Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fires Test Animal Instinct, Survival of the Fittest; Wildfires Are a Common and Critical Part of Keeping the Ecosystem Balanced, Wildlife Officials Say

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fires Test Animal Instinct, Survival of the Fittest; Wildfires Are a Common and Critical Part of Keeping the Ecosystem Balanced, Wildlife Officials Say

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID HUNT

Wildfires have sent deer running as birds and foxes die on the smoking forest floor.

Songbird and wild turkey nestlings barely stand a chance.

"It sounds cruel, but it's really part of nature," said Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission spokeswoman Karen Parker.

Wildfires in Florida and Southeast Georgia are common enough that animals have adapted and rely on the flames to keep the ecosystem in check.

"Some animals might die, but others will have an improved condition," said Steve Johnson, an assistant professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida's Plant City campus. "Right after a fire, you get regrowth and animals take over in a hurry."

While animals' instincts will tell them when it's time to run or burrow into a safe spot, the escape often leaves the weakest to perish. Parker said the fires now being battled broke out during nesting season for the region's songbirds and wild turkeys. Those unable to fly or scurry on their feet won't be able to get away.

"Birds are probably going to suffer the biggest toll," Parker said.

Controlled burns are done each year at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Southeast Georgia to clear underbrush and protect endangered red-cockaded woodpecker habitat, said Jim Burkhart, a refuge ranger.

As a result, many areas where the woodpeckers live that have burned in the swamp were prepared before the ongoing wildfires started, he said.

Longleaf pines, the preferred trees for the woodpeckers' nests, stand up well to fire and most of the birds in the burned areas are expected to survive, Burkhart said.

Wildlife biologists rescued a bear and its cub Sunday from a charred portion of the Osceola National Forest in Columbia County. Parker said the mother is being treated for burns at the University of Florida's veterinary school and the cub was not seriously hurt.

For the most part, wildlife officials have turned their attention toward helping people and their houses survive the fires, Parker said.

"We can't save everything. I wish we could," she said. "Nine times out of 10 the animals are going to get out of there."

Karen Hamerslag, a veterinarian at Oaks Veterinary Hospital in Gainesville, said she's treated a few pets for minor ailments that appear to have been set off by wildfire smoke. Her office is southwest of a wildfire burning primarily in Bradford County.

Veterinarians said pet owners should be cautious of the smoke.

"It could trigger a coughing attack, but likely there would be no long-term damage," said Charles Athey, a veterinarian at Fort Caroline Animal Clinic in Jacksonville. "Pets are going to experience similar problems to what we experience as people."

Times-Union writer Gordon Jackson contributed to this story.

david.hunt@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4025

FLORIDA BUGABOO FIRE

(Baker, Columbia counties)

109,000 ACRES

50 percent contained

DAIRY ROAD FIRE

(Bradford County)

15,000 ACRES

80 percent contained

MARSH FIRE

(Duval County)

440 ACRES

20 percent contained

STATEWIDE FIRES: 249,000 acres so far this year

TODAY'S FORECAST

Warmer with highs in the upper 80s, with relative humidity dropping to about 30 percent. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.