NAPLES – Resource management staff at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve have released plans for their first prescribed burns in 2017. Prescribed fires will commence each day around 9 a.m. as weather permits from January through March in any of the following areas: West of Collier Boulevard and south of Henderson Creek, southwest of Artesia to Rookery Bay, westernmost portion of Shell Island Road (near ramp) and north end of Keewaydin Island.
Rookery Bay Reserve staff coordinate burns with the Florida Forestry Service and work with partnering land managers and local fire departments to get the job done safely and efficiently.
Residents in the adjacent areas will see and possibly smell smoke from the fire. Fire personnel will contact visitors in the area to ensure their safety while traveling near activity areas and will carefully monitor the fire throughout the day until it extinguishes.
"The main purpose of these burns is to reduce fuel loads and manage wildlife habitat," said Rookery Bay Reserve Resource Management Coordinator Jeff Carter. "Prescribed burns also help to increase ecosystem diversity, while assisting in invasive plant control."
According to Carter, a major portion of Collier County is comprised of plants that are dependent on fire to maintain species composition and diversity. These species are the same as those that are prone to lightning-strike wildfires and the controlled reduction of those fuels will prevent catastrophic wildfire damage. Fire-dependent plants include the South Florida slash pine, gallberry, saw palmetto and scrub oaks.
There are several reasons why prescribed fire is used as a management tool in natural areas, including:
• Reduction of fuel load to decrease threat of wildfires;
• Stimulation of food and seed production and opening areas for wildlife feeding and travel;
• Ecosystem diversity;
• Enhanced endangered and threatened species habitat; and
• Invasive plant control.