NEWS & SPECIAL INFO AT THE OKEFENOKEE
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The big fire of 2011, that started in April 2011 is out and was finally pronounced dead in early April of 2012. It burned and smoldered for almost a year.
Because of bad publicity along with some incorrect negative public perceptions of past Okefenokee fires, it has not been that busy here at Okefenokee Swamp. It has been a particularly nice time to visit for some lucky folks who come and enjoy the swamp, especially if they had booked our (Okefenokee Pastimes) cabins, guided tours or camping.
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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Special Fire Info – On the 2007 & 2011 fires bringing “New Life” and habitat health to the Okefenokee. Get a little education on fire at Okefenokee.
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 2007 & 2011 FIRES?
Not much overall really except for the boardwalk trail & tower which did burn and are now rebuilt. The overnight trail system and some important trails may remain closed until camping platforms which were destroyed by fire have been rebuilt. Some trees near waterways were killed and are hazardous or dangerous and will need to be removed. The droughts that come with the fires have had the most impact on seeing Okefenokee from the water. Some water trails have dried up and will not be passable until water levels come way up. The East Entrance has the best water levels for swamp excursions on the water. Okefenokee Pastimes is very good and experienced at low water swamp tours. Many times low water can be the best and most exciting situation for wildlife viewing.
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 are now 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 when 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 already are grown 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 400,000 acres inside the boundaries of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge both fires, the 07 & 11 have each time burned over 300,000 acres. It is about 3/4 of the Okefenokee that had burned with each 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. Some sections of waterway burned pretty hot and opened up dramatically. While other sections of the eastern waterways were untouched and look as green and lush and never touched by fire as ever.