The Andrew Pickens Ranger District (APRD) of the Sumter National Forest has released a scoping notice for a long-term prescribed fire plan that includes 41,000 acres of forest within the APRD. This would impact roughly half of the entire ranger district. This scoping notice outlines a plan to burn 75 burn blocks at a frequency of every 2-8 years, and opens a public comment period on the project.
Comments are due by June 3rd, 2023. Comments can be submitted via the online comment form: https://cara.fs2c.usda.gov/Public/CommentInput?project=63971
*Note* Only those that respond to this scoping notice will receive future information about this proposed project.
In your comments, tell the Forest Service:
- This prescribed fire plan assigns very similar 2-8 year burn cycles to nearly all 41,000 acres involved, which host very different forest types. The proposed 2-8 year burn cycle only suits the most fire-adapted, predominantly pine forest types in the district—even though many proposed burn plots include fire-sensitive cove hardwood and dry-mesic oak forest ecosystems that have estimated burn cycles of 35-100 years, and every 14 years, respectively.
- An ecosystem that would have historically seen fire every 35-100 years cannot handle fire every 2-8 years, and should not be burned so frequently. This could severely damage these fire-sensitive ecosystems. The APRD has acknowledged that the fire-sensitive cove hardwood and dry-mesic oak forest forests in the district are already the closest to their desired conditions.
- This long-term burn plan seems tailored to increase dry, pine-dominant forests, which are not historically found in abundance in the Chattooga River watershed.
- There is solid evidence that frequent fire is unnatural in the Chattooga watershed. Frequent prescribed burns every 2-8 years, at this scale and intensity, may harm native biological diversity, and cause damage to soils; fragile ecosystems; individual species of plants and animals; lower water quality; pollute the air harming human health; help spread non-native invasive species; and, contribute to climate change.
While we may support prescribed fire when it is representative of historic reference conditions and is ecologically beneficial, we believe that the APRD is proposing a generalized need for increased fire in areas that are not suited for it.
In the APRD scoping notice document, three forest types were identified as the primary “biophysical settings” in the Chattooga River watershed. These are based upon a project conducted by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture called LandFire, which used LiDAR (Light Detection & Ranging) technology to map the dominant vegetation in ecosystems across the United States.
The two most common biophysical settings identified on public land near the Chattooga River are Coves and Dry-Mesic Oak Forest, which are estimated to have had historic (pre-European settlement) fire cycles of 35-100 years, and every 14 years, respectively. The only forest types in the district with estimated fire cycles as frequent as 2-3 years are in much smaller quantities, and on the easternmost boundaries of the district (farthest away from the Chattooga River corridor). The APRD’s proposal cites a frequency of 2-8 years for nearly all burn plots in the district, aside from those that would be burned even more frequently as part of specific projects. Despite the acknowledged differences in historic fire conditions and ecology, this plan assigns a very similar fire return cycle for all prescribed burn units across the district.
The case for prescribed burning may be justified in certain parts of the Andrew Pickens Ranger District; however, we believe that the APRD is proposing a plan that directly, and almost exclusively, benefits the pine-dominated forests in our ecosystem, and is designed to push pine-dominated stands farther north and closer to the Chattooga River than would naturally exist. The 2-8 year burning cycle proposed by the APRD may be applicable for certain biophysical systems that exist as the district slopes towards the piedmont, but directly contradicts the estimated burn cycles for the two most common forest types nearer the river, which are 35-100 years, and every 14 years. This burn plan does not take the diversity and variability of our ecosystems into account, and seems to be driven more by cultivating tree crops of certain pine species than by a desire for the restoration of historic conditions.
Tell the Forest Service that this long-term burning plan is generalized, and is not suitable for the diverse, unique ecosystem surrounding the Chattooga River. The deadline for comments to the APRD is June 3rd, 2023. Only those that respond to this request for comments will receive future information about this proposed project. Comments can be submitted via the online comment form at https://cara.fs2c.usda.gov/Public/CommentInput?project=63971