By Allison Vincent
Some recent guests on the CREW trails have inquired why they’re torn up? The long-range plans and efforts of the South Florida Water Management District (the District hereafter) can be a challenge on initial view, as “discing” and “shredding” projects can resemble hog damage or really knobby ATV tires wrecking havoc, both of which land managers set out to prevent. So why are they seemingly adding to the destruction?
These tracks of discing and shredding are in fact intentional and well-planned measures designed to prepare for upcoming prescribed burns or chemical treatment, ultimately preventing vegetation from getting out of control. Vegetation can include non-native plants, shrubby understory, or native plants and trees that have grown out of balance with historical norms. Forestry science is behind the land management plans in place and its driving force is the long-range preservation goals of the CREW project.
Even though the trails look less than ideal when torn up and the rough patches can make hiking and biking more difficult, just remember why CREW is here in the first place. It’s all about the water. These efforts benefit the watershed where we get our drinking water. Also, it’s good to think of the hierarchy of needs throughout the CREW lands like this: it begins with water and land management, then comes preserving habitat and then recreational opportunities for everyone.
Let’s discuss the management process we’re looking at on the trails. In order to perform a prescribed burn the District team must get approval from the state of Florida. Often this overlaps with an annual shredding plan, replete with maps and intensity, to clear the ground of any obtrusive vegetation before burns are scheduled. The burn prescription is based on several environmental factors, such as wind speed and direction, humidity and the burn history in the area.
Assuming the burn prescription was approved the team, formed from several agencies including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC hereafter), must then coordinate their efforts and communicate their plans with the surrounding community. Working from a burn map (or planning map), the lead manager will direct the team to burn the fire line. In constant communication, the team stays on the fire from start to finish, following up the next several days for safety and reporting.
Ultimately, the goal is to decrease the amount of understory vegetation in the CREW project, to prevent wildfires from getting out of hand, and encourage healthy native species growth. Many native fire-dependent species exist in the CREW lands, including the Slash Pine trees and Saw Palmetto which have evolved to withstand heat and benefit from fire. Prescribed burns also benefit the wildlife native to CREW, including the gopher tortoise, which prefers some open scrub to the encroachment of the long-living Saw Palmetto.
Hopefully, the next time you see the process or after-effects of the land management efforts to preserve these lands you will have a better understanding of their long range intentions. If you would like to learn more about this process, there are a few great resources found here. Always feel free to reach out to our office or that of the District with your questions.