VERO BEACH, Fla. (AP) — It is now easier for Florida landowners to plan prescribed fires that will help conservation efforts for dozens of imperiled species while also reducing the likelihood of wildfires, according to The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The agency said in a statement released Wednesday that it had issued a biological opinion to the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service that streamlines the process for private landowners. Many of the areas in the opinion represent some of America's most endangered ecosystems, including the Florida scrub, longleaf pine sandwhill and pine rocklands.
Many federally-listed plans and animals can also be found in these communities, the agency said, and the lack of fire in recent decades has left several habitats overgrown and undesirable for many species, including the Florida scrub-jay, the eastern indigo snake, and the Florida bonneted bat, among others.
"Prescribed fire is one of the top recovery actions for many rare and endangered species," said Larry Williams, the USFWS's Florida State Supervisor for Ecological Services. "This allows our partners at NRCS to expedite the ability of their clients to get fire on the ground when and where it's needed and provide long-term benefits for dozens of imperiled species such as scrub-jays and red-cockaded woodpeckers."
Landowners must still get proper authorization to conduct prescribed fires in the state, authorized by the Florida Forest Service.
"As a result of this collaborative effort, NRCS will be better able to work with private landowners across Florida to manage wildlife habitats. Private landowners, as great stewards of Florida's landscape, in turn will continue to provide substantial conservation benefits for the covered species," said Michael Bush, Florida NRCS' State Biologist.