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An overhead view of a prescribed burn

New student club puts focus on fire ecology

In some circles, getting a “red card” might get you in trouble. 

But the members of SAFE—the Student Association for Fire Ecology—see a red card as a benefit. That’s because in the world of prescribed burning, a red card can give you access to working on federal forestlands, where specialized crews set and manage fires (or fight unplanned ones). 

Getting a red card certification is one option for students in this new club at the University of Georgia. Based in UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, the club focuses on fire in the context of natural resource management and ecosystem services. It’s an important tool for managing land across the Southeast and beyond, and it was formed to help students better understand and embrace it.

“The club is open to anyone on campus, and you don’t need any prior experience with fire ecology—just an interest in learning more,” said Karlin Edwards, president of SAFE. “We’re hoping that students who have never been exposed to prescribed fire as a management technique can learn more about how fire fits into natural ecosystems and land management, particularly in the Southeast.”

All levels of experience are welcome, but students can take a special spring break class, “Wildland Fire” taught by Warnell professor Doug Aubrey, to gain real-world experience. The class studies both natural and human-controlled ecosystems and includes a red-card certification as part of the coursework.

Then, during spring break, students work alongside crews at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina, to conduct controlled burns. Students with red card certification—either through the class or from prior experience—can also join UGA’s new Fire Dawgs team and earn elective credits doing volunteer prescribed burning across Georgia.

“Other than the opportunity to become certified and actually participate in the use of prescribed fire for land management, students who attend SAFE meetings are given the opportunity to learn about topics related to fire ecology through presentations and guest speakers,” added Edwards. “We also offer the final meeting of the spring semester for any students who participate in research to present their theses and draw parallels to the material we've learned in the past year.”

Whether a student is just interested in the idea of how prescribed fires work, or is considering pursuing it as a career, SAFE can help open these doors. And Fire Dawgs can help make even more connections.

“We’re hoping that students who have never been exposed to prescribed fire as a management technique can learn more about how fire fits into natural ecosystems and land management,” said Edwards. “The club also provides a space for students interested in fire ecology as a potential career path to network with each other and with experts in the field in order to learn more.”


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