As the sun rises on a new day, the site of a prescribed fire from the previous day can be clearly seen as the residual smoke from lighter pines and smoldering fuels drifts up, up, and away. When speaking about a prescribed fire, the targeted area for the burn is referred to as a “burn unit.” Each unit is different in size and shape and can contain a variety of habitat types such as pine flatwoods, wet prairie, and marsh.
This burn unit has been temporarily transformed from dense, difficult-to-pass-through vegetation to a habitat full of small pockets of brush and grasses punctuated by newly open areas, colored grey and black by ash and burn-scarred trees. The view holds in it the promise of renewal and health. Fast forward six months and wildflowers bring pops of color to the lush new grass growth. Well-executed prescribed fire is an essential management tool, necessary to maintain ecosystem health.
At Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, our Prescribed Fire Season runs from December into July. This year, we conducted five fires since December 17, 2021. The first fire reduced fuel loads immediately adjacent to some of our buildings, while the second burn introduced fire into a small unit that hasn’t seen fire since the early 2000s. Next, we protected our immediate neighbors on the north side of the Sanctuary when we could take advantage of northern winds to push smoke away from them and reduce fuels and wildfire risk to their homes. Another fire led to a reduction of shrubs in a pine flatwoods area, a habitat frequented by many species. In fact, a fawn and doe were seen moving through it just two days after the fire was conducted! The most recent prescribed fire is an area where Crested Caracaras have nested, and the expectation is that the recent fire will encourage them to continue to nest here.
As of March 3, 2022, 388 acres have burned. The prescribed fire team continues to prepare for and plan more burns and are mobilizing partners to achieve these, always with an eye to protecting the Sanctuary’s resources and the community.