North Santa Rosa

Putnam honors Blackwater’s burn efforts

MILTON, Fla. – Managing even the smallest prescribed fire requires the coordination of many moving pieces as well as the proper timing of a series of aligning weather conditions. Depending on the location and conditions, getting a 5-acre burn done can be as complicated as completing a 500-acre burn.Try doing that over more than 70,000 acres. Twice.
David Smith, Operations Administrator for the Florida Forest Service’s Blackwater Forestry Center, was presented with the Resource Manager of the Year award recently by Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam during a meeting of the Governor and Cabinet.
Smith’s role in the prescribed burn program on Blackwater River State Forest has lead to one record-setting burn season and a close second. During the 2014-15 fiscal year, Blackwater personnel burned 75,457 acres – the most ever on a state forest. The feat was backed up the following year as crews conducted 73,398 acres worth of prescribed burns.
“It’s not just about burning acreage,” Smith said. “It’s about meeting specific objectives for the forest.”
Blackwater is one of the largest remaining tracts of the longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem in the world. That landscape – once the dominant feature of the Southeast – requires routine fire in order to propagate.
“Prescribed fire is the keystone management tool on Blackwater because of the fire dependant species we have (Longleaf pine, wiregrass and many others),” Smith said. “Fire is how we manage the forest.”
Fire also is integral in returning portions of the forest to their natural setting.
Some of the toughest burns to conduct on Blackwater can be found along the Yellow River south of Interstate 10. Once owned by paper companies and managed for industrial timber, these areas are planted in pine species that aren’t normally found there and a lack of fire has allowed a dense understory to grow beneath the canopy. With consideration for the private land and residences intermixed among the tracts and the interstate just miles to the north, it’s a tough place to burn at best. It’s also a place Smith finds himself stringing fire once the conditions get right.

“I like a challenge,” he said. “Long term, what we intend to do is turn that into a longleaf/slash pine forest. It’s a long time from now, but, ultimately, that’s what we want to do.”
In addition to the restorative efforts in Yellow River, Smith relies on a dedicated staff of four supervisors, 29 Forest Rangers and Senior Forest Rangers as well as a dozen or so other personnel to help maintain the 210,473 acres of Blackwater.
Without the total collaborative effort of fire control staff, resource personnel, a complete road and bridge department and many other functions, the numbers simply would not be possible to achieve.
“We have to be ready to burn on any given day the opportunity presents itself,” Smith said. “It takes everything we have just to pull off our annual goal.”
With that team effort in mind and a general preference for the woods versus the spotlight, Smith maintains the award is not really an individual achievement and one he did not see coming.
“It was definitely a surprise when I found out,” he said.
And now the award is put aside. It’s back to burning. Back to the forest.
The Florida Forest Service, a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, manages more than 1 million acres of state forests, provides management assistance on more than 17 million acres of private and community forests, while protecting homes, forestland and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire on more than 26 million acres. Learn more at

Posted by on Sep 29 2016. Filed under Announcements, Local. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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