Prescribed forest fires begin on Thursday

Prescribed forest fires begin on Thursday

Submitted

Naples— Resource management staff at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve have released plans for its first prescribed burns in 2013. Weather permitting, prescribed fires will commence around 9 a.m. on Thursday, with a number of burns through Jan.

The burns will be conducted along Shell Island Road and the Tower Road/Barefoot Williams area.

Residents of adjacent areas will see and possibly smell smoke from the fire, and fire activities may temporarily inconvenience motorists along Shell Island Road.Fire personnel will contact visitors in the area to ensure their safety while traveling near activity areas and will carefully monitor the fire throughout the day until it extinguishes.

"The main purpose of this burn will be to reduce fuel loads and manage wildlife habitat," said Jeff Carter, Reserve resource management coordinator. According to Carter, a major portion of Collier County is comprised of plants that are dependent on fire to maintain species composition and diversity. These species are the same species that are prone to lightning strike wildfires, and the controlled reduction of those fuels will prevent catastrophic wildfire damage. Fire-dependent plants include the South Florida slash pine, gallberry, saw palmetto and scrub oaks.

There are a number of reasons why prescribed fire is used as a management tool in natural areas.They include:

• Reduction of fuel load to decrease threat of wildfires.

• Forage for wildlife — burning substantially benefits wildlife by stimulating food and seed production and opening areas for feeding and travel.

• Ecosystem diversity — fire breaks down complex organic molecules allowing nutrients to be recycled.Fire changes both the composition and density of the forest.

• Endangered and threatened species — habitat preferences of several endangered species, including the Florida panther, gopher tortoise, indigo snake and red-cockaded woodpecker, are enhanced by fire.

• Invasive plant control efforts — minimizing impacts to native species while reducing coverage of invasive species.

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