excess leaves, limbs and vegetation that can consume fertilizer and water that could be going to trees. They are recommended for landowners that harvest trees for timber sales.

Unit personnel plowed 112 miles of pre-suppression firebreaks for 21 landowners. They also issued 7,784 burn permits.

Other services provided by the Forestry Commission include disking of food plots, or clearing and plowing land so that landowners can plant gardens for wildlife. Food plots are typically used by hunters to draw animals to their property.

The Forestry Commission also sells seedlings from its Flint River Nursery in South Georgia. Last year, Newton landowners purchased 14,394 seedlings.

Sapp said the bareroot seedlings are high-quality and are cultured to provide a fibrous root system and large stem diameter and abundant energy reserves to insure the best possible survival and growth.

The commission offers a variety of different types of seedlings and now is the ideal time to purchase them, he said, as deliveries will start in December. The seedlings will be shipped to the local unit and can be picked up there.

For more information, visit www.gatrees.org or call 770-784-2480.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.