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Monday, August 13, 2012 - 3:52am

Partnership Funds Wildfire Prevention

Federal agriculture officials are buying conservation easements on about 5,000 acres in Southeast Georgia's Clinch County.

Several big wildfires in recent years started in the area called Arabia Bay.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials say, buying the bay will help prevent wildfires.

The land is a type of depression called a Carolina Bay that left alone will collect water.

But timber harvesters ditched and drained the land, making it dry and easy to catch fire.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Sharon Holbrooks says, the funding will target a 5,000 acre area that used to be filled with standing water.

"The wetland has been impacted over the years because it's been ditched. The water has been drained off of it and there's been reoccuring wildfires out there," Holbrooks says. "Through the funding through the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement program, we're going to be able to plug those ditches to actually let the water stand in the bay and this will reduce wildfire impact."

She says, even though 5,000 acres is small compared to the hundreds of thousands lost to fires recently, the newly protected land is significant.

"Arabia Bay has been a ignition source in 2011 and in 2007," Holbrooks says. "The Arabia Bay fire last year started out in the bay but it spread out to over 11,000 acres."

The land is currently owned by a few individuals and family trusts.

The fires which sparked inside Arabia Bay spread out destroying timberland.

Buying conservation easements there also will protect the endangered wood stork and the threatened flatwoods salamander.