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The Burning Paradox

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Prescribed burns have been an agricultural tool since the dawn of human civilization. In fact, agricultural scientists, Sydney Johnson and Philip Hale provide “controlled burning has deep historical roots in the South, where the practice was quickly adopted from the Indians by early European settlers. It became used widely, primarily to improve forage conditions for free-ranging cattle and to improve visibility and access.”

Often referred as the “burn paradox”, the practice of a controlled burn is a modern management technique for the protection of endangered habitats, plants and animals. It can appear counterintuitive to use fire as a means of encouraging new growth; however, scientists have long understood the benefits and outcomes of ancient burn strategies.

Bok Tower Gardens along with the Disney Wilderness Preserve and Tiger Creek Preserve combined efforts under the direction of University of Idaho scientists and students to perform several prescribed burns this spring. Their efforts are already paying off as exciting new growth can be seen along the entrance road, the Wild Garden, and Pine Ridge Trails. Green leaves and stems can be seen growing from the blackened earth and as a result of the burn management plan, many endangered bird species are already returning to the preserve areas.

Enjoy this fascinating pictorial as the team from the University of Idaho combines efforts with Bok Tower Gardens to make protected landscapes in Central Florida a “bit brighter and more beautiful” with ancient wisdom and modern science.

the following was curated from The Nature Conservancy.

A Lesson in Prescribed Fire

In Spring 2016, The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve hosted a group of 10 students from University of Idaho’s College of Natural Resources who came to Florida to learn about fire ecology and how to safely manage a controlled burn.

Florida’s Disney Wilderness Preserve © TNC (Leslie Fowler)

Welcome to the Disney Wilderness Preserve
This 11,500-acre site that the students called home for 10 days was a perfect training ground for prescribed fire. Almost 70 percent of Florida’s 9 million acres of conservation land depends on fire to maintain the diversity of plant and animal life.

University of Idaho students at Florida’s Disney Wilderness Preserve © TNC (Leslie Fowler)

SAFE Burners
This service learning opportunity was supported by the University’s Student Association for Fire Ecology (SAFE) and was also offered as a course that emphasized prescribed burning for ecological management. Among other benefits, fire helps keep non-native, invasive species in check and natural areas from becoming overgrown.

A University of Idaho student participates in a burn at Disney Wilderness Preserve in Florida © TNC (Leslie Fowler)

Animals First
The students learned the importance of managing burns for fire-dependent species. In this case, students prepared the area for the red-cockaded woodpecker, by mowing and then burning out under their nest cavity in a Longleaf Pine, before the main fire came through.

University of Idaho students participate in a controlled burn at Florida’s Disney Wilderness Preserve © TNC (Leslie Fowler)

University of Idaho students participate in a controlled burn at Florida’s Disney Wilderness Preserve © TNC (Leslie Fowler)Trial by Fire
Two days into their stay, the students participated in their first controlled burn on the Disney Wilderness Preserve. With the leadership of a “burn boss,” students lit lines of fire using drip torches.

A controlled burn at Florida’s Disney Wilderness Preserve © TNC (Leslie Fowler)

A Successful Day One
The students burned 1,000 acres just in that day alone, observing fire behavior and ecology within longleaf pine flatwoods.

University of Idaho student assists with a burn at Florida’s Tiger Creek preserve. © TNC

Tiger Creek Preserve
At our Tiger Creek Preserve the students participated in a challenging project: putting fire back into a long-unburned scrub habitat.

A controlled burn at Florida’s Tiger Creek Preserve © TNC (Leslie Fowler)

History in the Making
Borrowing the name of the intercollegiate athletic teams of the University of Idaho, “the Vandals” were up to the challenge, and by the end of the day, they became a part of a historic fire, helping restart the clock on scrub restoration at Tiger Creek Preserve.

Group of partners at Bok Tower Gardens in Florida © TNC (Leslie Fowler)

Bok Tower Gardens
The students got to experience the reality of fire ecology and management in Florida: everybody is a partner.

A University of Idaho student participates in a burn at Bok Tower Gardens in Florida © TNC (Leslie Fowler)

Working with Partners
They worked with Florida chapter crews and Bok Tower Gardens staff on a fire designed to preserve unique and rare scrub plants.

A University of Idaho student participates in a burn at Disney Wilderness Preserve in Florida © TNC (Leslie Fowler)

The Last Burn
By the end of their stay, the students worked seamlessly with our Florida chapter fire crews, and were even able to take on leadership roles on the last fire.

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A University of Idaho student participates in a burn at Disney Wilderness Preserve in Florida © TNC (Leslie Fowler)

Total Acres Burned
All told, the students assisted on six controlled burns that burned a total of 1,413 acres in the Disney Wilderness Preserve, Tiger Creek Preserve, and Bok Tower Gardens.

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A group of University of Idaho students learned about prescribed fire at Disney Wilderness Preserve in Florida © TNC (Leslie Fowler)

The Future of Fire
The Nature Conservancy in Florida’s fire leaders have more than 180 years of combined fire experience, and so they are dedicated to mentoring today’s students so they can become the skilled fire leaders of tomorrow.