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Ga. Forestry Commission burns 1,000 acres in Jasper County Tuesday

COVINGTON -- Residents may have seen some smoke mixed with the pollen in the atmosphere Tuesday, according to the Georgia Forestry Commission.

Chief Ranger Russell Fowler said 1,000 acres of woodlands in the National Forest located in southern Jasper County were burned by the U.S. Forestry Service.

"It's part of a rotation. We try to burn it every four years," Fowler said. "We sent the advisory out because there was probably smoke visible."

Smoke could have been seen in portions of Jasper, Jones, Morgan, Newton, Putnam, Rockdale and Walton counties.

Fowler said the weather conditions were favorable for the burn and he foresaw no danger of the smoke lingering on the ground and imposing a danger to motorists.

Fowler said there are multiple reasons for what the Forestry Commission describes as a "prescribed burn," but primarily it enhances the wildlife habitat by providing tender greenery for eating and it reduces the danger of fire getting out of control in case of a lightning strike.

The commission's website lists several benefits resulting from prescribed burning (Rx fire) of wooded areas:

-- Reduce hazardous fuel: Prescribed fire is the most practical way to reduce dangerous accumulation of combustible fuels under Southern pine stands. Wildfires that burn into areas where fuels have been reduced by Rx fire cause less damage and are much easier to control.

-- Prepare sites for seeding and planting: On open sites, fire alone can expose adequate mineral soil and control competing vegetation until seedlings become established.

-- Improve wildlife habitat: Rx fire is highly recommended for wildlife habitat management where loblolly, shortleaf, longleaf, or slash pine is the primary overstory species. Periodic fire tends to favor understory species that require a more open habitat. A mixture of burned and unburned areas tends to maximize "edge effect", which promotes a large and varied wildlife population. Deer, dove, quail, and turkey are some of the game species that benefit from Rx fire.

-- Manage competing vegetation: Unwanted species may crowd out or suppress pine seedlings. In most situations, total eradication of understory is neither practical nor desirable. However, with the careful use of Rx fire the understory can be managed to limit competition with desired species.

-- Control insects and disease: Brownspot disease is a fungal infection that may seriously weaken and eventually kill longleaf pine seedlings. Once the seedlings become infected, burning is the most practical method of disease control. Any type of burning that kills the diseased needles without killing the terminal bud is satisfactory. Rx fire has been successfully used under very exacting fuel and weather conditions to control cone insects such as the white pine cone beetle, while the pest is overwintering in cones on the ground. Rx burning costs much less than traditional chemical control methods used to control this beetle.

-- Enhance appearance: Rx burning improves recreation and aesthetic values. Burning maintains open stands, produces vegetative changes, and increases numbers and visibility of flowering annuals and biennials. Rx burning also maintains open spaces such as mountain balds, and creates vistas.