Habitat loss is the leading cause of native species and ecosystem decline. Conservation of viable habitat and restoration of damaged ones can reverse this trend. Existing laws are in place for protection and preservation of many natural habitats and species, however restoration and ongoing management is needed on public lands to protect the critical services the environment provides. Restoration is defined as the process of returning a degraded habitat to a self-sustaining condition that resembles as closely as possible its state before disturbance. The practice of restoration includes activities such as removal of non-native species, planting back native species, reforestation and wetland creation, prescribed burning and restoration of historic stormwater flow across the land.
Fire in Florida
Fire is one of the most versatile and cost effective land management tools within Florida. Forests in the southeast U.S. owe their existence to a long history of periodic fires. Forests in Florida have existed for at least 12,000 years and thousands of fires occurred naturally by lightning strikes. Fires, like many natural events, are cyclic and governed by conditions such as climate and existing vegetation. The repeatability of the cycle varies depending on habitat.
A Natural Cycle
Before 1900, fire-susceptible areas burned naturally every three to ten years. However, even in areas less likely to burn, the cycle still repeats every ten to 100 years in Florida. Fire is important to our landscape because it breaks down complex organic molecules to smaller ones - the same thing that occurs when we digest food. When a fire changes a log to ash, nutrients bound by chemical compounds are released and changed to a form where they can be more readily utilized. Thousands of years of natural fires resulted in a dynamic balance between various habitats and the wildlife that live here. Historically, fires would burn across a landscape unhindered by highways and housing communities. Since the early 1900s, humans have fragmented our landscape and fires cannot burn in a natural pattern. Therefore, when wildfires occur, it can be catastrophic due to an overgrowth of vegetation.
Restoring the Balance
Fire can be used in a way that benefits natural areas and people. Prescribed burning is one way in which land managers simulate historic fire patterns. Land managers use fire to reduce hazardous fuel buildup, thus providing increased protection to people, their homes and the forest. Other uses include habitat improvement, preservation of listed plant and animal species and the maintenance of fire dependent ecosystems.