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Florida

Florida

Refuge Burns to Preserve Rare Ecosystem

October 2009

Home to one of the rarest ecosystems in the world, the National Key Deer Refuge recently completed their first prescribed burning in five years. Although an essential tool to maintain the biological diversity of the fire-dependent and endangered pine rocklands unique to the Florida Keys, the Everglades and the Bahamas, use of fire had been complicated following the devastation and unnatural amounts of debris left scattered in the area by Hurricane Wilma in 2005.  The hurricane debris and lack of fire in the area had also left nearly 4,600 nearby residents vulnerable to high intensity wildfire. Characterized by slash pine trees, tropical palms, hardwood trees and a wide diversity of herbaceous rare plants, pine rocklands provide critical habitat for the tiny endangered Key Deer as well.

Fire managers and biologists from the refuge staff began a multi-year interagency and community based effort in 2006 to reduce fire risk on the island and to reintroduce fire as an ecologically appropriate tool to conserve the pine rockland habitat.  Several public meetings and discussion groups comprised of community members as well as representatives from local, state and federal agencies have been held since the project was initiated.

All of the planning ultimately led to two successful prescribed fires late this summer. Through their burning efforts, firefighters effectively reduced the risk of wildfire to private property, enhanced Key Deer habitat by maintaining openings and promoting new plant growth, and preserved conditions under which pines can regenerate and the rare herbaceous flora unique to this landscape will thrive.

One less obvious outcome of the endeavor has been the many positive comments from the public. Encouraging public involvement allowed the Service and other partners to foster new relationships creating opportunities to share current information and explore new strategies for the fire management program. This will be instrumental in future prescribed burning and other hazardous fuels activities on the refuge.

A USFWS firefighter helps cool the flames from a prescribed burn performed on the National Key Deer Refuge in Florida. Chad Anderson, photographer.   A Key Deer peeks out of heavy underbrush on Big Pine Key. Firefighters lit prescribed fire this summer to reduce the overgrown brush to enhance Key Deer habitat at the National Key Deer Refuge in Florida.

A USFWS firefighter helps cool the flames from a
prescribed burn performed on the National Key
Deer Refuge in Florida.  Chad Anderson, USFWS

 

A Key Deer peeks out of heavy underbrush on Big Pine Key. Firefighters lit prescribed fire this summer to reduce the overgrown brush to enhance Key Deer habitat at the National Key Deer Refuge in Florida. Chad Anderson, USFWS

 

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Last Updated: 10/26/2009