February Weekend
Short Story

February in the Big Cypress Swamp, a time when the winter in South Florida is just about gone. The cypress trees are thinking about budding out in the next few weeks and the  wild turkeys are already in the mood for love. Sunday morning, there were no less then three wild turkeys gobbling, letting the hens know where they were and that they were available.
The picture to the right shows a flock of swirling martins, trying to get a meal off the few bugs left after the cold snaps, as they pass through on their winter migration. It is mesmerizing to watch. You lose yourself in time as you  watch and wonder,  how they spin and dive and not run into each other.
This weekend was a busy one for us. We brought a trailer load of roofing material with us to prepare for replacing the roof on our sleeping quarters. But more importantly, the NPS burn crews met us to conduct a prescribed burn around camp, That was quite an education in itself.

  Martins in the Spring
Big Cypress Snow Birds

NPS Prescribed Burn
When we bought our camp, it had a couple of Java Plum trees out on the edge of the clearing. After twenty years or so, these trees got very large, but also we discovered that young offspring were spreading. The Java Plum is a non-native tree that is considered an exotic, but it was only a few years ago that we realized it was also invasive, (spreads). We used a herbicide on the big trees, and killed them, but attempts to find an kill all the offspring was near impossible in the thick palmettos. Just when we thought we had them all, more would appear. It was clear to us the only way to get all the offspring was to burn. Even if the fire didn't get them, we would be able to get to them with herbicide, once the palmettos were burned back.  So, since it is almost impossible for a land owner to get a burn permit, I requested the NPS to conduct a prescribed burn. I'm sure there were good intentions, but it was almost two years before this weekend arrived.

Fire crew preparing the day before
Preparing for a Burn

NPS fire buggy at edge of burn
NPS Fire Buggy and Crew

What we got this weekend was a education in the process of a prescribed burn and the opportunity to met some fine NPS people, along with getting rid of the Java Plums and the fuel build up we had around our camp. I have seen some results of prescribed burns that were not very good. Some of them have had long lasting damage. Now I have a better understanding of science of burning and how nature does not always cooperate to get the best result.
I would have to say we got way more help then we expected. There were ten NPS people at the burn. Two of them were NPS interns, learning what a prescribed burn was. A experienced fire crew member, whom recently joined BICY from out west, was observing and learning how Florida prescribed burns were conducted. The others were there to make sure that a safe burn was conducted and the camp was protected from damage. Larry Belles, The Fire Management Officer, came out on his day off, to participate in the burn. Larry will be retiring in December, he is the type of person that will be missed by the NPS and ultimately by us sportsmen. (The following link is the process and pictures of the controlled burn from beginning to end. I think you will find it interesting. Prescribed Burn)

Hellicopter fire crewGround Fire CrewInterns and Fire Crew
Fire Crews (click for larger picture)

Rumor Mill
Well, it would seem the former Big Cypress National Preserve Superintendent, John Donahue, is still at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Ms. Pat Hooks is the new NPS South East Regional Director. Former Big Cypress National Preserve Superintendent, Mr. Wally Hibbard is the new SE Deputy Regional Director.

From the Past
The Big Cypress Swamp is large and remote. Communication between sportsmen was always limited and is still difficult, even with modern cell phones. In the fifties and sixties, the technology then was CB (Citizen Band) radios. Bob Diehl, (his  family is one of the original families in the Big Cypress), gave me a list of CB identifications from the past. I thought I would share it with you. Those familiar with the Turner River section of the Big Cypress will recognize some of the names of these traditional users of the Big Cypress Swamp.

Click for larger picture

CB call numbers and sportsmen


Click for larger picture
CB call numbers and sportsmen

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Story by Steve - February 29, 2004