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Prescribed burns beneficial

By Staff | Nov 10, 2008

Those traveling along Stringfellow Road in recent months have been witness to blazing pine trees and undergrowth at the Pine Island Flatwoods Preserve in St. James City. These fires were set intentionally as a means of forest management at the preserve and were of no threat to the neighboring community.

Utilizing controlled or prescribed burns has been a useful tool for forest management, restoration and for fire control as it is a safe means of removing unwanted vegetation, the removal of branch and leaf debris. It also encourages some seeds to germinate and is an affective way to restore grassland, thus aiding in the renewing of a forest.

According to information from the Florida Department of Forestry, a “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. Other uses include disease control in young pines, improving habitat for wildlife, range management, preservation of endangered plant and animal species and the maintenance of fire dependent ecosystems.”

The Pine Island Flatwoods Preserve on Pine Island was purchased with money from the Lee County Conservation 20/20 program and is under the stewardship of the Pine Island Calusa Land Trust. As stewards, the land trust members help with monthly work days held at the preserve to complete small projects on the property and also with quarterly inspections of the site. They are also charged with maintaining the hiking trails, picking up litter, recording wildlife and other miscellaneous projects.

Conservation 20/20 is the result of a land use study that took place in 1994 which found that very little land had been set aside for conservation in Lee County. In 1996, Lee County voters choose to increase property taxes by up to 0.5 mils to fund the purchase and protection of environmentally sensitive lands in the county. Shortly after that, a committee was formed, the Conservation Lands Acquisition and Stewardship Advisory Committee. CLASAC and 20/20 look at lands that may be in need of protection and preservation because of natural wildlife habitat, water quality and supply, the protection of flooding to developed property or to provide resource-based recreation. After reviewing a land parcel, CLASAC then takes its recommendations to the Lee County Board of Commissioners for approval of funding for the purchase of the property. To date, a total of 19,960 acres have been purchased with 20/20 funds.

The Pine Island Flatwoods Preserve encompasses 719.4 acres, which is comprised of six parcels of land. The six parcels were purchased individually over an eight-year time span. The preserve consists of nine native plant communities, including mesic pine flatwoods, freshwater marshes, tidal swamp, hydric hammock, coastal grassland, coastal berm, improved pastures, abandoned groves and unconsolidated substrate.