Gulf Islands Wildland Fire Collaboration

Gulf Islands 2015 Year-In-Review: Collaboration Breeds Success

Partnership and collaboration are indispensable tools used by National Park Service (NPS) wildland fire and aviation managers and are crucial to helping them meet the NPS wildland fire program mission. Gulf Islands National Seashore (GUIS) has a committed staff with collateral fire duties and has a desire to help achieve the mission; 2015 was an example of their commitment.

Internal partnerships and collaboration exist in all stages of fire management. NPS peers are called upon to assist in tasks such as providing information for fire management plans (FMP) and burn plans. Employees are trained and must continue to train in order to keep their Incident Qualification Card (Red Card) current, which certifies that they are qualified to perform in specified positions, such as wildland firefighters. They serve as crew members on wildfires and prescribed fires in and out of their home units. From park guides and rangers to historians and biologists, NPS personnel with collateral fire duties come from a variety of positions outside of fire but are essential to the wildland fire program’s successes. They account for a sizeable force that can be called upon to enhance the program’s response to wildfire. Without them, prescribed fire operations would be less frequent and possibly non-existent. GUIS is an active partner in the Southeast Region’s (SER) wildland fire efforts.

Mark Nicholas has been at GUIS since 1995 as a biologist and park fire coordinator. A park fire coordinator is a vital collateral duty position for parks that do not have a standalone fire management organization. Under the guidance of a zone fire management officer, a park fire coordinator serves as the main contact for all fire management related tasks.

Mark was involved in the creation of the park’s original FMP in 1998. According to Nicholas, GUIS currently has one Type-6 wildland fire engine and 12 red-carded employees. Since their first of 28 total prescribed fires was completed in 1999, nearly 2,000 acres have been burned within the park boundary, along with numerous piles of downed dead trees from recent hurricanes, which could lead to future catastrophic wildfires.

External partnership and collaboration are also vital components to fire management. Partners in other organizations are relied upon on to serve as subject matter experts and sources of local knowledge. Agreements are formed between organizations to provide support on wildfires and prescribed fires. The ability to collaborate with partners greatly increases cost effectiveness, and provides additional opportunities for staff to maintain qualifications and improve their skills.  GUIS acquires funding from Southeast Regional Office Wildland Fire and Aviation Management to pay for the expenses of assisting these partnerships.

In 2009, GUIS entered into a formal agreement with the Gulf Coast Plain Ecosystem Partnership (GCPEP), a group that utilizes prescribed fire, among other ground management techniques, to conserve and restore the dwindling longleaf pine ecosystem in Northwestern Florida and Southern Alabama. Today, the GCPEP is made up of 11 partners: Department of Defense (Naval Air Station and Eglin Air Force Base), Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Forestry Service, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, The Longleaf Alliance, National Park Service, Northwest Florida Water Management District, National Forests in Alabama, The Nature Conservancy, Nokuse Plantation, and Westervelt Ecological Services.

Participating in GCPEP has allowed GUIS collateral duty wildland fire staff to work with interagency crews on multiple prescribed fires. Throughout 2015, GUIS staff participated on a number of GCPEP interagency crews, providing firefighters and equipment support to conduct prescribed fires on nearly 7,000 acres.

In January, GUIS staff supported a 4,490 acre prescribed fire on land mostly owned by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. A large section of the land block was recently purchased using previously awarded funding from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, the MOEX settlement and the Natural Resources Damage Assessment and Restoration process from the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Eglin Air Force Base’s (AFB) Jackson Guard was the lead on the fire and provided a helicopter, ground support and firefighters. GUIS provided firefighter and equipment support as did the North West Florida Water Management District, Florida State Parks and the Long Leaf Alliance Ecosystem Support Team. This was a first-entry burn and was deemed successful as all ecosystem objectives were met.

GUIS staff also assisted on another large prescribed fire, a 1,200 acre prescribed fire along the Interstate 10 corridor with the North West Florida Water Management District in February of 2015. The operation was completed with partners in GCPEP.

Along with GCPEP partners in March, GUIS staff supported a 60 acre prescribed fire at Naval Air Station Whiting Field’s Holley OLF, a small airfield surrounded by wildland urban interface. GUIS supplied an engine and three firefighters to the operation.

GUIS staff later supported Eglin AFB’s Jackson Guard on a 500 acre prescribed fire on Hurlburt AFB, with an engine and 2 firefighters. Once again, GUIS supplied an engine and two firefighters along with GCPEP members to complete the operation.

According to Nicholas, no prescribed fire operations have been conducted on GUIS lands since 2012 but he is hopeful that they will be able to get fire on the ground again soon. As they wait for prescribed fire to be used again as a management tool within GUIS, they will continue to support partner operations.

For more information about Gulf Islands National Seashore, visit https://www.nps.gov/guis or call the visitors center at (850) 934-2600

Contact: Joshua Manley

Email: joshua_manley@nps.gov

Phone: (215) 327-6407