Central Florida Ecosystem Support Team
   Tricia Martin, The Nature Conservancy

Abstract: Since the mid-1980s, public and private entities have invested tens of millions of dollars in land acquisition, working to establish a series of 66 conservation areas that will protect Ridge habitat. To date, purchases have been made for 61 sites. However, management lags behind. Among the 61 sites, 16 have not received any prescribed fire, and 40 need more fire management activities. This inadequate prescribed fire trend is reflected in Florida’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy threat ranking for fire as ‘very high’ across all habitat categories. The Central Fl Ecosystem Support Team is an interagency project coordinated by The Nature Conservancy that will 1.)by December 2010, reduce the backlog of overgrown fuels to help restore Central Florida priority habitats. Use prescribed fire to burn at least 10,000 acres, weather permitting. 2.)by February 2010, introduce partners to the invasive species control component of the team and establish guidelines for addressing local invasive species issues during burn planning and operations. Establish criteria for prioritizing invasive species treatments by species and/or by site. 3.)by December 2010, conduct fire preparation and invasive species control on at least six different conservation sites.4.)Maintain GIS Fire Management and Invasive Species Treatment databases. Fire is a critical natural process that maintains healthy natural communities. Fire recycles nutrients and creates open conditions for plants and animals to flourish. The Central Florida Ecosystem Support Team will use prescribed fire to mimic the prehistoric fire regime of Central Florida. The interruption of natural fire cycles is one of the top threats to the survival of the diversity of Florida’s native species. Population declines of many species are linked to the absence of prescribed fire. To stop these declines, the application of prescribed fire must increase. The Lake Wales Ridge Prescribed Fire Strike Team has made significant progress and has become a model program with many benefits. Habitat has been restored with fire, and many plant and animal species have benefited from the improvement in habitat condition. The backlog of long-unburned habitat is now smaller but a backlog still remains. The job is not done. This project builds on and expands the Fire Strike Team concept by creating an Ecosystem Support Team with responsibilities for priority invasive species but assuring that fire management remains the highest priority.

Award Matching Funds Total
$50,000.00 $50,000.00 $100,000.00

Year Funded Starting Date Ending Date
2009 1/15/2010 3/31/2011

Location: Highlands, Lake, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola and Polk Counties