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Bailey Tract to be first for prescribed burn

By Staff | Jun 1, 2016

A list of the areas that have been identified for the 2016 prescribed burns. MEGHAN MCCOY

An informational meeting was held at the J.N. “Ding” Darling Education center last Thursday to inform the community about why prescribed burns are ]necessary to prevent catastrophic wildfires.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland began the meeting by sharing information about possible prescribed burns that are planned for this year on the island. She said a prescribed burn includes a lot of teamwork, as well as bringing additional resources into the area.

Westland said this year the prescribed burns that will take place on the island will apply fire on the ground to make it a safer place for everyone, including lots of benefits for wildlife. She said public safety is always first and foremost.

Jeremy Conrad, “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge biologist, said the burns are for natural conservation areas where fuel, vegetation, builds up overtime. He said if they do not go in and implement some of the prescribed fires, the result can be catastrophic in terms of wildfires.

Conrad said they take that seriously and want to properly manage the habitat.

A prescribed burn for Bailey Tract has tentatively been scheduled for sometime in June. MEGHAN MCCOY

“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,” stated a press release from J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

He touched upon the history of fires, which have naturally occurred with lightening strikes causing hundreds of acres to burn when there is nothing in the way to break up the fire. Conrad said they have created fire breaks with such things as roads, buildings and town plaza’s.

Westland said they can do prescribed burns very close to homes while keeping residents safe, all while meeting their management goals due to the partnerships that have been formed.

Holly Milbrandt, environmental biologist for the City of Sanibel, said every year they try and put a partnership together to talk about what their priorities are for burning. She said they look at what lands have been burned in the past and which need to be looked at, which includes burning land around residential areas.

The areas that are among the prescribed burn map for 2016 include Bailey Tract, Frannies/Johnston Tract, Sanibel Gardens Preserve, South Center Tract, Postell Tract and the north side of Gulfside City Park Extension.

Milbrandt said the north side of Gulfside City Park has never had fire on the ground before.

The first prescribed burn will take place at Bailey Tract, hopefully some time in June.

Greg Titus, prescribed fire specialist for Fish & Wildlife Services, said they are looking for a easterly, or southernly wind either coming from the east or south to conduct the prescribed burn. He said their hope is to have the prescribed burn in June because in July the afternoon showers begin, which alternates the hydrology of the area.

Paul Tritaik, refuge manager, said they will receive at least 24-hour notice of when a prescribed burn will take place.

He said in the past when they have had a prescribed burn at Bailey Tract they have set a fire along Tarpon Bay Road, which then goes into the unit of land. Tritaik said when the fire is set along the edge it is really hot, which results in directing traffic when igniting that edge of the property.

“There will be temporary traffic controls with the Sanibel PD converting the traffic away from where the fire is going to be set. That is very temporary,” he said.

Westland said an information booth will be set up at Bailey’s store providing information for the public during the prescribed burning. She said they will be working with the city in getting the word out about when the prescribed burn will take place, which includes putting hangers on people’s mailboxes informing them.

When the prescribed burn takes place people should put their cars away, close windows, cover their pools if they can and put their pets indoors. Individuals who are smoke sensitive can call Joel Caouette with the city’s natural resource department at (239) 472-3700, or email him at joel.caouette@mysanibel.com.

Westland said some people will leave the island for the day when they know a prescribed burn is taking place and return home later that day.

Titus said after the burn is finished crews will remain on scene into the next day to make sure everything remains safe. He said some residual smoke will remain for a period of time.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.