Fire history in Everglades National Park shows that naturally occurring fires rarely occur in November, December, January, February and March. Natural fires are infrequent occurrences even in October and April.
The annual onset of rains in May also represents the onset of the lightning season. Every decade or so very large natural fires were started during "drought years" by the first lightning storms of the season in May or June. Undoubtedly some of those fires originated outside of the boundaries of Everglades National Park.
Due to development, other human caused disturbances and a wide agricultural buffer zone many of these large natural fires within the system can never occur again. Lightning that strikes in a parking lot in Kendall will never again cause a natural fire that burns to the center of Shark Slough.
Everglades National Park is merely a fragment of a much larger ecosystem, and harbors many plants, animals and biological communities that no longer exist outside of the Park. Due to these special values at risk even some naturally occurring fires may need to be partially or fully suppressed.
The Pine Rockland Savannas of Everglades NP are one of the most unique and threatened habitats in this ecosystem. Greater than 95% of the Florida portions of this pineland community (which exists only in Miami-Dade County, the Florida Keys and the Bahamas) has been extirpated by human activity.
Prescribed fire has been used to maintain the Pinelands of Everglades National Park since April 1958. Since the 1980's, as reflected in the Fire Management Plan, application of fire was regimented with a "pine block" mentality with a sequenced series of late spring/summer fire applications based upon "wet winter / dry winter" conditions of the previous winter.
The net result of over a decade of growing season prescribed burning is that the Pinelands are nearing "restoration" to the native condition as defined by scientific study.
Natural fire in the pines was probably a combination of small local events and occasional large-scale fires. In the past few years we have moved away from the "block" manner of planning and are now planning prescribed burns that more closely mimic the natural processes that were a part of this landscape.
The Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow is a critically endangered species that has been on the Endangered List since inception of that list. This species of bird lives only in grass prairies in Everglades National Park, Big Cypress Preserve and the state managed Southern Glades Wildlife and Environmental Area. All these habitats are contiguous to the Park boundary.
While research is still incomplete, scientists currently feel that the CSSS resides in the most fire prone habitats of the Park "in spite" of fire as opposed to a species that directly benefits from fire. Future research is planned to understand the full relationship of this species to fire and to evaluate other threats to the species.
Suppressing all naturally occurring fire in CSSS habitats would lead to a single species management program that is not compatible with the overall ecosystem management approach of Everglades NP.