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Controlled burns underway in Hale and Perry Counties

Rarely would burning an area in which an animal lives been seen as a conservation effort, but employees of the Oakmulgee District of Talladega national forest disagree. They plan to conduct controlled burns in sections of the park located in Bibb, Hale, Perry and Tuscaloosa Counties in an effort to repopulate a federally endangered species.

The park plans to burn around 21,000 acres to help restore habitat for the Red Cockaded Woodpecker, which is a federally listed endangered species. Controlled burns also help reduce litter on forest floors which fuel forest fires if left unchecked.

District Biologist for the park Micah Thorning said loss of habitat is what has caused the woodpecker species to become endangered. He said the burns will regain the habitat, and it will also help the habitat of other game birds like turkeys and quail.

Gantt said the park has already burned around 2,000 acres since the beginning of the year, with two separate burnings on Jan. 10 and Jan. 11. He said the park would burn only at certain times, when conditions are conducive.

Gantt said though his department sets the fires they try to keep them as close to natural conditions as possible. He said they try to keep the burns from becoming a nuisance to residents in the area, by setting fires when conditions will take the smoke into the atmosphere, though conditions can change.

The prescribed burns at the park are part of a statewide schedule of park burns that calls for around 90,000 acres of forest to be burnt in the state. All fires will be supervised by experienced forest service specialists in hopes to boost the health of the national forests in the state.