Prescribed Fire Stops Spread of Wildfire on A.R.M. Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in South Florida
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A prescribed burn conducted last month for 7,000 acres of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge has been credited with halting the spread of a 4,000-acre wildfire ignited by a lightning strike. Only 80 acres of the 147,392-acre refuge, located in Palm Beach County, Florida, were burned by the wildfire in mid-July.
“It is my opinion, the prescribed fire stopped the wildfire’s growth,”said Jeffrey Schardt, the Incident Commander for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, who responded to the wildlfire. “When we were in a helicopter checking on the size of the wildfire, we noticed two car-sizedspotfires inside the refuge on its southwestern side. These two spotfires hit the prescribed burn area and went out.”
“If the prescribed burn had not been in that location, the wildfire had the potential to travel through the refuge to its northern boundary,” said Schardt.
The wildfire started in Water Conservation Area 2A, a State of Florida Water Conservation Area located south of the refuge. It spread up to the refuge and burned parts of a refuge levee (L-39). In some areas, the wildfire burned along both sides of the levee; in others, only the west side was burned. The wildfire ended one-half-mile south of a refuge pump station. Most of the damage on the refuge was confined to leveeL-39.
“Prescribed burns have many benefits,” said Mark Musaus, manager of A.R.M. Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. “A properly managed fire is a tool for removing flammable dense and/or dead vegetation, creating openings, and lush new vegetation, which reduce the fuels that can be ignited by lightning or advancing wildfire.”
Prescribed burning is a tool that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employs often. Since October 2003, the Service’s Southeast Region has done 324 prescribed burns on about130,670 acres.
The first 5,000 acres of the prescribed fire treatment for A.R.M. Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge were burned on June 3-4, 2004. The remaining 2,000 acres were completed on June 29. Staff members from the Service’s Southeast Regional Fire Management Branch, six Florida refuges and one fish hatchery participated, including A.R.M. Loxahatchee, Merritt Island, Lake Woodruff, J.N. Ding Darling, Florida Panther, and Key Deer National Wildlife Refuges and Welaka National Fish Hatchery.
Established in 1951, the A.R.M. Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is part of the northern Everglades and has a 400-acre cypress swamp. The swamp is the largest remnant of a cypress stand that once separated the pine flatwoods from the Everglades marshes. More than 257 bird species utilize the refuge’s diverse wetlands, and the federally-endangered Everglades Snail Kite is also seen on the refuge.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 Fish and Wildlife Management offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.
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