Editorial roundup: March 13, 2019


Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

The Times and Democrat

March 5

Prescribed burns are an important tool for many reasons

Wildfires are not unusual this time of year around a state rich in woodlands. We lose thousands of acres of forest annually to fire.

It doesn't have to be.

That's the message from Gov. Henry McMaster and South Carolina experts. The governor has proclaimed March 2019 Prescribed Fire Awareness Month in South Carolina.

A coalition of state, federal and non-governmental land-management organizations under the umbrella of the South Carolina Prescribed Fire Council requested the proclamation to raise awareness of the essential role that fire plays in both the stewardship of our natural resources and the protection of lives and property.

Prescribed, or controlled, burning is the skilled application of fire under planned weather and fuel conditions to achieve specific forest and land management objectives. Controlled burning is an ancient practice, notably used by Native Americans for crop management, insect and pest control and hunting habitat improvement, among other purposes.

The practice continues today under the direction of land managers who understand the appropriate weather conditions, fuel loads and atmospheric conditions for conducting such burns. These carefully applied fires are an important tool to reduce wildfires, enhance wildlife habitat and keep the nearly 13 million acres of forested land in South Carolina healthy and productive.

The fires also help restore and maintain vital habitat for wildlife, including bobwhite quail and other grassland birds, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, gopher tortoises and red-cockaded woodpeckers. Beyond the many wildlife species that require fire-dependent habitat, many plants thrive only in regularly burned forests.

The demise of the longleaf pine forest and associated grasslands, which once made South Carolina one of the best quail-hunting states, is tightly correlated to the decrease in woods burning.

Prescribed fire enhances public safety by reducing or even eliminating fuel loads, thereby making wildfire on that area impossible or unlikely for some time afterward. And wildfires are usually less destructive on areas that have been prescribed burned. Wildfires often either lose intensity or go out when they reach areas that have been prescribed burned.

The message about prescribed fire as one of the best ways to keep Smokey Bear and his associates from being busy fighting catastrophic wildfires is an important one. Support and education are vital.


March 6

State bill would seek to ban felons from being sheriffs

And now, from the "Are you serious? We need such a law?" file comes this.

Apparently, it will be necessary for some legislation to come out of Columbia that would spell out that felons cannot seek one of the state's highest law enforcement positions - sheriff.

Based on a rather rich history of abuse of power in office carried out by no fewer than eight sheriffs in the past decade, lawmakers are eyeing legislation that would prevent anyone from running for sheriff who has been convicted, pleaded guilty to or been pardoned of a felony or crime of moral turpitude, the Associated Press reported this past week.

A law is already on the books that ostensibly would prevent such a ridiculous scenario since sheriffs have to be certified law officers. A felony conviction would prevent certification.

But the "moral turpitude" clause surfaced because of scenarios such as the one involving former Saluda Sheriff Jason Booth.

Booth pleaded guilty to misconduct in office in 2012 for using inmate labor for construction projects at his home. He also allowed that inmate unsupervised visits with the inmate's girlfriend, who wound up pregnant.

As much as one would think that should spell the end to Booth's career in law enforcement that very nearly was not the case. Four years later, Booth filed to run for his former post and got 31 percent of the vote.

As state Rep. Bruce Bryant, who was sheriff of York County from 1997 to 2017, said, "A sheriff needs to be held to the highest standards. If you have been convicted of a crime, how could the public have any confidence in your ability to uphold the law fairly for them?"

That certainly is a reasonable expectation, but given the percentage of votes Booth received in 2016, we wonder about voters' recall abilities.

Really, one would reason that a sheriff who abuses his office for personal gain, whether a misdemeanor or felony, would have the decency not to run again. And one would reason that voters would know better than to return such a person to the most powerful law enforcement position in the county.

Maybe not.