For thousands of years, fire has rolled across the Florida landscape, often set by lightning in the dry months. Historically, Native Americans would set fires to create an open landscape for hunting, to improve livestock grazing, and for planting crops. These ecosystems were made up of longleaf pine, saw palmetto, and wiregrass: fire adapted species that also support native wildlife. Fire is an essential part of the Florida landscape – our ecosystems rely on and thrive in places with regular fire.
In the 20th century, Florida experienced a period of fire suppression. As more people moved into Florida, there was a shift away from using fire for land management. Shrubs and undergrowth built up, creating a massive fuel load so when a wildfire sparked, it was intense and out of control – much different from the historic, regular fires our state was adapted to.
Land managers in Florida agree that prescribed fire reduces the risk of wildfire. Wildfire intensity is much lower on sites that have recently been burned as compared to areas that have not. With more people moving to the state, and more development, Floridians are increasingly moving to areas that have historically experienced and ecologically need regular fire. This move into the wildland-urban interface – where human development meets managed conservation lands – highlights the importance of using prescribed fire as a tool for safeguarding our beloved landscapes as well as our own health and safety.
Today, Florida is one of the most populous states in the nation, with an average of 900 people moving here every single day. Fire can no longer freely burn across the landscape like it once did, as sprawling neighborhoods, strip malls, and highways have fractured the connections between our wild lands. Now more than ever we must protect our conservation lands so they can be properly managed with the use of prescribed fire.
Investments in conservation and management can ensure healthy natural areas for years to come. In addition to acquiring key conservation lands, appropriate land management is key to the long-term health of public lands. Through prescribed fire, and other mechanisms of proper land management, we ensure that existing conservation areas can withstand encroaching development. Learn more about the importance of land management in FCV’s Gems Report!
Fire is an undeniable part of Florida’s ecosystems – it is part of our history and as properly prescribed, it will be a key part of our future as we work to conserve our treasured landscapes.