Wednesday, March 5, 2014

They Burned 2 Million Acres of My State?? (But That's OK....)

Yes, every year,  2 million acres of my subtropical state go up in flames. Little good flames actually. Prescribed burns are a vital part of the subtropical ecosystem here, and I had the good fortune to go hiking in an area that was burned a couple of years ago. Here's a view of part of the wildlife refuge that was burned:
Our Forest Service has this to say about prescribed burns, which are organized by councils:

"Prescribed fire is one of the most versatile and cost effective tools land managers use. Prescribed fire is used to reduce hazardous fuel buildups, thus providing increased protection to people, their homes and the forest. Other uses include disease control in young pines, improving habitat for wildlife, range management, preservation of endangered plant and animal species and the maintenance of fire dependent ecosystems."

I have to say that at first, I was creeped out on this hike. It looked post-apocalyptic. But then I started looking more closely at the saw palmettos that had burned, and I was surprised:
Some of these palmettos are up to 700 years old! That means they may have gone through over 200 fires in their long lives. Wow! And here come the new shoots:

Small, prescribed fires kill off scary plant parasites like dodder. Dodder cannot live on its own and will rapidly kill a host plant by living off the plant's fluids and blocking sunlight and air. It can be yellow, light green, flaming orange, or white. You can see how fire killed off most of the dodder in this stand of vegetation. But there's a little left at the top. Too bad, I really don't like dodder at all.
Prescribed burns are planned and made very carefully by groups of knowledgeable people who are trained and certified. These burn areas are actually pretty fascinating, so if you get a chance to see one up close, I'd say go for it!


  1. If I recall correctly the state (or someone) was even doing these burns in the 1960s and 70s.

  2. That's correct, they've been doing them for decades, but I don't know how the extent has changed over the years. It's pretty interesting to see the renewal of the vegetation up close.