National Key Deer Refuge
Southeast Region
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Introduction to Fire Management at National Key Deer

Fire Management at National Key Deer Refuge combines fire suppression, prescribed fire, thinning of overgrown vegetation, and fire ecology to protect local communities and support the refuge's mission to protect and preserve Key deer and other wildlife resources in the lower Florida Keys. The plans and actions of this program are guided by the Fire Management Plan (FMP) and the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP).



Wildland Fire in the Florida Keys

Many plants in the Florida Keys are flammable year-round under almost any weather condition. Although Smokey the Bear speaks of the destructiveness of fire, we have discovered that many habitats and species actually depend on it.  In Florida and the Keys, lightning fires were instrumental in favoring the selection of fire survival characteristics in plants and animals. Native Americans and European settlers used fire extensively to maintain the openness of our pine rocklands. Many of the rare and federally listed species in the Keys depend on the plants that thrive in open pine rocklands.

Fire has been increasingly suppressed in the ecosystems it shaped. When a fire-dependent habitat doesn’t burn, the flammable plant material builds up.  Over time, this build up can cause dangerous wildfires that overwhelm our ability to put them out. 

Today we call these fire-prone developed areas the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).  In the WUI, wildfires are suppressed to protect homes, lives, and property.  The ability to extinguish wildfires depends on the fire’s size, firefighter availability, fuel levels, weather conditions, and firefighter and public safety. 

The best way to protect the WUI is through pre-planning and management.  The refuge partners with homeowners, other agencies, fire departments, and conservation organizations through the Lower Keys Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) to identify and mitigate Wildland Urban Interface threats.  Through this plan, we work together to increase firefighter preparedness through cross-training and grant programs, on prescribed burns, thinning projects, and fire breaks.  We have also worked together to increase the number of wells and fire hydrants and educate homeowners about actions they can take to reduce their risk. 

The Fire Management Program at National Key Deer Refuge encompasses a wide variety of disciplines; all working together to apply scientifically based research to the aspects of how wildland fire is managed at the refuge. We work with other agencies, universities and conservation organizations to share information and partner on fire management issues through the South Florida Pine Rockland Working Group. Numerous Keys-specific studies have been conducted over the years as part of our adaptive management approach to all resource actions. Literature referred to in our planning documents and used in management decision-making is available here and updated as new data becomes available.

Direction is provided by the Fish and Wildlife Service's Branch of Fire Management in Boise, ID and from the Regional Office in Atlanta, GA.



On This Page...

Introduction to Fire Management at Key Deer
Wildland Fire in the Florida Keys

A deer is seen peeking through a burnt landscape
Deer love to snack on the small, fresh plants that sprout shortly after a burn. Photo: USFWS.

An aerial view of a wildfire on Cudjoe that shows the fire's proximity to homes.
This wildfire in Cudjoe Acres got close enough to residences to melt the siding of a house.  This close mix of homes and undeveloped natural areas is called the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Photo: USFWS.

Law enforcement and firefighters investigating a wildfire on Big Pine Key
(L-R) USFWS Law Enforcement Steve Berger, Big Pine Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Jason Pearson, and Florida Forest Service Firefighter Amy Langford investigating the 2011 Ixora Fire on Big Pine Key Photo: Dana Cohen - USFWS

Last updated: August 8, 2014