The writer of a recent letter to the editor printed in the Pasco section of the St. Petersburg Times decried the prescribed burns in J.B. Starkey Wilderness Park. I am not a forestry or animal expert. I live within spitting distance of the J.B. Starkey Wilderness Park, and when a prescribed burn is taking place, our community feels the effects.
When you step outside, the smell of smoke assaults your senses. The sky is blurred as a result of the smoke.
I, too, have a special place in my heart for Starkey Park and spend time on its trails.
Several years ago, during a visit to the Weedon Island Preserve in Pinellas County, I was fortunate to have a tour of the preserve with a Pinellas County expert in prescribed burns. The tour was very illuminating about the practice of prescribed burns.
When the burn is properly managed, it can improve the wildlife habitat. The prescribed burn can also promote the regeneration of the forest by destroying invasive species of plants. Native Florida trees and plants are not harmed if the prescribed burn is done correctly.
When my grandchildren come for a visit, we go to Starkey Park to count gopher tortoise sightings. Our record is seven sightings, and we sing a song we made up about the gopher tortoise. We study the burrows we find and try to determine if the burrow has a current resident.
The gopher tortoise is an interesting study. For some odd reason, I have taken a liking to the unwieldy gopher tortoise and I am writing a children's book about a gopher tortoise.
I think it was a quote by Dr. George W. Folkerts in the department of zoology at Auburn University in Alabama that spiked my interest. He said, "We must preserve … the gopher tortoise and other species in similar predicaments, for if we do not, we lose a part of our humanity, a part of our habitat, and ultimately our world."
In order for gopher tortoises to thrive, they must have open sunny areas for making nests and for basking.
If no natural fires occur, land managers will use prescribed burns to maintain the ideal habitat for the gophers, as they are sometimes referred to.
The burrow of the gopher tortoise can be up to 10 feet in depth and 40 feet in length. The burrows provide homes for up to 360 animal species, and certain animals such as the Florida mouse cannot exist without the tortoise burrow.
When there is a fire, either natural or prescribed, the home of the tortoise saves the lives of the many small animals in the habitat.
The land development and habitat alteration are a great threat to the survival of the gopher tortoise. Automobiles take their toll; roads can act as barriers keeping the tortoises isolated.
We are all concerned about global warming and we are trying to be kinder to our environment. We need to think about our impact on nature.
We need to learn the reasons behind certain practices such as prescribed burns. The remainder of the burns may look and smell unpleasant, but the results are beneficial to even to a tiny Florida mouse or a gopher cricket.
Mary Partington lives in New Port Richey.