Earlier this year, SCA placed prescribed fire crews with the U.S. Forest Service at Kisatchie National Forest (Louisiana) and Davy Crockett National Forest (Texas), and with The Nature Conservancy in Alabama and Florida. After five months in the field, the numbers are in! These crews burned more than 101,000 acres – the equivalent of 76 football fields!
Prescribed burning keeps fire-dependent habitats, like pine savannas, healthy. Controlled burning limits competing ground vegetation and allows pine seedlings and saplings to enjoy the full sunlight they need to thrive. Burns are conducted only under specific conditions – the wind, weather, and humidity levels must be just right – and fire breaks need to be cleared of all vegetation and debris to prevent the fire from spreading to other areas.
Serving on a fire crew is hard work and crew members must be flexible and dedicated. All crew leaders and members undergo intensive wildland firefighter training and need to pass a physical fitness test to participate in prescribed burning. Once participants are qualified, the hours can be long, work can change from day to day, and the learning curve is steep. The Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy staffs are outstanding mentors and work closely with our crew members during the season as they are learning.
Jake Beilstein, a member of our TNC AL Chapter crew said, “This season has made a large impact on my career. Throughout my time here, I realized that I love working in fire and decided to pursue it as a career. I have learned to push myself well beyond my comfort level working and living outdoors and have truly learned new personal mental and physical boundaries from working in this environment.”
Paige Paulsen, a member of our Kisatchie crew, added, “This position has given me the confidence to imagine a future in which I can succeed in this line of work. It is reassuring to know that there are so many options for turning my passion for public service and ecology into a career that blends my interests.”
Of our 16 crew leaders and members, 13 are going on to a position in the environmental field. We appreciate the support from the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program for making this program a success and helping us foster our next generation of conservation leaders.