Brookgreen Gardens conducts controlled burns to cut down on wildfire fuel, protect the area

MURRELLS INLET, SC (WMBF) – Brookgreen Gardens and the South Carolina Forestry Commission conducted controlled burns on the northern areas of the property Friday morning.

Experts say these prescribed fires and controlled burns are actually a way of protecting and preserving Brookgreen Gardens.

Mike Ammons, director of Natural Areas, said they try to conduct these fires every two to three years, when they have enough fuel buildup - comprised of dead brush, pine cones and pine needles - on the floor.

"Prescribed burning is an important part of our forest management strategy to maintain the critical long-leaf pine habitat and prevent wildfires," Brookgreen Gardens' president and CEO, Page Kiniry, said.

On Friday, about 110 acres were burned at Brookgreen Gardens. By eliminating brush and debris from the forest floor, it allows young long-leaf pine trees to flourish.

The long-leaf pine forest is an important part of the local ecology and critical for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.  Ammons said they maintain about 4,000 acres on the mainland and although they want to keep a long-leaf ecosystem, they also want to keep a diversity of hardwoods and wildlife because they are also a wildlife sanctuary.

According to Ammons, about any wildlife will thrive on something like this once it begins to grow back because it will come back so much more succulent.

Tim Dargan, a consulting forester, said there are other benefits to prescribed burning as well.

"Another benefit is it fireproofs the forest," Dargan said. "If a wildfire would come through here after we burn, it really wouldn't burn. So, hazard reduction is another reason, but the main reason we burn here is wildlife habitat improvement."

According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, if a property is not burned, the amount of flammable fuel on the forest floor will likely increase over time, causing a higher chance for wildfires in the future.

Thousands of acres in Brookgreen's Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve are home to native plants and animals of the South Carolina Lowcountry, as well as the rice plantations of the 1800s. That's why preserving this historic area is so important.

"It's good spiritship, a good conservation project that we do in Brookgarden," Ammons said.

This prescribed burning is done during cooler months to reduce fuel buildup and decrease the likelihood of serious wildfires when it gets warmer.

Residents of Wachesaw and other areas of Murrells Inlet west of U.S. 17 might have seen smoke in the air from Friday morning to sundown due to the prescribed fires.

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