SREL partners with U.S. Forest Service teach prescribed burn course to college students at SRS

Thomas Gardiner
Augusta Chronicle

March 8, 2017 – Updated March 9, 2017

An instructor gives last minute safety and operations directions as the class prepares to take the first steps in the prescribed burn. Credit:Thomas Gardiner


Savannah River Ecology Lab and the U.S. Forest Service teamed up to create the first of its kind educational experience at Savannah River Site while simultaneously protecting and revitalizing the site’s long-leaf pine forests.

Many of the researchers at SREL are faculty members of the University of Georgia, which operates the lab and its programs. Several years ago, Dr. Doug Aubrey began working with some of his fellow UGA faculty and the SRS forestry crews to bring students out of the classroom and into a live environment.

“To get the students on site there were a number of security issues, but this is also federal land so they all had to have the proper certification to be out here,” Aubrey said. “The all had to earn their Wildland Firefighting Certification before they came here to the class.”

He said the students benefit by getting hands-on training and a full, realistic experience doing important forestry work.

“There are a critical number of management objectives in both retaining and promoting habitats. One of the major reasons to do a burn is to reduce fuel in the forest. If that fuel were to gather up, then a lightning strike or other incident could start a catastrophic fire,” Aubrey said.

He added that prescribed burns are needed to keep the long-leaf pine forest intact in order to maintain habitats for several important animal species. He said the students also leave the class with real-world experience they can put on a resume and recognized their dedication to the class.

“This is UGA’s spring break week and we have here over a dozen students who chose to come here and to learn,” he said.

This class began in January with two intensive weekends of firefighter training and is the first one of its kind offered by UGA. The class ends next January when two Augusta native students are set to graduate.

“They offer a prescribed burn class, but this is different. Instead of just learning more about prescribed burns and all the benefits they have, we are actually working with the fire and learning more about fire behavior,” said Augusta native Denton Boone, a UGA senior.

All the crew members aren’t on the fire lines, as some are responsible for communication, safety and leadership over watch. UGA graduate student and Augusta native Kyle Schwartz was among that group.

Schwartz studies public health and specializes in disaster management.

“We practice the same incident command system in disaster management as we use out here. It’s also helpful if you get into emergency management planning because you get to come out here and get familiar with what other departments do first-hand,” he said.

Schwartz said he also hopes to work in wildland fire, a job he is now certified to do. Boone also talked about future opportunities provided by this course.

“In the long term I’d like to come back, maybe SRS. That’s far in the future, but in the long term I’d like to come back to Augusta.”

“This was a really good opportunity to see how the command system works. In an emergency management position, that’s important because there is a standardized chain of command where everyone knows their job and is accountable,” Schwartz said.

Ben Hornsby with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Center said, “I am so excited to be a part of this; to get these guys the experience and get them started off on the right foot. They will go influence others and do the job the safest way possible and do what’s best for the resources. That’s our ultimate goal, to protect the resources safely and efficiently.”

Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706) 823-3339 or