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New Fire Fund Supports Enhanced Training for Big Cypress Firefighters

February 2019 – The South Florida National Parks Trust has established a Big Cypress Fire Fund to support the training and professional development of the Big Cypress firefighters who battle wildfires and manage prescribed burns in the Big Cypress National Preserve.

Challenge MatchFor a limited time, donations made to the BIG CYPRESS FIRE FUND will be matched 100% by a special friend of Big Cypress.

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The Fire Management Program at Big CypressThe Big Cypress National Preserve has one of the most active fire management programs in the National Park Service. Big Cypress firefighters respond to wildfires and manage prescribed burns over 100,000 acres annually to protect property and maintain a healthy ecosystem. Fire is a natural and critical part of the local ecology. Many native plants and animals depend on frequent fires to thrive in the Big Cypress. Fire Management makes that possible.

The Role of Fire in Big CypressFire is an essential part of the Big Cypress ecosystem. Fires release nutrients that stimulate the seeding and reproduction of native plants. Fires also create space for new growth. Fire keeps hardwood species from shading out pinelands and wood plants from encroaching into prairies. Fire also benefits wildlife by increasing the amount of food available to white-tailed deer and other species and improved foraging for Florida panthers and red-cockaded woodpeckers.

Prescribed FiresWildfires are a fact of life in Big Cypress, especially at the end of the annual dry season when lightning strikes can ignite the landscape. To lessen the threat these fires pose to life and property, the National Park Service and its partners actively engage in a program of prescribed fires. Prescribed fires reduce the amount of fuel available to wildfires. Under optimal weather conditions, prescribed fires also help minimize smoke impacts to people in surrounding areas.

Fire Management GoalsThe goals of the Fire Management Program are to protect life and property and manage an ecosystem that depends on fire to remain healthy and vibrant. When wildfires occur, Big Cypress firefighters seek to manage the fire, allowing it to roam the landscape without threatening life or property. This strategy is essential for the management of an ecosystem that evolved with fire, and for the protection of property. More than 200 single-family dwellings and backcountry camps are located within the preserve, representing more than 1,500 structures.

PRESCRIBED FIRES- FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Big Cypress National Preserve is an area born of fire. During the transition between winter’s dry season and the summer’s rainy season frequent lighting strikes often start natural fires. These fires have encouraged growth, over time, of many plant communities adapted to fire. Recognizing the value of fire in the ecosystem, Preserve managers now use prescribed burning to maintain fire dependent communities.

What is prescribed burning? It is the process of using lightning started fire, or a fire ignited on purpose, as a tool for vegetation management. When humidity levels, air temperatures, and fuel conditions are ideal, fire managers set a slow burning, low to moderate intensity fire to remove selected vegetation. Likewise, if a lightning fire starts and specific conditions exist, the fire will be monitored but may not be aggressively fought. Big Cypress National Preserve has one of the largest prescribed burning programs in the National Park System, typically burning more than 60,000 acres annually.

Why do prescribed burning? Natural lightning fires were a regular feature of the land before development of roads and human settlements. Now, when lightning fires start, they can threaten human life and homes. Prescribed fire allows Big Cypress to manage the natural process under a more controlled situation than a wild fire would permit. Vegetation has evolved with fire. If allowed to accumulate, excessive fuel buildup results in extremely hot, catastrophic fire that may damage soil and prevent native plants from regenerating. Prescribed fire reduces fuel buildup. Its effects are selective and predictable, releasing nutrients back into the ecosystem.

What habitats benefit from prescribed burning? Sawgrass prairies/marshes and pinelands benefit from burning. Many pine, flower and grass seeds flourish best just after a moderate fire has swept through, releasing nutrients that allow these fire adapted plants to grow. Many plant species flower prolifically after fire. Additionally, many animals benefit from areas that have burned. Some species, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, thrive in forests that depend on fire.

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