By Chris Reed, Land Management Manager Southwest Florida Water Management District
The National Weather Service is predicting an active wildfire season in the coming months. Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) land managers are working hard to complete their annual burn plan before conditions become too dry to conduct prescribed burns safely and responsibly. Land Management Manager Chris Reed explains why the District’s prescribed burn efforts are critical to keeping Florida’s ecosystem in balance.
Q: What is a prescribed burn?
A: A prescribed burn, also known as a prescribed fire or a controlled burn, is a fire intentionally ignited by land managers to meet specific land management goals. The burns follow a written prescription which outlines: the defined fire treatment area, goals and objectives of the burn; specific weather conditions that are required; the tactics staff will use; and the staffing and equipment resources that are required to conduct the burn. Additionally, a smoke management map is prepared to identify smoke sensitive areas, which are places where smoke from prescribed fires is intolerable, like schools and hospitals.
Q: Why does the Southwest Florida Water Management District conduct prescribed burns?
A: Nearly every natural community in Florida is shaped by fire. Plants and other vegetation accumulate quickly in these natural systems if they are not burned routinely. District land managers conduct prescribed burns to reduce this vegetative fuel buildup, which decreases the risk of catastrophic wildfires. Other commonly prescribed fire objectives include promoting plant diversity, enhancing or maintaining the character and condition of wildlife habitat, site preparation for planting pine trees and maintaining access for public recreation.
Q: What are the benefits of a prescribed burn?
A: There are many benefits to burning, most importantly reducing the risk of a catastrophic wildfire posing a risk to neighbors and firefighters. Additional benefits of prescribed fire include promoting plant diversity, improving wildlife and grazing habitat, preserving fire-dependent species, controlling forest insects and diseases and improving recreational access.
Q: How much District property is burned each year?
A: The District conducts prescribed fires on approximately 30,000 acres each year. The most common Florida natural community habitats historically burn every two to four years.