08/02/2019 - All fire related closures have been lifted
08/02/2019 – All fire related trail and road closures have been lifted. The park has resumed regular operations.
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07/04/2019 – The Whitney Fire was ignited by a lightning strike the early morning of June 29th within the Cumberland Island Wilderness Area on Cumberland Island. The fire is currently 354 acres and is holding south of North Cut Road. Crews have established structure protection in the Settlement and High Point areas, and have held fire south of North Cut Road. No evacuations have been ordered.
Hi I'm John Enz and I'm a researcher
from Jacksonville University I have been
doing gopher tortoise research here on
Cumberland Island for four years now.
If you're not familiar with gopher
tortoises they are a threatened species
they are endangered in fact in some
areas of the range so anytime we can
provide better habitat for the gopher
tortoises, it's going to be not only
good for the species itself, there's over
300 different species that use these
gopher tortoise burrows for their home
as well. When we reintroduce fire to the
ecosystem it really creates the more
natural habitat that the gopher
tortoises have historically lived in. And
typically when we reintroduced
prescribed burns to an area we do have
to have multiple years and multiple
burns to see a huge effect on the gopher
tortoise population however even after
the first burn in February of 2016 the
following year we did see a large
recruitment of tortoises into this area
of Stafford Woods. Pre-burn because of
the dense vegetation and thick woody
plants we only found five burrows in
this area but even after just one
prescribed burn we had recruitment of
15 burrows into this area. We also saw
increase in the tortoise population as a whole.
What we're attempting to do is
what wildlife managers have done
throughout the southeast for decades
using prescribed fire to manage habitat.
So by introducing fire to this habitat
in general in a fairly constant and
closed regime saying every two to three
year cycle where we would introduce
prescribed fire here we're able to
remove a lot of that mid-story and
the understory vegetation and hopefully
convert it to more of a grassy
herbaceous vegetation that is more attractive to the gopher tortoises that
we've already talked about and also a
host of different wildlife species
reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals,
everything really benefits in
this particular pine habitat where you
can actually manage your understory
mid-story with fire. Where the historical
records that have shown a considerable
amount of longleaf pine which depends
almost wholly on fire adapted ecosystems
so that's, that means it depends on fire
to survive. So what we've seen on Cumberland
is decades if not a century or more
of a lack of significant fire on this
particular island. Okay one of the things
that routine prescribed fire will do for
a habitat in the species that uses is it
will expose things that have been
covered up a large layer of leaf litter.
Speaking of how pines are fire,
fire adapted these are pine cones. So
just a little burn like this may allow
the seeds relevant to these cones to
actually take sprout. It exposes a lot of
things like acorns and seeds of
herbaceous plants for things like
songbirds Eastern wild turkeys. This
island does have a pretty decent
population of Eastern wild turkey. So
they will be able to pick up seeds that
have been here that they may not have
They'll also scratch the leaf litter
like that looking for more seeds if they
do find a couple of seats in an area so
it is definitely beneficial for exposing
the food source and also allowing
allowing things to sprout
that would not otherwise sprout.
The first fire, prescribed fire that happened here was
in February of 2016 and we just burned
about a week ago in February 2019 so
this area seemed to prescribed fire
treatments in the past 3 years.
We had multiple objectives with both
field and the plantation. You know we
want to do our fuels reduction so that
in the case of a wildfire we have more
options as far as suppressing the fire
that's the route we want to take.
Another objective here was to reduce the woody encroachment on this field. We're trying
to maintain a historic landscape out
here in this field and as you can see
looking around here you have live oaks coming in here you have
some slash pine trying to work its way
in here as well and as we burn as we
burn in here repeatedly we're able to
reduce the encroachment and maintain
this as an open grassy field which we
want to do to maintain historic
character and also it gives us a more
diverse landscape out here
which benefits wildlife habitat as well.
We also saw with the combination of the burning of
the field as well as the woods here
increase in the tortoise population as a
whole, better survivability of juveniles
and also sub adults. So we're really
looking forward to continuing this
program to open up even more areas for
the Gopher tortoise population to thrive.
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Prescribed fire operations on Cumberland Island have had an immediate effect on the resident Gopher Tortoise population. Hear what surprising results Gopher Tortoise researchers have seen when the National Park Service carried out prescribed burns on the island's fire adapted ecosystem.
Why Fire Management
The National Park Service manages wildland fire to protect the public, communities and infrastructure, conserve natural and cultural resources, and restore and maintain ecological health.
Cumberland Island exhibits abundant vegetation and wildlife habitat, although much of the island's vegetation was altered by human activities before the National Seashore was established in 1972. In addition, vegetation and habitat have been altered through the general practice of suppressing all wildland fires, which has continued during NPS management on the island.
Longleaf pines are just one important ecosystem found on Cumberland Island. Longleaf pines and associated organisms evolved to not only withstand fire, but to be dependent on it for their survival. In order for longleaf pine seeds to germinate and grow, they must fall on open bare mineral soil, typically cleared by fire. In the absence of fire, pine needles and other forest debris will build up as ground litter and keep longleaf seeds from sprouting. Also, shade from a thick understory can kill longleaf seedlings. If this happens, as the mature longleaf pines die -- at an age of several hundred years -- they are replaced by broadleaved trees, such as oaks or hickories, and the whole ecosystem changes. This is the well-known ecological principle of succession.
Many plants and animals depend on the longleaf pine for their survival, thus making the longleaf pine habitat one of the most diverse habitats found in North America. For example, the gopher tortoises are important, for as many as 300 other animals use their 15-20 foot deep burrows. These include snakes, frogs, foxes, spiders, and beetles.
Fire Management Plan
This plan serves as a detailed and comprehensive program of action to implement fire management policy principles and goals, consistent with the Cumberland Island's resource management objectives. This plan outlines the fire management program at Cumberland Island National Seashore.
Last updated: July 11, 2020