JENNINGS STATE FOREST – Like a druggist mixing a pharmaceutical compound in a lab, Sam Negaran begins his day with a prescription.
But instead of being tasked with making medicine, Negaran and his co-workers at the Florida Forest Service are reviewing a detailed plan for burning off 350-acres of unwanted underbrush inside the Jennings State Forest.
Negaran’s stack of papers includes detailed maps of the 23,995-acre state forest, descriptions of vegetation, topography, fuel and the objective or purpose of the day’s planned burn. He and his crew have to know such details as relative humidity, where the wind is blowing and the day’s weather forecast in order to ensure the fire is contained.
"(Burning) helps to clear the land so pine trees can seed in," Negaran said Jan. 10. "We try to reduce the oaks on some of these critical sand hill habitats, so we can encourage longleaf pine habitat back in these areas. It helps to keep non-native invasives from proliferating in this area. [The fire] eradicates pests, if we happen to have some right now. We don’t have any, but fire is excellent for maintaining a from page 1
pest-free ecosystem and it’s excellent for the wildlife as well," Negaran said.
With a renewed forest floor, the pines can flourish come springtime. Wildlife habitats and a new, more diverse undergrowth crops up, making the area attractive for such species as deer, turkey and gopher tortoises to continue to thrive near the forest, which sits within 30-minutes of 1.5 million people, which Negaran describes as unique.
"Hunters enjoy coming out here," Negaran said. "[As well as] hikers, campers; we have kayakers who utilize Black Creek and its ancillary tributaries."
Each year at Jennings, the state forestry agency aims to burn a third of the forest – roughly 8,500 to 9,000 acres – but that goal is not always achieved. And when it doesn’t happen, it’s usually due to adverse conditions, such as weather or drought, said Negaran who is a state forester at Jennings. The Jan. 10 burn was the first time this specific block had been burned since 2007 and 2008.
Brian Camposano, a Florida Forest Service biologist, said prolonged periods without a prescribed burn can have a long-term negative impact on the state’s silviculture or pine tree management plan. The state sells the mature timber on the open market and uses the proceeds to preserve the forest for recreational use. Part of Negaran’s team, Camposano views the prescribed burn as necessary to help bring nature back to balance.
"When you don’t burn for extended periods of time, hardwoods start to encroach on the habitat and it’s ultimately trying to reach its climax community, which is a hardwood-dominated forest. It becomes very hard to burn once you get a hardwood dominated system," Camposano said.
Prescibed burns, which are taking place around the state this month, are also a way for forestry officials and landowners to work in a preventive manner. Burning off the unwanted underbrush now, can keep a disaster from happening in much dryer months to come.
"One of the reasons we’re burning in the dormant season, is when you have high fuel loads, you want to reduce those fuel loads when it’s cooler outside because the higher the outside temperature the hotter the fire gets, the more radiation that’s coming off the ground to effect the treetops, so it’s easier to burn without killing too much. There’s always something that’s going to die from a fire, that’s reality, but we have to minimize that as much as possible," Camposano said.
Both Camposano and Negaran have extensive training, not only in forest management, but also about weather. They can make the fire burn in such a way that it won’t get out of control based simply on the weather conditions.
"As far as weather is concerned, because that’s something that plays into this as well – we’re burning this today on an east wind, so we’re blowing all of the smoke away from the homes," Camposano said. "The conditions today are such that the relative humidity is up a little bit and that will keep [the fire] very manageable and, for the most part, very safe."
Negaran is mindful that homes are not that far from the burn site. He uses a mix of diesel fuel and gasoline to create a flame not much larger than what you’d use to start your Independence Day cookout. He said it’s all about the burn technique.
"Weather is critical to keeping our fire under control," Negaran said. "We are taking lines of fire directly into the wind, so then the fire will burn perpendicular or 90 degrees to the direction of the wind and that way it is a slower, cooler, more manageable fire."
STAFF PHOTO BY ERIC CRAVEY
JENNINGS STATE FOREST--Brian Camposano, right, discusses the prescription for a controlled burn he and co-workers with the Florida Forest Service carried out Jan. 10 with Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Annaleasa Winter, left.