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Task force details planned prescribed burns for 2020

By Staff | Mar 9, 2020

TIFFANY REPECKI Joel Caouette, environmental specialist with the city of Sanibel's Natural Resources Department, goes over a presentation on the prescribed burns planned for this year at a public meeting on March 5.

The Sanibel Prescribed Fire Task Force recently outlined its plan for this year’s prescribed burn operations, which include two high priority areas plus a third one if the conditions are right.

On March 5, representatives for the city’s Natural Resources Department and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation announced the plan at a public meeting at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. While refuge officials were present, no burns are planned for the refuge this year.

The targeted conservation lands for the 2020 spring-summer include the Erick A. Lindblad Preserve and the Frannie’s/C.R. Johnston Preserves, plus the Sanibel Gardens Preserve if time allows for it.

At the meeting, Sanibel Natural Resources Department Environmental Specialist Joel Caouette explained that prescribed burning is fire applied in a knowledgeable manner to the landscape, under selected weather conditions, to accomplish predetermined well-defined management objectives.

He continued that prescribed burns help to reduce hazardous fuels in order to minimize the threat of catastrophic wildfire and maintain public safety. They also help restore natural habitat for wildlife.

PHOTO PROVIDED

“Fire was and is a part of the natural process,” Caouette said, adding that the absence of naturally occurring fires results in large accumulations of fuels, which threaten communities and habitat.

Prescribed burns mimic the natural process of say a lightning strike causing a wildfire.

“We try to mimic that fire regime,” he said.

The task force shared photos from one of last year’s burn sites. Caouette pointed out that new green vegetation was growing back after two weeks, with even less evidence of a burn after a couple months.

“Two months later and you can hardly tell there was a fire,” he said.

Joel Caouette

When a prescribed burn will take place depends on if the conditions are favorable, like wind speed and direction, temperature and relative humidity. SCCF Land Steward Victor Young explained that burns are typically held between now and the rainy season, with the end of March as a starting point this year.

“That’s when we’ll really start considering when to burn,” he said.

The task force is looking to burn approximately 100 acres at the Erick A. Lindblad Preserve, about 25 acres at the Frannie’s/C.R. Johnston Preserves and approximately 25 acres at the Sanibel Gardens Preserve. Last year, it burned about 114 acres at the Legion Curve and 27 acres at the Sanibel Gardens.

Young explained that the Erick A. Lindblad Preserve and the Frannie’s/C.R. Johnston Preserves are the high priority targets this year because they have not been burned in awhile so there are built-up fuels.

“The Erick and Frannie’s preserves are within the natural historical fire return interval,” he said.

Victor Young

Land management is also a factor as the hardwoods are encroaching into the wetlands.

“It’s also for wildlife,” Young said of targeting the areas.

When the conditions are favorable, the public will be notified approximately a week in advance about the possible burn. Caouette explained that officials will monitor the situation and provide updates.

Those who are sensitive to smoke can ask to be added to an email list maintained by the city. To be placed on the smoke sensitive list, contact Caouette at 239-472-3700 or Joel.caouette@mysanibel.com.

Recommended tips for a prescribed burn include:

– Putting away personal property, such as cars and outdoor furniture

– Closing windows and using air conditioning

– Covering swimming pools

– Keeping pets indoors

– Staying indoors to minimize the impacts or leaving the island for the day

“Sometimes it’s an all day thing, sometimes it’s just a portion of the day,” he said of burns.

In addition to the city and SCCF, the task force includes the National Park Service, Florida Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Sanibel fire district and city police.

For more information, call the Sanibel Natural Resources Department at 239-472-3700.