Ga. Tree Farmers Worry about Drought, Bugs in Aftermath of Wildfires

November 13, 2007

The wildfires that burned almost a half-million acres in south Georgia were snuffed out months ago, but tree farmers now face prolonged drought and insect infestations as they prepare to replant the vast forests.

Wood-boring beetles and other insects are attacking fire-weakened trees, setting back foresters trying to recover from the damaging fires. And dry conditions could herald another round of vicious fires in the spring, foresters said.

“We still have a lot of forest that can burn,” said Frank Sorrells, the area’s forest ranger. “And we’ve got to gear up for that possibility.”

Southeast Georgia boasts about 5 million acres of forestland through 15 counties, but more than 440,000 of those acres were burned by spring wildfires. Although the area has benefited from more rain than other parts of the state, it is still mired in drought and winter rains might not be enough to dampen fire danger.

“We’re seeing the same sort of weather patterns setting up to make it another bad fire season,” Sorrells said.

Rangers are urging homeowners to check weather conditions before they set fire to anything. And they are asking residents to reduce fire fuels such as underbrush, fallen limbs and leaves.

Despite the challenges, few farmers are throwing in the towel.

Joe Hopkins, a fourth-generation tree farmer who saved many of his trees by cutting them before the wildfire reached his property, said he plans to start replanting next month.

“We’re going to stay in there until the return is just not feasible to do it anymore,” he said.

Information from: The Florida Times-Union,

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