This month, the National Park Service utilized miles of firebreaks and other expensive techniques to control a naturally-occurring fire in the Wilderness Area — and then immediately proceeded with a controlled burn.
On June 29, 2019, the “Whitney Fire” (which never went to Whitney Lake) was ignited by a naturally-occurring source, a lightning strike. Over the next month, the NPS utilized resources from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Georgia Department of Forestry, and Florida Forest Service to watch the fire. This included five (5) or more fire engines, helicopters, drones, infrared technology, and at least 70 personnel.
But as soon as the naturally-occurring fire in the Wilderness was out, they moved forward with a prescribed burn (out of designated Wilderness).
Their logic? The original Whitney Fire provided a “boundary to support containment to the prescribed area.
Mother Nature knew exactly what she was doing. In fact, there is a naturally-occurring major burn event on the island in the scrub community every 10 – 30 years; without these, the ecosystem suffers. But the NPS’ current fire management policy interrupts the natural fire cycle and over time, may do irreversible damage.
In this particular fire event, the NPS hardly had to control the natural fire, it went out on its own between the Main Rd and the North Fraser “Cut” Rd. From that burn, they realized that conditions were not conducive to a hot burn (which is what the scrub wants, but firefighters do not). They then burned about a quarter of the scrub community south of Candler’s. That area was removed from Wilderness by Greyfield, along with the Main Rd., most of the north end, and the beach, so they could drive their commercial tours up. The park fire was ostensibly to protect the Candler compound.
Wild Cumberland isn’t opposed to a fire management plan that protects structures, but we do believe that any fire management plan should allow natural fires to burn in the Wilderness.
The National Park Service’s current fire management policy, enacted in 2015 (updated 2019) does not comply with wilderness management guidelines as they are defined by the Wilderness Act. Also, the NPS should protect WILDERNESS CHARACTER on adjacent land. Firebreaks do not accomplish that.
Wild Cumberland continues to oppose the NPS approach to fire management for the Cumberland Island Wilderness Area. Allow natural fires — but not prescribed burns, which are another form of human manipulation. To take action, visit this link https://wildcumberland.org/?page_id=742.
Other recent NPS burns (outside designated Wilderness):
April 20, 2019 – debris pile located on the southern end of the island (Raccoon Key)
February 2019 – Stafford Burn
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