I am so proud to be an American tree farmer, something I could never have become without the guidance, mentoring and assistance of many, most especially our state Forestry Commission.
Over the past 12 years I have benefited from many of its excellent programs, including the creation of a forest management plan, cost-share opportunities, supervision of controlled burns and access to affordable seedlings from the commission’s nursery.
Now it’s my turn to speak up on issues of importance to the commission and the public that are impacted by the state budget. One of my greatest concerns relates to firefighting equipment and personnel. Until very recently, all commission employees who fought forest fires with heavy equipment did so with open cab bulldozers. When shown one of these outdated machines, the governor was quoted as saying, “This is a death trap.”
A year ago tree farmers, forestry professionals, landowners and members of the public appealed to the state legislature to fund new, safe, enclosed cab equipment. The Property and Firefighter Protection Bill was passed, providing $15 million to begin making these desperately needed purchases. However, by the end of the present fiscal year, only 20 of 140 firefighting dozers will be the safe cab models.
To accelerate the replacement cycle for open cab (often unreliable) equipment and put all operators in new enclosed cab dozers within five years, an additional $5,000,000 is needed each year for the next five years.
Secondly, we do not have enough firefighters in S.C. for active wildfire seasons. Budget cuts over the past decade have left us with 40 percent fewer firefighters than we had 10 to 12 years ago. Public safety makes it imperative that the Forestry Commission’s firefighting capacity be increased. $2,100,000 (recurring funds) is requested to recover half of the jobs lost.
Third, we need to resume normal aerial fire detection flights, which have been drastically limited by budget cuts. Decreased flights increased the risk of delayed detection, which could result in larger, costlier fires. In addition, operating funds are needed to maintain dispatch communications. A $400,000 increase in recurring operating funds for aerial surveillance and dispatch communications will protect property and lives all across S.C.
If you share my concern about these firefighting/fire protection issues, please contact your elected state representatives and senator.
— Joanna Angle is a Master Tree Farmer and 2012 South Carolina Tree Farmer of the Year. Her Cedarleaf Farm in Chester County is a Certified Stewardship Forest and part of the American Tree Farm System.