Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield’s (FS/HAAF’s) Forestry Branch manages 139,700 acres of pine forest, 74,000 acres of forested wetlands, 58,300 acres of forest openings, and 9,600 acres of hardwood management areas. FS/HAAF boasts immensely valuable timber resources and is home to one of the largest remaining tracts of the longleaf pine-wiregrass ecosystem in Georgia. While this ecosystem serves as an ideal habitat for many threatened/endangered species, it also provides a landscape that is extremely conducive to military training. However, managing such a vast area that must be able to withstand the rigors of military training is no small task. With support from various directorates and organizations (both on and off-post), we are able to employ a forest management strategy that supports full, unrestricted use of lands for military training while maintaining the Installation’s valuable ecosystem. Two of the primary management tools used to achieve this are controlled burning and timber harvesting.
FS/HAAF recognizes that our forests and trees are a vital resource to both current and future missions and controlled burning plays a critical role in preserving our environment for future generations. Controlled burning is a managed burn that uses low intensity fire to improve and enhance our Soldiers’ training lands, clear underbrush to reduce wildfire hazards, and improve wildlife habitat.
The Forestry Branch maintains a proactive controlled burning program that is known by national fire experts to be one of the largest in the world. Typically, Fort Stewart burns between 100,000 and 120,000 acres annually. Because of this aggressive burn program, the number of wildfires has steadily decreased over the last two decades and not one day of training has been lost due to wildfire since 2000.
The controlled burn program is an example of a successful win-win partnership. The controlled burns create an ideal landscape for military training and improve wildlife habitat for many plant and animal species. The improved wildlife habitat created by the burn program played a large role in the Installation reaching recovery status for its population of the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker in 2012. Another ecological benefit of controlled burning is the biodiversity it creates. More than one-third of all Georgia's plant species exist on Fort Stewart. Burning enhances and maintains this diversity.
The Forestry Branch maintains an active and extensive timber harvesting program. Harvesting approximately 5,000 acres each year, FS/HAAF has one of the largest commercial timber programs in the Department of Defense. The primary reasons for harvesting timber on the Installation are to improve, maintain and support military maneuver training throughout the forest landscape; and to enhance wildlife habitat.
In accordance with federal law, FS/HAAF’s timber revenue must be used to fund future forest management activities. Therefore, benefits provided by timber harvests in regards to military training, ecosystem management, and threatened and endangered species habitat are incurred at little cost to the Army. In addition, counties adjacent to FS/HAAF receive a portion of timber revenues to help fund schools and road projects. The local economy also gets a boost by the Army providing high-quality wood products on a steady basis to the region’s wood buyers, loggers, forest product mills, and related businesses.
With each timber harvest, there is a large amount of unmerchantable debris left behind. Working with Fort Stewart’s central energy plant (CEP), the Forestry Branch developed an initiative that provides unsellable logging debris to the CEP for steam generation. After each timber harvest, the Forestry Branch uses a wood chipper to turn the leftover debris into chips that can be burned in the CEP’s wood-fired boiler. The energy that’s generated from burning the wood chips produces steam for the CEP, heating and cooling approximately 100 buildings on Fort Stewart. Through this initiative, FS/HAAF has developed a renewable, sustainable energy resource from materials that would otherwise have been wasted.
Forestry staff use a terra torch, which dispenses ignited gelled fuel, to assist in getting the burn started and facilitate lighting a baseline along the road. The terra torch is a beneficial tool because it can reach areas of dense vegetation that would otherwise be inaccessible
After logging operations are completed in an area, the leftover debris is sent through a wood chipper. The wood chips are then transported to Fort Stewart’s Central Energy Plant for use in its wood-fired boiler.