Prescribed Fire Collaboration is Enhancing Endangered and Threatened Species Habitat
The mechanical treatment and prescribed fire in the Titusville Wellfield natural scrub community is demonstrating success. The once overgrown scrub habitat is being restored to optimal condition. Federally listed threatened Florida Scrub-Jays, state listed Threatened Gopher Tortoises, and the state listed Endangered Dicerandra thinicola (Titusville Mint) are colonizing the newly restored/managed burn block. The mechanical treatment and prescribed fire were conducted in a collaborative team effort and with a grant from the US Fish & Wildlife Service to the City of Titusville, who owns the large wellfield refuge.
Summary of Dicerandra thinicola Initial Response to Management Treatments at the Titusville Wellfield
Eric Menges, Suzanne Kennedy, Stacy Smith
21 February 2008
We have completed two censuses in our Dicerandra thinicola plots (November 2007, February 2008) since the chopping and burning treatments were imposed during the summer of 2007. Although we have not analyzed these data, we thought it would be useful to share our observations.
We were able to relocate all of our study plots that had been previously set up in the treatment area using GPS.
Many D. thinicola plants survived the partial uprooting caused by the mechanical chopping treatment and the subsequent patchy fire. The surviving plants appear quite healthy; many flowered profusely in the fall of 2007 and many have grown very large, with large vegetative flushes, since the disturbances.
New D. thinicola seedlings have appeared in many of the treated plots. The seedling numbers vary from none to many hundreds of new seedlings per plot. The positive response of seedlings this winter may reflect favorable weather conditions; and drier winter conditions in other years might mean that D. thinicola seedling responses to treatments would not be as good.
We don’t know how this species would respond to fire-only (without initial mechanical fuel reduction treatment). Fire produces positive seedling responses in D. thinicola’s congener D. frutescens (which occurs over 150 miles away on the Lake Wales Ridge). We would, therefore, predict D. thinicolat’s seedling response to also be strongly positive from a fire-only treatment. We would expect that chopping, without subsequent fire, would not produce a strong seedling response.
New seedlings appeared within plots that previously had plants and also in one of our plots that only had nearby plants outside the plot (a few meters away). Large areas of treated scrub habitat that lacked plants before treatments still lack plants. This emphasizes the limited dispersal ability of D. thinicola. We believe that active seed introductions will be necessary to substantially expand the spatial coverage of D. thinicola. We are interested in trying seed introductions in conjunction with the next round of treatments.
We have added two new study plots in areas that are not slated for the next round of treatments as controls, so we can continue to have a basis for comparison of D. thinicola responses.
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http://www.fnps.org/pages/programs/programpg.php?keyword=ConservationSuzanne Kennedy is part of this collaborative effort between the City of Titusville and other partners to restore public land habitat for several endangered animal and plant species. and reduce the forest fuel load that potentially could lead to a catastrophic fire in an urban interface. The team plans to implement mechanical treatment late 2006 to thin trees and follow that first step of fuel reduction with a prescribed fire for further fuel reduction and to create the sandy open pathcs that support an abundance of rare species. Below is the unedited article from the local newspaper.
- Melbourne, FL - August 2, 2006
... You can only find the Florida scrub jay in Florida, while the Titusville balm, a small brushy plant with purple blooms, is known to exist only in Brevard County ...August 2, 2006 Program aims to restore refuge BY JESSICA RAYNOR FLORIDA TODAY
The land looks pristine, a bastion of nature surrounded by development on Barna Street.
The smell of mint lingers in the air as crickets chirp and a light breeze worries leaves on the dense scrub oak foliage.
But this seemingly ideal mini-nature refuge -- a city water-well field -- is anything but perfect for two of its unique residents -- the threatened scrub jay and the rare Titusville balm plant. Severe overgrowth shadows the ground, hiding food and predators from the scrub jay, and the Titusville balm fights for space with ground vegetation.
So, later this year, a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will fund a series of controlled burns aimed at returning the land to its natural state, while reducing wildfire danger to nearby homes and several of the city's drinking water wells.
"Right now in those well fields you've got extreme fuel loads," said Dean Pettit, chairman of the Titusville Environmental Commission. "You've got civilization within close proximity. That's the last thing you want to catch on fire. It would be an intense situation."
The USFW program Partners for Fish and Wildlife will provide $25,000 of the project, with several groups, including the city fire department, the Environmental Endangered Lands Program in Melbourne and the Nature Conservancy, kicking in manpower and know-how.
"It's truly a partnership," said Jay Herrington, state coordinator for the Partners program.
Private landowners -- or anyone who doesn't claim state or federally-owned land -- can propose projects to the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, which earmarks money for the top plans. Last year, Partners for Fish and Wildlife helped improve 11,879 acres at 16 sites across Florida.
Brevard County natural resource maps list the land as a Xeric Scrub Habitat. Because of a lack of vegetation-clearing natural fires, the land has become crowded with scrub oak and undergrowth. USFW chose the site because it is large, at 250 acres, and it should support a population of scrub jays, Pettit said.
That makes it unique. You can only find the Florida scrub jay in Florida, while the Titusville balm, a small brushy plant with purple blooms, is known to exist only in Brevard County.
Partners for Fish and Wildlife first plan to help with the mechanical reduction of the fuel load, knocking down trees and chopping up vegetation, said CalLee Davenport with USFW. Once those dry out, a delicate and detailed controlled burn will begin, headed by the fire department and taking on the acreage piece by piece over several years.
After 10 years, the land should be close to its natural state -- hosting scrub jay families that eat acorns, Pettit said. And fire danger will be greatly reduced, he said.
"It's good for the species and public safety," he said.
Suzanne Kennedy, founder of Floravista, Inc., presented at the Florida Native Plant Society's (FNPS) Silver Anniversary Conference in Melbourne, Florida, on May 14, 2005.
"Composing Cohesive and Beautiful Native Landscapes: case studies implementing ecology, organization, and structure."
Presentation description: Grouping native plants in their natural associations provides design and habitat enhancement opportunities unavailable with non-native species. Cohesive landscapes that result from appropriate assemblages command aesthetic and practical appeal. Using case studies from four "Eco-friendly" Florida subdivisions and 5 private residences, Suzanne will demonstrate landscape design concepts ranging from re-creation of the picturesque landscapes of real Florida to creating formal designs with a broad palette of fascinating natives.
Floravista is dedicated to the conservation and enhancement of the natural ecological processes of sites within the context of the surrounding ecosystem. In its first year, Floravista has accomplished native landscape design, project management, and educational literature for developers of eco-friendly subdivisions, homeowners associations, and residential customers.
Suzanne Kennedy is a plant ecologist recognized for endangered plant conservation and holds M.S. and B.S. degrees in Biological Sciences with specializations in tropical botany and ecology. She currently serves as Chair of the FNPS Conservation Committee, which offers small conservation grants among other programs. For more information on what the FNPS Conservation Committee offers, visit: http://www.fnps.org/pages/programs/programpg_no_pic.php?keyword=Conservation
Bejaria racemosa (Tarflower), a native shrub in xeric (dry) upland Florida habitats. This beautiful flowering shrub is striking in the hot summers in scrub habitats in Florida. Florivista, Inc. captured this image at the Malabar Sanctuary in Brevard County in 2004, in an area that has been managed by prescribed fires.
Opuntia humifusa (Prickly Pear), a native Florida cactus in xeric (dry) Florida habitats. This species blooms profusely in Florida open sandy patches within scrub. Scrub requires periodic fires (3-10 years) to maintain open patches and habitat heterogeneity. With increased heterogeneity, one will observe increased plant species diversity, usually.