Forest Service resumes prescribed fire program, but some fear new rules will delay projects
By Mike StobbeThe Associated Press
Published: Friday, August 30, 2013 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 31, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.
ATLANTA — Georgia is re-beginning its prescribed fire program following a two-year hiatus that saw the fire-fighting agency change the process to be more environmentally friendly.
The new rules, which will come into effect August 1, will be issued at the discretion of the U.S. Forest Service. No public comment period is required.
The change was made following a report in 2006 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that found the process to be “at odds” with the U.S. Forest Service’s mission statement to support public lands conservation. The agency eventually made changes to the process, including streamlining it.
No details have been released.
The National Forest Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for public lands conservation, has asked for a delay in the implementation of the new rules, saying they have no time to prepare and would impact as many as 200 projects.
“We have to be able to look at that long term because we don’t want to change the whole landscape too early,” said Brian McNeel, Georgia’s conservation director.
In April, Gov. Nathan Deal signed a law that allows the Forest Service to conduct prescribed burning on lands it owns or leases as long as the fire is not “excessive.” But such projects are often delayed because of environmental concerns, including the possibility that smoke is carried into nearby communities.
Earlier this year, the agency released a pilot project to develop more environmentally friendly practices for prescribed fire and called for community input.
A few Georgia projects have already begun using the new methods to manage the potential growth of invasive species.
The state recently adopted a 10-year budget that includes a new $2 million appropriation for the U.S. Forest Service to launch a new forestry management program.
“We need to be aggressive in developing those programs,” McNeel said. “It means more money to make those programs work and make them sustainable.”
The state has spent $1.8 million on the new program, which is funded entirely by the Department of Agriculture. McNe