‘Ding’ Darling reports on three projects planned for new year
The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge recently announced its plans for this year's prescribed burns, restoration of the Bailey Tract and a wildlife buffer zone for Tarpon Bay.
During a public meeting on Feb. 28, officials and staff with the refuge provided presentations on the three subjects, as well as hosted break-out sessions afterward to answer questions from attendees. The goal of the meeting was to inform and to gather input in order to make better management decisions.
Refuge biologist Jeremy Conrad explained that the Prescribed Fire Task Force, which is made up of several coordinating agencies, uses prescribed burns to reduce hazardous fuels in order to minimize the threat of catastrophic wildfire and maintain public safety. It also restores natural habitat for wildlife.
"Fire was historically part of the environment and ecosystem," he said.
The influx of humans and development has impacted the naturally-occurring phenomena.
Prescribed burns mimic the natural process and help to maintain local habitats.
For example, ensuring marsh does not turn into forested wetland. Conrad explained that prescribed burns help to remove encroachment from other woody species, restoring and saving marsh lands.
"They are a major filtration for a lot of the ecosystems we have here," he said.
Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland noted that last year's mission went unmet.
This year, the refuge has prescribed burns tentatively planned for the Botanical Site, Legion Curve, North Center Tract, San-Cap Parcel, Sanibel Gardens Preserve and Frannies/Johnston Tract.