Prescribed Burning on the Refuge
Why do you burn the refuge?
The refuge staff utilizes fire to maintain healthy native vegetation communities on the refuge. Fire is set under "prescribed" conditions. These prescribed burns are only conducted if the winds, temperature and humidity are within a designated range and the refuge has adequate staff and equipment. By conducting burns under particular conditions, the staff can control the location, intensity, and duration of the fire. In Florida, fire is an important part of the natural ecology of many vegetation communities, such as pinelands and wet prairies. Fire is needed to maintain these communities and prevent the encroachment of invasive shrubs such as wax myrte and willows. Fire also reduces the hazardous build up of debris and dead vegetation which can fuel wildfires.
How is prescribed fire different from wildfire?
A prescribed fire is a controlled fire that is planned and executed under very specific conditions. By contrast, a wildfire is unplanned, uncontrolled and usually intense. Wildfires in Florida cost taxpayers millions of dollars each year. Prescribed burning seeks to accomplish the goals that naturally occuring wildfire accomplished prior to human influence.
What are the benefits of prescribed burning?
There are numerous benefits to prescribed burning. Burning reduces accumulated fuels which reduces the risk of intense fire. It also helps to control encroaching vegetation, such as wax myrtle, that grows quickly and can overtake other vegetation. Prescribed burning thins the forest making it healthier and more easily accessible by animals. Increased sunlight from thinning of encroaching shrubs allows for more regeneration of pine and grasses.
Top to Bottom: pre-burn, immediate post-burn, two-month post-burn
Watch a transition video to see the effects a prescribed burn has on a forest's vegetation
(Opens a quicktime video)
What does prescribed fire have to do with panthers?
Prescribed fire has more to do with deer management than it has to do with panthers. Deer love to eat the fresh regeneration of grass that occurs after a fire. The new grass buds that grow immediatley after a fire are known are "ice cream species" of grass; they are the favorite grass for deer to eat. As the majority of a Florida panther's diet consists of deer, any management activity that improves the deer population also improves the panther population. One of the goals of prescribed burning is to thin areas of dense, fast-growing vegetation which out-compete grasses for space and nutrients. Increasing the amount of quality grasses available to the deer population subsequently benefits the panthers. Radio tracking studies show that panthers frequent recently burned areas and that female panthers will often have their kittens in a unit that was recently burned.
How often is the refuge burned?
Prescribed burns are conducted during two separate times of the year. Deer usually drop their fawns in January, so springtime prescribed burns make sure that they have enough food to feed their fawns. Prescribed burns are also conducted near the end of summer to ensure deer are healthy enough to mate during rut season.
With 54 individual units on the refuge, burns are conducted on a planned 4 year rotation. However, if factors prevent a burn from taking place one year, that unit will be burnt the following year. As such, each unit is burned every 3-5 years.