NEWS & SPECIAL INFO AT THE OKEFENOKEE
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TheWest Mims fire that started April 6, 2017 is out. Very few areas that can be viewed from the water have been affected or burnt. So it is almost like it never happened, the majority of the East entrance remain untouched from the 2017 fire. All the buildings, tours and exhibits are open, it is almost like it never happened. The majority of the fire area can be viewed from Rt94 West of St. George or from some of the canoe trails between the East Entrance and Steven Foster State Park.
Fire at this place is healthy, beneficial and a very normal occurrence for the Okefenokee Swamp. We have some fires here in the swamp every year. The most recent big fires will greatly improve aquatic and upland habitats and the overall long term health of the Okefenokee ecosystem.
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Q and A on the fires
HAS FIRE HARMED THE SWAMP?
No. Fire is important and vital to the swamp’s ecosystem because most of the refuge is open wet prairie that supports an extensive community of plants and animals. Without wildfires, Okefenokee would be transformed into a strangled bog and many species such as the Sandhill Crane might disappear. Alligator habitat would be seriously degraded.
HOW WILL THE VISITOR EXPERIENCE BE CHANGED BY THE 2017 FIRE?
Not much overall really except for fire protection measures will remain in place until the fire is pronounced dead. Some trees near waterways were killed and are hazardous or dangerous and will need to be removed. The East Entrance has the best water levels for swamp excursions on the water.
HOW HAS SWAMP WILDLIFE FARED?
Some animals did die, but overall the populations seemed to have done fine. Gopher tortoises and most snakes burrowed. Birds flew away and will be coming back.
WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM IMPACTS OF THE FIRE?
In the swamp, the fire burned lots of the woody low growth vegetation, opening up some of the prairies and reducing the number of land building plants. This eventually will increase the number of wetland acres in the refuge as water levels rise again from increased rainfall. Visitors will get to see more and better wildlife such as alligators, all wading bird species and most mammals because so much of the view blocking undergrowth had burned up. The acidity levels in the water will be lowered by potash from the fires and in the future that should mean more fish will thrive.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE FOR TREES AND OTHER VEGETATION TO GROW BACK?
Many shrubs, grasses, ferns and aquatic plants are already growing back. Trees are growing, but it could take years for them to fully recover their canopies.
WHAT WILL GROW BACK?
Almost everything in the swamp. Cypress & Bay trees are sprouting out right now. In the upland (dryer) areas the fires will have removed many smaller trees and the strangling shrubs to create better longleaf pine habitat. Planting more longleaf pines will help to restore them as the dominant native tree of Okefenokee’s upland plant communities.
WHAT BURNED AND WHAT’S LEFT OF THE SWAMP?
Of the over 153,000 acres inside and outside the boundaries of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge burned. It is about 1/4 of the Okefenokee that burned during this fire. The swamp is renewed, it recovers naturally and the birds and animals will be attracted back by this rebirth.
IS THERE ANY PART OF THE SWAMP THAT APPEARS THE WAY IT DID BEFORE THE FIRES?
Many places, and a good bit of it is on the east side of the swamp. Most sections of the eastern waterways were untouched and look as green and lush and were never touched by fire.