South Carolina Prescribed Fire Council Meeting at Brosnan Forest by Carl W. Cole

Recently, on September 19th, I attended the South Carolina Prescribed Fire Council Annual Meeting at Brosnan Forest.   It was a full day of presentations – many about current research – followed by a field tour of Brosnan Forest that included two research demos.  Presenters were from the South Carolina Forestry Commission (SCFC), South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), and several private organizations and individuals.  Most attendees were Certified Prescribed Fire Managers and most of them were with various agencies, which makes sense since most regularly burned forest acreage in our state is owned or managed by one of those agencies (Francis Marion National Forest, Savannah River Site, others).   People representing non-government organizations were also there, including some folks that we know:   Joe Cockrell from the Charleston Natural History Society’s McAlhany Nature Preserve and Mike Dawson and Mark Musselman from Audubon’s Francis Beidler Forest.  There was also at least one wannabe burner, me.

Dr. Brent Moule from SCDNR presented research comparing mechanical and herbicide alternatives to prescribed fire, Gary Burger from SCDNR presented research on prescribed burning in oak woodlands and savannahs, Alan Long from the Southern Fire Exchange presented highlights from recent research, and Darryl Jones from SCFC went over statistics about prescribed burning in the state.  For less technical perspectives, Robert Abernethy from the Longleaf Alliance talked about the history of Longleaf on his family’s property and Den Latham discussed his recently published book “Painting the Landscape with Fire”.  (I bought a copy of Den’s book and am anxious to read it but, soon after going home from this meeting, I received in the mail class materials for next month’s Certified Prescribed Fire Manager class in Walterboro.  Since I’m such an unqualified novice, I think I’d better prepare for the class first.)  Myra Reece from SC DHEC and Darryl Jones both talked about efforts by state agencies to present a consistent message about fire.  Agren presented a remote demo of software to help prepare burn plans.  Under the terms of a development grant, the software is free for a year to planners in South Carolina and four other states.  Reading the faces of some experienced burn managers during the demo, I’d think the software could be useful, perhaps especially for private managers who don’t already have agency-required software tools.

Darryl Jones, who was last year’s chair of the South Carolina Prescribed Fire Council, ran the meeting and, at the end of the meeting, introduced next year’s chair.  During a break earlier in the day, I was out at my vehicle in the parking lot when a nice young guy in a DNR uniform noticed the Vietnam combat vet tag on my front bumper and detoured over to shake my hand and thank me for my service (something of which Vietnam vets never tire).   So when Darryl introduced Johnny Stowe, SCDNR wildlife biologist and heritage preserve manager as next year’s chair, I grinned and thought “I know him.  He’s a nice guy.”

The highlight of the day was getting out into the Longleaf Pine in Norfolk Southern Railroad’s Brosnan Forest for a couple of research demos.  Brosnan is a special place, with 6,000 acres of well-managed Longleaf Pine.  The United States has only about 3 percent of its original Longleaf Pine so those acres are a precious resource.  The property has been in railroad hands since a 19th century grant when it was originally used for lumber to fire steam locomotive boilers and for railroad ties.  Since the middle of the last century, it has been used as a corporate conference center and more recently has been placed under a conservation easement.  One might imagine that it would be possible to satisfy most conference center requirements without investing in the state of the art forest management practiced by  Josh Raglin and his Brosnan Forest staff.  That makes Norfolk Southern’s stewardship of the property quite remarkable and praiseworthy.  We should all be very happy to have such great corporate citizenship in our neighborhood.

We saw two demos.  In one ongoing study by Clemson graduate students, they are evaluating the effect of fire on grass-stage Longleaf as function of temperature of the burn and diameter of the plant.   To precisely control the burns on individual plants, they’re using a tripod mounted propane furnace previously developed for other research by Dr. Joan Walker of the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station at Clemson.  She was also there for the other demo, in which she’d marked off squares of increasing size and then flagged each distinct species of grass, legume, etc. found under the regularly burned Longleaf stand to illustrate the diversity that results from such burning.  At one point in talking about fire as a tool for Longleaf, she observed that, depending on the history of the particular forest, fire might not fix all one’s problems but, if you’re to have only one tool to use, drop the match.

My overall impression of the day is that I continue to be impressed by the people who manage our forests;  by their professionalism, by their reliance on research, by their affection for the habitats they manage, and, for this group, by their enthusiasm for burning.

Additional Reading (Websites)

South Carolina Prescribed Fire Council

The Longleaf Alliance


Southern Fire Exchange

Visit My Forest

Brosnan Forest Conservation Easement

Additional Reading (Publications)

“Painting the Landscape with Fire – Longleaf Pines and Fire Ecology” by Den Latham

Introduction to Prescribed Fire in Southern Ecosystems

Ecology and Management of Oak Woodlands and Savannahs

The Shelterwood-burn Technique for Regenerating Oaks

Lightning-Season Burning: Friend or Foe of Breeding Birds?

Synthesis of Knowledge of Hazardous Fuels Management in Loblolly Pine Forests

Hazardous Fuels Management in Subtropical Pine Flatwoods and Tropical Pine Rocklands