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Corps plans to burn debris along lake shore
Program aims to decrease wildfires, protect wildlife
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Two years in the making, a new "prescribed burning" program at Lake Lanier is set to be rolled out this winter by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The federal government is looking to burn off debris in wooded areas filled with weeds, pine needles and "forest litter," Chief Ranger Jeff Emmert said.

The program could help benefit certain tree species and wildlife, as well as lessen the likelihood for a wildfire.

"We're trying to go at it slowly and methodically, just to be sure that we cover all safety issues and proper management issues in terms of what we want to accomplish," Emmert said.

Overall, the program is "an attempt to improve our natural resource management, park areas and other large areas we have, and to continue responsibly managing those areas," he said.

Lake Lanier, built in the 1950s, has nearly 700 miles of shoreline and 10,000 acres of land. Parks, marinas and campgrounds surround the lake, along with many pricey residential areas.

"Most of our recreational areas ... have never had a prescribed burning," Emmert said.

As the corps began considering a burning program, it contacted the Forsyth County Fire Department, which has a nationally recognized unit, the Wildland/Urban Interface Division.

The Forsyth unit, which focuses on suppressing fires in wooded areas near homes, "has been a great asset in providing some training for us, as well as some oversight, guidelines and the processes they have gone through as a county unit," Emmert said.

The corps also has sought assistance from the Georgia Forestry Commission in training its employees for the burning program, Emmert said.

"We've done some small (training) fires here and there," he added.

The first multiacre one is planned for January, with the corps still working to nail down the location, which is likely to be around the Gwinnett-Forsyth County side of the lake. The program will expand to other counties around the lake, including Hall.

As part of the fires, corps employees will work first to clear away debris from structures such as picnic tables and camping sites, or "(areas) you don't want blackened by a fire," Emmert said.

Also, he expects the corps will alert the public about the fires in advance, to try to stem any concerns about large plumes of smoke from the burn sites.

Capt. Jason Shivers, spokesman for the Forsyth County Fire Department, said that timing for the prescribed burns "is pretty critical ... because you want to do it when the environmental conditions are right and before the spring humidity rises, so you're accomplishing your goals."

Forsyth will be available to help the corps further, as needed, in the program, Shivers said.

The fire department has a vested interest in the program succeeding.

"Forsyth County has the most shoreline of Lake Lanier than any other county," Shivers said. "These areas have never been burned and they have a tremendous amount of fuel that really does need to be removed, to make for a safer environment."