AIKEN, S.C. – Sixteen students from the University of Georgia have completed a popular spring semester course on fire ecology that included a prescribed burn of 375 acres of land at the Savannah River Site (SRS).
“Normally, we have a waiting list every semester for this field course. It is quite popular,” said Doug Aubrey, associate professor with the university’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL) and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at SRS. Aubrey leads the course.
Offered each spring semester, the course is a collaboration between SREL, the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and U.S. Forest Service-Savannah River.
In addition to receiving course credit, students receive their Incident Qualification Card, colloquially referred to as a “red card.” This interagency card demonstrates that the holder has completed the necessary training and is certified to participate as a firefighter in wildland fires and opens additional career opportunities.
Before the students even arrived at SRS, they completed the bookwork. They learned that fire ecology is the study of the effect of fires on ecosystems, concentrating on processes and interactions between living and nonliving components. They also studied the atmospheric elements which influence when it is safe to conduct a prescribed burn, such as wind speed and relative humidity.
Aubrey describes prescribed burns as both an art and science.
“It is a critical tool for managing forests,” he said.
Safety is of the utmost importance and prescribed burns can only be done under certain conditions, Aubrey said.
The prescribed burn the students took part in had been postponed due to conditions not being quite right. But once they completed it, multiple students said it was their favorite part of the course.
“The hands-on opportunity pushed me to learn and grow from the background knowledge acquired at the beginning of the course,” one student said.
The experiential learning opportunity outside the traditional college classroom gives undergraduate and graduate students the tools needed to meet emerging trends in the 21st century. SREL has a long commitment of bringing students out of the classroom and into the field.
Aubrey said coursework coalesces into a real hands-on application of prescribed fire with professional practitioners.
“There is simply no substitute for experience,” Aubrey said. “Students enroll in this course because they are able to get training and qualifications that can help them get jobs.”
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