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Prescribed burn goes according to plan

By Staff | Jun 17, 2015

SCCF’s Director of Wildlife Habitat Management Program Chris Lechowicz, drives a part of Sanibel Gardens after the prescribed burn was held Wednesday, June 10. BRIAN WIERIMA

The natural cycle was given a boost Wednesday, June 10, on Sanibel, after a conglomerate of city officials, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation field technicians, forestry officials and the Sanibel fire department held a schedule prescription burn in the Sanibel Gardens and Malcom Beatty Preserves.

The prescribed burn was finally held after two days of postponements, with things going according to plan.

“It all went well, it’s all burned,” said SCCF’s Director of Wildlife Habitat Management Program Chris Lechowicz.

The location of the prescribed burn was just off of Tarpon Bay Road, across from the Bailey’s complex. The area was closed off to the public for safety precautions, as a group of about 10 field technicians controlled the burn.

“We’ve been trying to burn all week, but didn’t get the right dispersion index, which means how the smoke rises and scatters away,” said SCCF field technician Toby Clark, who was in charge of the burn. “Today, we had a good forecast and the winds were perfect, so it worked out better than I hoped for.”

Chris Lechowicz, SCCF’s Director of Wildlife Habitat Management Program, calls in a weather/wind report during the prescribed burn on Sanibel June 10. BRIAN WIERIMA

There were approximately 40 acres burned off the Sanibel Gardens/Malcom Beattie Preserve, which started around 10 a.m. and the main part of the burn over by 4 p.m. Officials kept a close watch throughout the evening and another check was had in the morning to secure the area.

Smoke was prevalent in the area, but no major problems occurred.

There are several reasons a prescribed burn is scheduled on Sanibel, one of the main ones is to help prevent out of control wildfires to occur in the future.

“The main goal is hazardous fuel reductions,” Clark said. “If we can come in and burn two or three-year cycle, it will reduce build up of those fuels. In fact, about eight years ago there was a wildfire here in the same area.

“The other objective, is to reduce heavy woody vegetation and promote spartina grass growth, which promotes wildlife habitat improvement.”

A couple of SCCF and City of Sanibel field technicians watch the prescribed burn. BRIAN WIERIMA

Promoting spartina grass growth, is the native cordgrass which has grown on Sanibel, is important for the native wildlife species.

These spartina marshes are also adapted to fire, which has been going on for ages. Other benefits include helping control exotic plant species and adding nitrogen back into the soil from the burned grass.

“The native types of vegetation are fire adapted,” Lechowicz said, who was also on site during the prescribed burn. “Plus, a lot of the exotic plant problems we have, are not adaptive to fire, so it helps knock them back a little, too.”

With much wildlife residing in the area which was burned June 10, field technicians left room for escape from the fire, as well.

“We never burn the entire area, we always leave open areas, which we call burning in a mosaic,” Lechowicz said. “We don’t want to burn the entire area, because then there would be no place for animals to go.”

Smoke was prevalent Wednesday, June 10, as the SCCF and the City of Sanibel conducted a prescribed burn of Sanibel Gardens and Warren Beatty Preserves. BRIAN WIERIMA

One such animal which is helped through controlled burn is the Sanibel rice rat, which lives in spartina grass marshes. The rice rat is a rare specie which is exclusive to Sanibel. It isn’t considered an invasive animal, because it stays away from people and their homes.

With Florida being a sub-tropic environment, growth is rapid in a burn area.

“Within a few weeks, we will see new growth,” Lechowicz said. “Within a month or two, it will be all green again.”

Clark said there is a potential of future prescribed burns scheduled, but the time it takes to prep the area for them and weather needs to cooperate.

“We’d like to pull off a couple more tracts, but we need the time to do it,” Clark said. “It takes a big time commitment to prep the areas.”

Currently, no other prescribed burns are scheduled. Check out the City of Sanibel website for more information on prescribed burns at: mysanibel.com.