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Prescribed burn informational meeting at “Ding”

By Staff | May 18, 2016

During the 2016 summer season, the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge will be conducting a prescribed burn of the Bailey Tract on Sanibel Island.

“Ding” would like to invite the public to attend an informational meeting on Thursday, May 26, at 1 p.m. in the “Ding” Darling Visitor and Education Center to discuss the burn plans and address any questions or concerns.

Carefully planning and conducting managed burns can prevent the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires and help preserve the natural ecology of the area. This technique called “prescribed fire” will reduce the amount of dried vegetation or “fuel.” Fire managers evaluate environmental conditions such as temperature, relative humidity, recent rainfall, wind speed and direction, soil moisture, fuel conditions, in order to determine when and how the can be conducted. Following a predefined “prescription” allows fire management officers to establish the desired fire behavior (intensity, flame length, direction of fire spread and smoke). These prescribed fires are planned and carefully conducted by well-trained and experienced wildland firefighters operating under strict conditions, known as prescriptions. These prescriptions dictate the number of qualified firefighters needed to conduct the burn, as well as the types and number of equipment required to safely complete the burn. Prescribed fire plans also call for specific wind conditions to minimize smoke impacts to roads and communities. A prescribed fire will not be conducted if the prescription cannot be met, i.e., if the proper wind conditions and relative humidity are not present on the day of the planned burn, the burn will not be conducted.

Prescribed fire burn plans have been approved by regional fire experts from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and burning authorization will be obtained from the State of Florida immediately prior to conducting prescribed burns. The refuge will implement prescribed burning as soon as the proper conditions are present. USFWS firefighters from the Southern Florida/Caribbean Fire District and other agency partners, including the National Park Service and Florida Forest Service, will be conducting the burns with assistance from the City of Sanibel, Sanibel Fire and Rescue District and Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF). Prescribed burns are planned so they minimize impacts on people and wildlife. Burn units are burned in small blocks to minimize smoke impacts.

“The Refuge is committed to the safety of our neighbors. These burns are being conducted to reduce hazardous fuels adjacent to private lands, which may pose a wildfire threat. These prescribed burns will also restore marsh and grassland areas, control invasive woody vegetation, and increase the diversity of native plants and wildlife,” said Wildlife Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik.

Prescribed burns have been conducted for many years at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and have demonstrated to be a cost-effective tool for reducing the risk of serious wildfires. Due to difficulties in predicting weather, the refuge is not able to notify the public of the exact day the prescribed burn will be conducted. However, landowners adjacent to the burn areas and the Sanibel Fire and Rescue District and City of Sanibel will be notified as soon as conditions warrant the scheduling of a burn (usually with 24-48 hours advanced notice).

During prescribed burns, portions of the refuge may be closed to public access. Please abide by all signs, road closures, and instructions about closed areas provided by law enforcement and fire personnel. Questions about the prescribed burns can be directed to the refuge office at (239) 472-1100 x237. A Public Information Officer will be available on the day of the burn, located at the Bailey’s Shopping Center.

To address safety and wildland fire issues on Sanibel, the City of Sanibel, the Sanibel Fire and Rescue District, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, and the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge formed the “Sanibel Firewise Task Force.” As a homeowner, there are many things that you can do to reduce the wildfire risk around your home. Suggestions include: trimming dead palm fronds from trees; trimming any tall grasses near the home; pruning large, leafy hardwood trees so the lowest branches are 6 to 10 feet high; removing combustible materials such as gasoline containers, firewood, and building supplies from being stored under or around the home; and keeping mulch and other landscaping material well watered.

Fire is a natural part of Florida’s ecosystem, historically set by lightning. Because of this history of periodic fires, many of Florida’s natural communities are adapted to burning.

“Many plants and animals are dependent on and benefit from fire. Without fire, native plants and animals have a much harder time surviving in these habitats,” said Tritaik.

Fire removes dead vegetation, promotes new growth of native vegetation and suppresses exotic plants. In the absence of fire, many plant communities are displaced by dense woody vegetation, which can reduce plant diversity and eliminate foraging opportunities for several of the island’s wildlife. Species such as the gopher tortoise, Eastern indigo snake, secretive marsh birds and the Sanibel Island rice rat all depend on a fire-maintained ecosystem.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.