On December 9, 2014 UCF’s Landscape and Natural Resources, with help from the Department of Environmental Protection, carried out a prescribed burn in the natural areas that exist at the corner of North Orion and Gemini Blvd. The goal of the burn was to reduce fuel loads and vegetation height to ensure safety of the surrounding urban environment in the case of a wildfire. Prescribed burning also promotes a healthy Florida ecosystem, as many forbs and grasses depend on bare ground to germinate and Florida fauna depend on these plants for food. Without fire, saw palmetto, slash pine and oak slowly take over the area and shade out the smaller plants, reducing biodiversity in flora. LNR hopes to be able to burn another unit of land in the natural areas before this winter season is over, weather permitting.
Campus Prescribed Burn Information
The University of Central Florida (UCF), located in east orange county, is an urban campus that consists of approximately 1,500 acres of both natural and manicured landscapes. UCF’s Landscape & Natural Resources (LNR) established an Urban Forestry Program in 2004, along with a comprehensive Land Management Plan in 2009 detailing the University’s actions to promote ecosystem health and preservation. Approximately 900 of UCF’s 1,500 acres are natural lands actively managed for ecosystem health and function. Of those 900 acres approximately 320 acres are upland and wetland habitats that are preserved in perpetual conservation easement to the St. Johns River Water Management District, and 200 acres of natural areas have verbal commitments for long-term preservation, such as the Arboretum and smaller isolated wetland areas. The majority of this acreage is considered to be fire dependent plant communities, which are intermixed within the urban landscape, thus limiting the ability to conduct large prescribed burns. Since 2005 when UCF’s Prescribed Burn Plan was developed, there have been 6 wildfires on campus totaling 33.43 acres. The UCF Certified Burn Crew, who conducts prescribed burns on campus, is also responsible for wildfire response. From 2005 through 2010, UCF has successfully burned 84 acres (35% of burnable lands) in the campus natural areas, and mechanically treated 76 acres as wildfire mitigation. UCF has 244 acres with current, approved Florida Division of Forestry(FDOF) prescriptions, and 226 additional acres with prescriptions that are being developed. In addition, the University has 311 acres that are large, wet, fire suppressed areas where mechanical treatment was conducted in 2010 along edges that are shared with neighbors.
Many community members have expressed a desire for information regarding the exact dates for our prescribed burns on campus. Unfortunately, due to the stringency of our written prescriptions, we are unable to predict when we will have the necessary weather conditions to conduct our prescribed burns. In an effort to protect our neighbors and campus community, our prescriptions are entirely weather dependent due to our close proximity to homes, roads, and the campus structures. Daily, we monitor the weather conditions and make decisions about whether or not we can proceed with our anticipated prescribed burn plan. The date, and burn unit to be treated, both depend on the weather forecast.
We understand that some people have heath issues that cause these prescribed burns to be of concern. If this is a concern for you, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and request to be added to our “Prescribed Burn Notification List”. We can then make arrangement to notify you the evening before an anticipated burn. Additionally, you can periodically check our website where we will post the date, and burn unit that we intend to treat, the evening before the anticipated burn occurs. This information is also typically posted on the main UCF webpage. As always, thank you for your continued support of our efforts to maintain a healthy campus ecosystem for everyone to enjoy.
General Prescribed Burn Information
Fire creates and maintains plant and animal habitats throughout the United States, and many ecosystems would not exist in the absence of fire. Fire creates change, which is biologically necessary to maintain healthy ecosystems. For example, fire-dependent trees, such as sand pines, drop their cones which open with intense fire. Without fire, these trees will not grow and reproduce. Fire also allows native grasses to grow by promoting seeding and reducing the density of overgrown vegetation (such as saw palmetto). These grasses provide food for many animals, and the resulting open spaces enable animals, such as the threatened gopher tortoise, to easily move through the habitat and build burrows, which they share with other species. Resource managers apply fire to these unique habitats by conducting prescribed burns. Varying burn timing, frequency and intensity produces different resource responses that can return the habitat to its historical, healthy state.
In addition to using fire as a management tool, prescribed burns can also reduce heavy fuel loads, thus reducing the threat of wildfire. Wildfires occur in Florida’s natural lands yearly, and while they are typically controlled quickly near residential areas, it is important to lower the vegetative density, through prescribed burns, to reduce the chance of wildfires. Prescribed burns remove the dead, decaying, or low-lying plants on the forest floor, thus limiting the spread and increasing the control of wildfires. Please visit the Florida Forest Service to learn more about wildfires and prescribed burns in Florida.
As a resource management and wildfire suppression tool, the UCF land management team uses prescribed burns to control excessive fuel loads (i.e, dense vegetation), while making the campus green spaces more ecologically healthy. UCF’s Prescribed Fire Coordinator writes all burn prescriptions (click here to view an example prescription), which are completed for each management unit and list the specific conditions needed to meet the burn goals and objectives (including weather conditions, equipment needed, crew needed, site maps and other pertinent information to have a safe, successful prescribed fire). These conditions typically dictate the effects of the prescribed burn. During the prescribed burn, UCF staff, including the Prescribed Fire Coordinator and UCF Burn Boss, are on the burn site monitoring the burn. All personnel involved in the burn have been trained and certified to participate in prescribed burns.
If you live near UCF, and are concerned about a burn, the best action to take is to email the Prescribed Fire Coordinator. All questions and concerns will be answered as soon as possible, as we are interested in your input and want you to feel safe during our prescribed burns. Also, please keep in mind that it will be best to keep your children and pets inside while the burn is being conducted to ensure your family’s health and safety.
The UCF Land Management team has been conducting mechanical treatments, or roller chopping of the saw palmetto and thick understory, to reduce the threat of wildfire and promote forest health. Mowing is typically done when prescribed fire can not be applied to the site. Both mowing and prescribed fire return nutrients to the soil, promote groundcover biodiversity, and create healthy Florida forest.
This work was completed along the edges of Libra Dr. and Gemini Dr. within a pond pine and baygall forest, and along the edges of UCF’s property near neighboring houses. This project is part of the overall land management plan for the conservation and other natural areas on campus. Additional information about treatment by mowing can be found here.