Note: This article was contributed by Maria Wilson, Florida Forest Service Senior Forester for Okaloosa County.
What is the Florida Forest Week and who is the Florida Forest Service? Florida Forest Week is from October 31 to November 6, 2021 and it’s about our forests. The Florida Forest Service (FFS) manages over a million acres of state forest in Florida for timber, recreation and wildlife. One of our missions is Stewardship to conserve, enhance and protect these resources to assure they are available for future generations. The FFS protects 26 million acres across Florida including homes, forested lands and our natural resources from destructive wildfires. Florida’s forests create more than 5000 consumer goods, provides 14.7 billion dollars to the state’s economy and supports more than 76,000 jobs.
One of the largest state forests in Florida is Blackwater River State Forest (BRSF) in Okaloosa and Santa Rosa Counties totaling about 215,000 acres. Recreational opportunities include camping, hiking, biking, fishing lakes, hunting, horseback riding, ATV/UTV park, kayaking, canoeing and bird watching. BRSF manages for the longleaf pine, wiregrass and turkey oak ecosystems. BRSF includes many threatened and endangered species such as the red cockaded woodpecker, eastern indigo snake, gopher tortoise and the Sherman’s Fox squirrel. Game species such as deer, turkey and quail are also managed. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission works closely with the FFS to manage these species and they also maintain the fishing lakes on the forest: Bear Lake, Hurricane Lake and Karick Lake. We also have our swimming lakes: Bone Creek in Holt and Krul in Munson.
Longleaf pine is a native pine that once grew on 90 million acres ranging from Virginia to Texas. There is only a small fraction of that left. One of the largest continuous longleaf pine forests left in the world is right here, which is made up of the Conecuh National Forest, Blackwater River State Forest and Eglin Air Force Base.
Fire benefits many of Florida’s native fire dependent species, both plants and animals. Therefore, prescribed fire is a valuable tool that the FFS personnel use to help maintain these ecosystems and keep them healthy. Prescribed fire helps reduce the risk of loss to homes, recreational areas and wood products. It helps control forest tree diseases and removes hazardous flammable fuels. It also increases soil fertility, clears some invasive vegetation, improves wildlife habitat and reduces the threat of wildfire. As Florida Certified Prescribed Burn Managers, we have to understand the science behind fire by understanding the vegetation (fuel) types, fuel moisture, weather and it’s impacts on fire and the objectives of the burn. We also need to determine the smoke produced from the fire and it’s impacts. All this goes into a Prescribed burn plan.
Please come out to BRSF during the Florida Forest Week and enjoy the beauty of our forests. If you have questions, please contact Maria via email at Maria.Wilson@FDACS.gov or by phone at 850-603-6660 or the FFS headquarters at 850-957-5701. Or check out their website at this link. https://www.fdacs.gov/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service