Since COVID-19 hit the scene in Georgia, GFC has been researching whether smoke from all permitted sources, including prescribed fire, has a defined impact on COVID-19 transmission, complications or severity. We have been in ongoing communication on this issue with Georgia’s air quality regulators, the Environmental Protection Division of DNR, and with Governor Kemp’s office. And we have been talking with other state’s forestry agencies about any information they may have uncovered.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of science on this subject. Georgia’s air quality indices that we and EPD monitor have remained within norms. Yet, we have continued to seek definitive answers that would enable us to make an informed decision on continued burn permitting. Thus far, those definitive answers remain elusive.
Beyond any direct links between forestry smoke and COVID-19, we are also very aware of potential indirect impacts, such as smoke impacts on medical facilities; smoke impacts on individuals with preexisting medical conditions; and the statewide need to minimize any trigger event that would cause citizens to seek medical care for non-COVID-19 issues.
Our sister forestry agency to the northeast, the SC Forestry Commission, this week implemented a statewide burn ban. We have discussed with them how they came to their decision. We have studied their rationale and we have benefited from their thought process and openness with us. But their state-level decision and Georgia’s decision must be made independently, hopefully based on consistent and uniform science and concern for public health.
Prescribed fire is a valuable forestry management tool; we are grateful for the support it receives from Georgia’s citizens and policymakers. That being said, prescribed fire remains an often-misunderstood and sometimes-feared tool that must be carefully managed. This is why we continue to search for informed rationale for any decisions we might make on the application of this tool, concurrent with a pandemic emergency of unprecedented severity in modern times.
So, as of this moment, GFC is following our established criteria for burn permitting. These criteria already strongly consider smoke impacts on human populations and on safety. And we are continuing our search for additional information that might help Georgia deal with COVID-19 on all fronts. That is our commitment to Georgia’s citizens and to her forest managers.