BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - An online petition with over 1,000 signatures is asking the United States Forest Service to stop large-scale, high intensity prescribed burning during the spring season in the Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests.
The petition, called “Stop damaging, high intensity burning on National Forests in South Carolina,” alleges the U.S. Forest Service started a new “highly destructive fire regime” on the South Carolina forests over the past decade.
David Strickland, a supporter of the petition, is the founder of the Carolina Wildlife Syndicate. He formerly worked in prescribed fire research for the U.S. Forest Service. He said residents, birdwatchers, hikers, cyclists, and hunters are “outraged” that these fires are harming the wildlife during the spring season, a time when birds are nesting, mammals are giving birth, and reptiles are emerging.
“There’s a huge amount of people that just want to see a return to traditional prescribed firing. And that’s dormant season, low-intensity firing,” Strickland said. “It’s what worked on this forest for over 50 years.”
Strickland wants to make it clear that they are not against prescribed burns. Instead, it’s more about the timing and intensity.
“You use it right and you get great benefits,” Strickland said. “If you use it wrong, you’re looking at a lifetime of damages.”
The petition comes after the U.S. Forest Service posted on their Facebook page that they burned 1,405 acres in the Francis Marion National Forest in Berkeley County last week. Strickland said he walked through the forest after the burning, which he often does, to collect photographic evidence of severe firing effects and fire mortality.
“When we grid-walk it, the amount of just dead animals that were fire-killed is atrocious,” Strickland said.
The U.S. Forest Service responded to the petition in a statement:
Prescribed burning is one of the most effective tools foresters and wildlife biologists use in South Carolina and across the Southeast to improve wildlife habitats and restore fire-dependent species and habitats by making food, cover, and open spaces available to animals. Prescribed fires return a mosaic of plant types and ages to the forest. By restoring a diverse and healthy forest ecosystem, we ensure the forest is more resistant to wildfire, disease, and insect infestations. Prescribed burning ensures the survival of a rich diversity of forest plants and wildlife in our Southern pine forests include many rare and endangered plant and animal species.
This can be an emotional issue, but there is little if any scientific evidence that prescribed burns harm wildlife populations. All available science shows that the benefits of improved wildlife habitat from prescribed fire far outweigh the loss of a few individual animals and nests. Wild turkeys and other birds will quickly renest. During a controlled burn, animals may be temporarily displaced, but most can avoid direct harm from fire. Deer run; birds and bats fly; and mice, lizards, snakes, and salamanders go underground into burrows or under stumps and logs as a fire approaches. We take precautions to ensure escape routes for animals during a prescribed fire.
“Stand up,” Strickland said. “These are the last wild places that we have. These are the areas where wildlife will be able to flourish when your children’s children are out here walking around. If we don’t do something now, it’s not going to have the ecology and biodiversity that it should.”
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