Published Wednesday, December 26, 2012
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
For the second year in a row, the Coweta Forestry Commission office has been named the Georgia Forestry Commission’s Unit of the Year for the northern half of Georgia.
It’s the first time in history that a unit has won the award two years in a row, said Terry Quigley, chief ranger at the Coweta Forestry Commission unit, located on Corinth Road.
The Coweta unit covers Coweta, Fayette and south Fulton counties. There are a total of 109 county units in the state.
Each district nominates its top performing unit for the award, and the overall award is voted on by the GFC management.
The award is based on multiple factors, including each unit’s annual report, customer service and business reports.
“We have a good customer base at this unit,” said Quigley. They also do a wide variety of things.
“We’re a well-rounded unit,” said Jeff Mansour, ranger and forestry technician.
Though the GFC fights wildfires and provides free information, “90 percent of our services are paid services,” said Quigley.
Those include plowing fire breaks and helping out with controlled burns, as well as doing plowing for wildlife food plots. The unit has several fire plows, which also have scraper blades.
While a standard fire break is ditch-like, many landowners pay extra to have GFC crews flatten and improve the fire breaks.
“If they are going to be paying for the service they prefer for you to spend a little extra time,” Mansour said.
“It gives them access to their property,” he said, and makes the fire breaks “easier for them to maintain and for us to open back up.”
The Coweta unit also does “customer service to the public and the government” and lots of educational programs for children and adults.
“It’s all a combination,” Quigley said. “There are a lot of other units in the state that do a whole lot more plowing than this unit,” for instance, he said. “Then, on the other hand, that is all they do, a lot of plowing. They don’t go out and do school programs, they don’t go out and do a lot of burning or vice versa,” he said. “It’s not all one big thing, we do a lot of little things.”
He thinks that well-roundedness — and a steady increase in activity — is a big reason why they are the unit of the year again this year.
“Somehow or another, we’re continually increasing our average,” Quigley said. “Every year we are above average.”
When it comes to public education, “the main thing we do is fire prevention,” said Quigley. “That is our goal — to reduce the number of wild fires by educating people,” he said. “And if we educate the kids, maybe the kids will go back and educate the parents.”
They use Smokey Bear when doing programs for the younger kids. The older kids get a more hands-on approach.
They’ll watch GFC rangers set small fires in the “burn table.”
“We put dirt on it, line it with pine straw. If we have some seedlings lying around, we make it look like a forest,” Mansour said. “We’ll light it on fire and let the kids watch it burn.”
“When the fire starts, everybody gathers around,” said Quigley.
“It’s like a child magnet,” Mansour said.
They can also use the burn table to talk about stormwater and forests. And they can demonstrate the use of the “drip torch,” which is used with controlled burns.
The GFC personnel can only do programs for large groups, such as around 100 or so kids, Quigley said.
Adults, such as civic groups, get talks about forest management and protection.
Unit personnel also participate in other outreach programs, such as “touch a truck,” when they bring out their giant fire plows and other equipment.
Quigley said they have put a challenge out to their fellow GFC units.
“It can be done. We proved it, with hard work,” Quigley said of the back-to-back recognition.
“I don’t think we’ll do three in a row. That would be asking for a lot,” he said. “But we’re still going to work, we’re still going to do the same thing we’ve been doing,” he said.
For more information about the GFC Coweta unit, located on Corinth Road just south of the Greenville Street bridge at the city limits, call 770-254-7217.