Local ecologist says prescribed burns not happening often enough for Apalachicola National Forest

By: Jacob Murphey | WCTV Eyewitness News
November 25, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Fire and smoke: For many, a danger worth avoiding, but one local ecologist is on a mission to change public perception of fire, specifically controlled burns in the Apalachicola National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service conducts prescribed fires across the massive natural area, including Monday, in Western Leon County.

Dr. Bruce Means has dedicated his life to the pines, but doesn't think the land is being burnt often enough.

He says the ecosystem's long-term survival relies on fire as it's one of the most bio-diverse places in North America. But, that diversity needs flames, because some plants need fire to reproduce.

Without the burns, the forest turns into a jumbled mess.

“Fire is as right as rain in these communities," Dr. Means explained. "And if you don’t have it, those communities change to something else. Usually something unusual and not as The fire dominated community. Those ecosystems have to have fire to survive.”

He says any given acre needs to be burned every one to three years and doesn't think the forest service has the capacity to do that.

Debbie Beard, a ranger for the Apalachicola National Forest, says they hit the back end of that goal, burning on a three-year cycle.

But, she does say there's room for improvement and obstacles, like Hurricane Michael, can get in the way.

Means recently approached U.S. Forestry officials, asking them to consider more frequent burns. Means said the agency must deal with the public perception of fire- including the nuisance of smoke.

"We're always striving to burn as much as we can as long as it's appropriate," Beard said. "The right place at the right time."

Means is now doing his part to convince the public about fire's benefits for forests, posting 'tutorials' to social media with hopes people will gain a better understanding.

"The public is pretty naive about the importance of fire," Means said.

So now, he's working to spark an effort to keep his favorite patch of land burning.

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