Archbold Biological Station, Biennial Report 1997-1998

       Accomplishments 1997-98
  • Conducted 16 burns at the Station and 8 burns at Lake Placid Scrub Preserve, totaling over 2,100 acres.
  • Worked with Florida Division of Forestry to control 5 lightning-ignited fires.
  • Received a $50,000- National Science Foundation award for new fire research equipment.
  • Kevin Main is a member of the Steering Committee for the Central Florida Prescribed Fire Council.

Areas burned during 1997-1998; map by Kevin Main.


Fire Management: Meeting the Goals of the Fire Management Plan

Project Directors: Kevin N. Main, Land Manager; Eric S. Menges, Senior Research Biologist

[Biennial Contents | Biennial 95-96]

A revised Fire Management Plan (Plan) for Archbold Biological Station was developed in 1996 and implemented in 1997. This Plan provides a foundation for all fire-related activities at the Station. The Plan deals with prescribed burning, wildfire guidelines, fire policies, and post-fire monitoring. It is important to examine how goals of the Plan are being met.

     Goal 1. Enhance Biological Diversity. Biological diversity refers to both species diversity and landscape diversity.
Meeting the goals. Species diversity: Archbold biologists monitor populations of many key species in the burn units. Landscape diversity: Burns are juxtaposed to provide a mosaic of different fire-return intervals (see map, this page). Diversity is enhanced by various lighting techniques, and by burning during different seasons and weather conditions. During 1997–98, 9 fires were in spring and 9 in summer.

     Goal 2. Enhance Threatened and Endangered Species. The Station is an important site for many Lake Wales Ridge threatened and endangered scrub species, including 13 federally-listed plants. Each burn prescription is evaluated with respect to specific listed species. Monitoring listed species populations is a key element of fire management. Results from long-term monitoring are used to refine the Plan.
Meeting the goals. On Tract 18E (long-unburned), Florida scrub-jays were declining in the 1980s, but after a prescribed burn in March 1990, the population reached a density typical of optimal habitat by 1996 (see Fig. 1, below). Eryngium cuneifolium, an endangered scrub herb, shows a similar positive response to fire (see Fig. 2, below).

     Goal 3. Mimic Natural Processes. This goal includes the natural range of variation in fire-return interval, fire intensity, fire behavior, fire effects, and other characteristics of the fire regime. Most presettlement fires probably burned intensely, often during droughts. We use many lighting techniques during prescribed burns, but seek to burn the majority of many burn units with head fires to mimic pre-European settlement fire intensities. Safety constraints and other site-specific factors limit burning during extreme conditions and also limit the use of head fires in some burn units. We also plan for lightning ignitions so that some lightning fires can be allowed to burn in a controlled manner and, thereby, affect part of the landscape similarly to presettlement fires.
Meeting the goals. During 1997–98, most fires were prescribed for the lightning season, and head fires were the preferred lighting techniques (70% of 18 fires). Four prescribed burns, and 2 lightning fires, occurred under drought conditions (drought index over 500) but these six fires were not under "extreme conditions." One wildfire during the period was controlled by indirect attack, allowing some areas to be burned naturally.

     Goal 4. Provide a Diversity of Research Opportunities. Research opportunities are provided by sites with various fire histories for comparative research; as well as by opportunities for studies before, during, and after single or multiple fires. By planning burns that may occur within 5-year rolling windows, we can provide a broad spectrum of relatively predictable research opportunities for most scientists conducting research at the Station, and integrate research and fire management for mutual benefit.
Meeting the goals. Many research projects are designed specifically around fire history. Burn 97-10 on Red Bill was a complete burn for Florida Division of Forestry research on population recovery and seed banks. Most burns are conducted with several research needs in mind. Some possible burns are excluded for specific research needs. For example, during 1997–98 most of the northwestern portion of the Station was restricted from prescribed burns to allow scientists to observe Florida scrub-jay movements in that area after some adjacent off-Station habitat was cleared.

     Goal 5. Provide Educational Opportunities. Educational opportunities are maximized by maintaining biological diversity, mimicking natural processes, and providing diverse research opportunities, and by providing these goals in areas accessible to classes and individuals. Fire management can serve educational goals in teaching about fire ecology and management.
Meeting the goals. During 1997–98, 8 burns (61 acres) were conducted along the Nature Trail and in several units near the paved Loop Road on Red Hill. School groups and individuals can access these areas to observe ecological changes following a fire.

     Goal 6. Interact with Other Fire Management Agencies. We interact with other fire managers and their agencies in conducting prescribed burns, sharing ideas and experience, and exchanging knowledge on fire management.
Meeting the goals. Station fire crews often work side by side with other local fire management agencies, especially on wildfires. During 1997–98, 5 wildfires (135 acres) occurred on lands managed by the Station. The Florida Division of Forestry and County Volunteer Fire Departments assisted in controlling these fires. Station Staff exchange ideas on fire management agencies through active participation on the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Working Group and the Central Florida Prescribed Fire Council.

     Goal 7. Reduce Fire Hazards by Managing Fuels and Fire. The Plan provides attention to units near buildings (both ours and our neighbor's), units having research equipment, and areas adjacent to public roads. In some cases, short fire-return intervals may make control of an accidental fire easier.
Meeting the goals. During 1997–98, three fires (25 acres) were conducted successfully with the goal of reducing fuels around buildings at the Station's Main Grounds.

     Goal 8. Conduct Safe Burns. Conducing safe burns requires proper training, effective equipment and supplies, informed decision-making, and careful planning. Burn crew safety and fire control within the burn unit are key concerns in prescribed burns. Another element of safety is smoke management. We seek coordination with other fire management agencies to help us develop management techniques for conducting safe burns. We will burn with the utmost consideration for the safety and comfort of our neighbors.
Meeting the goals. In October 1998 Archbold received a National Science Foundation award for new fire equipment to enhance research in fire ecology, including two new vehicles and a new communications system. Reliable equipment and improved communications will greatly increase safety on all fires. The Station also continually updates personal protective equipment used on fires. Each year individuals without fire experience receive entry level training before working on a prescribed fire.

Fig. 1. Florida scrub-jay territories within Tract 18E (55 ha) at Archbold Biological Station. A prescribed burn occurred in 18E in March 1990.

Fig. 2. Eryngium cuneifolium population dynamics at study site 57 at Archbold Biological Station. A prescribed burn occurred in 1993. Triangles indicate total plants and squares flowering plants.

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Archbold Biological Station, 12 April 2000
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