How prescribed burns help maintain, protect SWFL’s environment

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

Intentionally setting a fire may not seem like a great idea, but there are times when it’s necessary for our environment. Prescribed burns can actually fuel new growth, protect wildlife and prevent other fires.

It may look concerning, but crews at the Naples Botanical Garden set a fire intentionally.

“We need this fire to keep this land biodiverse and, actually, also safe for the community,” said Eric Foht, natural resource director for the Naples Botanical Garden. “Because these types of habitats have a lot of flammable plant material in them.”

Florida’s natural landscapes are no stranger to fires. Foht says this land needs fire like a wetland needs water.

“Let’s look at what happened to the Everglades, right?” Foht said. “We drained the Everglades, and now we’re paying the consequences for it.”

Burnt leaf matter becomes ash, which serves as a great fertilizer, and the cleared space allows more light to reach the ground. Foht’s favorite part of the burn is seeing what rises from the ashes.

“This plant has already started to regrow and actually has two flower spikes coming up, so this will be the flowers,” Foht said.

While our naked eye can see a plant looks healthy, there’s more we can’t see. That’s where Kate Talano, geographic information system specialist for the Naples Botanical Garden, comes in with her drone.

“You see only a little bit of the light spectrum. So these different bands when they’re added together, they can tell us things like the amount of water that is in these plants, the amount of chlorophyll, which is reflective of plant health.”

If we didn’t do this, Foht says, “We’d be losing all sorts of plant species that actually are dependent on fire. So, there would still be a forest here, but it wouldn’t be what it can be.”

Not all of the Naples Botanical Garden’s 90 acres of natural space require fire, but they plan to burn portions of those that do throughout the year.

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