Fire has played an important role in the formation of the Okefenokee Swamp. Fire ignited during all seasons by natives and early settlers for cultural reasons added to the effects of lightning-caused fire. Today, prescribed fire is used predominately in the uplands adjacent to the swamp to maintain the longleaf pine/wiregrass community. Longleaf pine and wiregrass, along with many of its associated wildlife species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise, and indigo snakes benefit from the occurrence of fire. Many species of plants have adapted to fire and require it for growth, maturity, and survival.
The refuge has many talented staff, interns, and volunteers who work in difficult conditions for the benefit of the plant and animal species who call the refuge home. Each spring and summer, countless hours are spent in the field closely monitoring active red-cockaded woodpecker cavities. Using a "peeper" (a long, telescoping pole with a small camera on the end that the viewer "looks" into the woodpecker hole with and a monitor screen at the base of the tree that they can look at what's in the hole/nest), biologists can observe the nests and monitor egg laying and hatching. Once the young hatch, a series of color-coded bands are placed on the bird's legs. The young continue to be monitored and observed as they fledge, or leave the nest.
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Okefenokee has the great distinction of not only being a part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, but also the National Wilderness Preservation System. This designation is given to federal lands that are affected primarily by nature and where people are only visitors. Managed using minimum tools, Wilderness Areas are places where visitors can experience unconfined and solitude recreation.