Gulf Islands National Seashore officials announced Tuesday that they plan to conduct between one and four controlled burns in the Naval Live Oaks section of the park near Gulf Breeze.
According to park officials, the longleaf pine areas of the Naval Live Oaks depend on regular fire to maintain their ecosystem, which is important for gopher tortoises and many other species.
The exact date and time for the prescribed burns has not yet been set and will be primarily dependent upon weather factors, officials said. Due to humidity levels, burning will most likely begin around 10:00 a.m. and end by around 4:00 p.m. on the day(s) of the burn.
In 2011, the National Seashore conducted a controlled burn on 216 acres using aerial ignition. Smoke from the fire mixed with unexpected fog, reducing visibility to the point that U.S. Highway 98, which runs through the Naval Live Oaks area, had to be closed. Park officials say they’ve developed smaller burn blocks and will now use ground ignition in order to limit smoke and prevent another road closure. Officials have also incorporated additional meteorological data and will only conduct the burn when specific conditions are met.
Experts say that introducing fire into the ecosystem via controlled burns minimizes the risk of destructive wildfires. “The seashore is committed to the prescribed fire program to curtail the risk to life, property, and resources in the event of a wildfire from a lightning strike or incidental human causes,” a release from park officials said. “The seashore is also dedicated to the wildlife and habitat protected by regular burning.”