SCA prescribed fire crews along the Gulf coast just closed an amazing season in which they burned more than 132,000 acres – an area almost as large as the entire city of Mobile, AL – in less than five months!
If you’re not familiar, prescribed burning is a tool that land managers use to keep fire-dependent habitats, like pine savannas on the Gulf coast, healthy. Fire helps keep competing ground vegetation under control and allow pine seedlings and saplings the full sunlight they need to thrive.
This spring, five crew leaders and 18 crew members served on SCA fire teams. They worked with the U.S. Forest Service in Kisatchie National Forest (Louisiana), Davy Crockett National Forest (Texas), and Sabine National Forest (Texas), and with The Nature Conservancy at various state and federal sites in Alabama.
In addition to learning how to put fire on the ground, crew members also learned the complex process of ensuring that it’s safe to burn and how to prepare sites to be burned. When conditions were not ideal to burn, crew members used saws to clear trails and helped biologists monitor red cockaded woodpecker (an endangered species) habitats and populations.
“This experience has given me much greater insight into the day to day life of [forestry] careers and has helped me decide what I want to do in my professional life,” says Gregory Poelker-McKee, 20. “I will be studying forestry this fall and hope to eventually work outdoors in a position which serves the greater community and allows me to help other people.”
Serving on a fire crew is demanding and crew members must be flexible and dedicated. Our crews worked hard this season, as evidenced by the impressive number of acres they burned. Over my years working for SCA, I’ve found that our most successful teams are those that have great support from our project partners, and the members seemed to agree.
“The amount of support we received was well worth the hours we put in,” notes Danuel Gonzalez of San Antonio. “Our work did not go unnoticed. One of my favorite parts of the season was seeing how much our leads and project partners cared about our future and success. I was able to get a leadership position with the SCA for this summer season. I am grateful for the knowledge and skills I acquired that will help me further my position with SCA.”
A big thanks goes out to the U.S. Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy staff who mentored, supported, and gave our crews a great 2021 season!