The Nature Conservancy and Partners Conduct Controlled Burn on 12,000 Acres to Restore Longleaf Pine Forests
Controlled burn south of Tallahassee is the largest ever led by The Nature Conservancy in U.S.
TALLAHASSEE, FL | January 26, 2016
With help from state and federal partners, The Nature Conservancy has recently completed a controlled burn in Florida that is the organization’s largest-ever in the U.S.
Aimed at restoring longleaf pine forests, The Nature Conservancy led a controlled burn Jan. 12 on 11,994 acres in coordination with St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge and Aucilla Wildlife Management Area southeast of Tallahassee.
Of the nearly 12,000 acres burned during this long-planned carefully controlled fire:
- 10,172 acres were at the Flint Rock Preserve (about half owned by The Nature Conservancy, half by the Shine Foundation);
- 1,377 acres at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge; and
- 445 acres at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Aucilla Wildlife Management Area.
“This controlled burn was many months in the planning stages and involved several partners and moving parts, all geared toward the important goal of restoring our longleaf pine forests,” said David Printiss, who directs conservation in north Florida for The Nature Conservancy. Printiss also manages the Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.
For thousands of years, longleaf pine forests in Florida and throughout the Southeastern U.S. have depended on a natural regime of fire to maintain their diversity of plants and wildlife. Among many of those species are longleaf pine, wiregrass, gopher tortoise, indigo snake and the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. The absence of fire gradually degrades the natural character of longleaf pine forests and allows the buildup of fuels, posing potential hazards to surrounding communities in the event of wildfires.
The Nature Conservancy has long been a leader in the safe and ecologically appropriate use of fire to restore forests and grasslands and help keep surrounding communities safe from large fires. Nationwide since 1962, the Conservancy has led carefully controlled burns on 2 million acres of its own and other private and public lands, about half of which have been in Florida.
Critical funding for the Jan. 12 controlled burn came from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s new Wildland Fire Resilient Landscapes Program. The program provided $400,000 for a helicopter lease and specially trained staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to aerially ignite the site during the Jan. 12 burn.
Igniting the controlled burns largely from the helicopter allowed the relatively large land area to be burned without having staff burning those places from the ground. That made the controlled burn safer and more effective, Printiss said.
“To do a controlled burn of this magnitude in the Southeast – where we have just as much wetlands as we do uplands – you really need a helicopter to carry out ignition,” Printiss said.
Trained personnel participating in the controlled burn included nine staffers from The Nature Conservancy, eight from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and one from the Florida Forest Service.
“This controlled burn is a great example of cross-agency collaboration in order to accomplish huge ecological goals,” said Zach Prusak, Florida fire manager and central Florida conservation programs director for The Nature Conservancy. “It’s the result of many years of patient work by our staff and our partners in building relationships and paying attention to details.”
Prusak also manages the Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.