Session: Vital Connections in Ecology: Novel Collaborations with Community Stakeholders
Prescribed fire at the wildland-urban interface: success through collaboration in Florida pine flatwoods
Monday, August 2, 2021
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Patrick J. Bohlen and Jennifer A. Elliott, Arboretum, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, Raymond Jarrett, Amanda Lindsay, John Guziejka and Brent Saulsbury, Landscape and Natural Resources, University of Central Florida, Zachary Prusak, The Nature Conservancy, Maitland, FL
Patrick J. Bohlen
Arboretum, University of Central Florida Orlando, FL, USA
Background/Question/Methods Prescribed fire is a natural, ecologically-based tool for reducing wildfire risk and improving conservation value in fire-dependent habitats and ecosystems. Urban encroachment into fire-prone wildlands creates multiple challenges for implementing prescribed fire in remaining natural areas, and increases constraints on burning due to the proximity of significant human population and infrastructure. These lands have particular significance at the wildland-urban interface (WUI), where they create a risk of catastrophic or undesirable wildfires, but where they also provide an opportunity to increase the conservation and educational value of these lands for nearby residents and visitors. One region where urban development collides with the need for prescribed fire is the US southeastern coastal plain, which has been designated as a global biodiversity hotspot. At the University of Central Florida (UCF), which is situated near the southern border of this hotspot, a series of small wildfires in campus pine flatwoods prompted the university to embrace prescribed fire as an essential management tool. In this presentation we explore the evolution of this prescribed fire program to illustrate ways to incorporate fire ecology concepts into long-term land management planning at the WUI, and to stress the importance of collaborative efforts to achieving program continuity and success. Results/Conclusions Campus flatwoods ecosystems were dominated by longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and were divided into 33 different burn units. Since its inception in 2004, the UCF fire program has burned 178 ha on 30 different burn units averaging 3.0 ha (range, 0.1-6.5 ha). Thirteen units have been burned once, 9 units twice, 5 units three times, and 3 units 4 times. The most frequently burned areas experienced an increase of species richness of 114% for ground cover and 34% for shrubs. Total area burned in the three 5-year periods from 2004-2020 increased from 38.1, to 49.6, to 142.7 ha. Initially, prescribed fires were implemented in units surrounded by large natural areas where smoke and fire risk could be managed easily. Early success in those areas made it possible to burn more challenging units over time. By initially applying fire in winter to long-unburned areas, fuel loads were reduced to the point where fires could be implemented in spring and summer, the natural burn seasons preferred for conservation. A prescribed fire MOU with participating agencies including TNC and other conservation NGOs, county governments, the National Park Service, the USFWS, USDA Forest Service, and Florida state agencies has been essential to program success.