With fall finally upon north Georgia and the statewide burn ban lifted as of Oct. 1, private and state forestry groups banded together this weekend to celebrate Boy Scout Weekend and educate children about the importance of forestry and the dangers of wildfire.
A group composed of members of the Georgia Forestry Association, Georgia Forestry Commission and the USDA Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest Service spent Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at Uncle Shuck’s Corn Maze in Dawsonville, where boy scouts camped out, played games and learned about the dangers of wildfire and how forestry is used in the creation of even the most everyday items.
Ken Masten with the Georgia Forestry Commission explained the difference between his organization and the Georgia Forestry Association, which partnered with Uncle Shucks to create the design of the corn maze this year.
Masten explained that the GFA is a private organization that works with landowners, represents the forestry industry and is an advocate for forestry, while the GFC is a state agency that is responsible for fire suppression and protection of state and private lands as well as working with private landowners to be better stewards of their land.
Masten said that forestry is an incredible contributor to the state economy, and that the health of forests and the forest industry is just as important as clean air and water.
“I’m as big an environmentalist as you’ll find but I’m also a consumer, and we have to find ways to manage our resources, to protect that resource so we have it for future generations,” Masten said. “But we also have to utilize that resource with everyday products, everything from the obvious stuff like wood furniture, wood for our homes and paper, to less obvious items like medicines, cosmetics, foods...the list is incredibly huge of how our forests touch our everyday lives.”
Chelsea York, Georgia Forestry Commission Coordinator for Project Learning Tree, an environmental education program, presented two boxes to kids and asked them to sort items based on whether or not they were tree products.
Products included pencils, toilet paper, spools of thread, sponges, toothbrushes, toothpaste and bandages. All were tree products.
She also gave out forestry patches and showed off gadgets that could measure wind speed or how tall a tree is.
Smokey Bear also made an appearance and posed for pictures with kids.
Masten chirped the slogan “only you can prevent wildfires” and said that humans will never be able to eradicate wildfire, but that learning to use it as a tool is critical.
With the summer ban on outdoor burning now lifted in 54 counties, including Dawson, residents can burn hand-piled fires with a permit from the Georgia Forestry Commission, which can be obtained at no charge by calling 1(877)-OK2 BURN or by going online at http://www.gatrees.org/OnlinePermits/.
Hand-piled burns can contain natural vegetation such as leaves, sticks and limbs, but no man-made materials.
For other types of burns, such as machine-piled burns, call the local office of the Georgia Forestry Commission at (706) 216-2713 for a permit.
Masten said that the number one cause of wildfire in Georgia, and Dawson County, is escaped debris burns, and that fires shouldn’t be left alone for even a minute.
“It's critically important when you’re burning to stay with that fire,” Masten said. “Also remember, if a fire gets out, don’t put yourself at risk or waste time trying to put it out- go in and call 911.”
The county, like many in Georgia, has been left with a large amount of debris after Tropical Storm Irma hit in the middle of September.
County cleanup crews have already removed debris from roads and public spaces and will not be taking up residential debris. The city picked up tree limb debris left on the curb in front of homes until Oct. 3.
Masten said that storm debris, or any natural material, must be burned on the property where they fell.
Burn permits will no longer be issued after April 30.
For more information visit https://epd.georgia.gov/air/open-burning-rules-georgia.