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. Over the past two years Cumberland Island National Seashore’s fire management team has worked to put in place a fuel break along North Cut Road by clearing debris and fuels along the road edge. This created a defensible zone fire crews are using to protect the island’s historic structures and residences to the north.
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 seen before 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