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.
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.
Preparing for a 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.
Fire Crews (click for larger picture)
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
CB call numbers and sportsmen
CB call numbers and sportsmen
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Story by Steve - February 29, 2004