Fire and Florida
By: Stefani Harrison
Fire can be a destructive force that demolishes homes, decimates forests, and leaves the land feeling desolate and dead. But fire can also be a source of life. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) utilizes fire to help conserve Florida’s wildlife.
For at least 12,000 years, fires and forests have coexisted in Florida. This relationship created and maintains Florida’s palmetto-pine, upland pine, flatwood, sandhill, scrub, prairie, and wetland ecosystems. Small, frequent Florida fires eliminate forest litter and undergrowth while enriching the soil with nutrients and allowing the sun to reach the soil. The fire clears the forest floor and encourages fire-resistant plants to flower, seed, and fruit. This creates ideal conditions for other native Florida species to thrive.
Fire as a land management tool helps to prevent the occurrence of uncontrolled forest fires and is one of the FWC’s most extensively applied land management tools. Without initiating these frequent fires, lowland combustible vegetation collects on the forest floor and creates the potential for larger uncontrollable fires if a lightning strike or accidental man-made fire were to occur. Prescribed burns can only occur after the land is fully examined. Before a prescribed burn is scheduled, specific parameters such as time of year, weather conditions, and area are set to ensure the fire is properly controlled and has the greatest benefit to the environment. For more information about prescribed burns and how the FWC uses them, click here.
The grasshopper sparrow, Florida’s most critically endangered species with fewer than 100 left in the wild, is heavily dependent on fire for survival. Its habitat stretches from Orlando to Lake Okeechobee in the few remaining treeless dryland prairie ecosystems. To maintain its habitat, the dry prairies need lots of sun and a fire every two years. Along with the grasshopper sparrow, other species who depend on fire are also at risk, like the gopher tortoise, indigo snake, and fox squirrel.
You can help us maintain Florida’s native lands by following all regulations for fire safety and reporting non-prescribed fires to local law enforcement. With your help, we can conserve Florida wildlife.