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Thursday, February 3, 2011 - 9:51am

Budget Cuts Hit Wildfire Readiness

A more active wildfire season -- coupled with deeper budget cuts -- is a bad combination for state forestry officials.

The Georgia Forestry Commission says its lost more than 90 staff positions with the closure of over a dozen county unit offices the past couple of years.

Director Robert Farris says that’s forced the agency to get creative in trying to ensure there isn’t too much loss in wildfire preparedness.

“We’ve been working with counties and the Forest Service and also our surrounding state forestry organizations to where we can partner together better on wildfire responses. And also with our forest industry cooperators.”

One of those partnerships was just finalized with northeast Georgia’s Madison County, transferring operating cost of a unit office to the county.

County commission chairman Anthony Dove says its officials couldn’t sit back and let its 94,000 acres of forest land go completely unprotected.

“We might be a little bit more densely populated with houses kind of sporadicly in these forests and that is the concern. If something gets out, the potential loss of property could be great—quickly.

So Dove says the county takes-over cost and operation of the local forestry office. In return, state forestry officials will staff the region with a fire ranger unit during high fire risk periods.

The GFC's Farris says the current La Nina weather pattern affecting Georgia has led to a 37-percent increase in wildfires this season.

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