Why prescribed burns are good for the forest

December 17, 2011

Fred Provost, park ranger at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park watches over prescribed burn at the park. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Fire is key to a healthy pine forest

Ever wonder why Forestry Service and State parks set fire to the forest? The answer is quite simple – to preserve a healthy forest habitat. Not only does the wildlife thrive after a burn, the forest floor rejuvenates to a proper natural balance.

Many of Florida’s ecosystems such as longleaf pine sandhills, flatwoods and sand pine scrub cannot survive without fire. It releases nutrients and allows light into the forest allowing regeneration of native plants that feed wildlife. If the forests are not burned regularly, leaf litter and shrubs accumulate, choking native fire-adaptive plants. This starves wildlife and creates the risk of uncontrollable wildfires.

Prescribed fire is one of the most versatile and cost effective tools land managers use. Prescribed fire is used to reduce hazardous fuel buildups, thus providing increased protection to people, their homes and the forest.

A Balancing Act
Scientists have studied forests and fires to determine the secret of nature’s success in attaining this necessary balance. They have learned that a “natural” fire results from a certain fuel condition. Some forest types produce and accumulate fuels faster than others, some decompose fuels more readily than others. However, at some point in time, every forest type has fuel of the right quantity and quality for that forest to be ‘ready’ to burn.

What is a prescribed burn?
A prescribed burn is just that, a “prescription” with a list of objectives for a specific habitat. Part of the success of prescribed fire in Florida is the different number of user groups applying this land management tool. These user groups have formed Prescribed Fire Councils across the state to bring together the collective knowledge and skills of these groups, providing a forum for information sharing.

For more information, go to: http://www.fl-dof.com/

Information courtesy Agriculture and Consumer Services Florida Forest Service, Florida Department of Environmental Protection.