Econ River Wilderness Area temporarily closes ahead of prescribed burns

Planned burns good for habitat, animals, natural resources expert says

OVIEDO, Fla. – The Econ River Wilderness Area is closed for the next two weeks while the Seminole County Natural Lands program prepares the park for prescribed burns.

Over that time, crews will mow down 17 acres of land in order to create a safer environment for the planned burns.

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“I would love people to see this over and over again and see the results,” Seminole County Natural Resources Coordinator Allegra Buyer said. “See how it looks post-mowing, post-fire and then a year later because the results are really going to be spectacular.”

While the project looks like a destructive mess, it’s actually good for the habitat. Buyer said this is all being done with the animals’ well-being in mind.

“While we burn, we try to go slowly and leave lots of escapes for animals to get to,” Buyer said. “They can also go into gopher tortoise burrows during a prescribed burn. So those burrows are really deep, and they’ll be sheltered there while the fire’s happening. What we try to do is not burn too much habitat at one time so that the animals can always go into (that).”

Buyer also said prescribed burns help promote the growth of new vegetation like wiregrass.

“Yeah, so when we burn, we actually release nutrients into the soil as the vegetation burns all the nutrients, they stay with it and it all sinks down into the soil and it helps new plants grow,” Buyer said.

Buyer said wiregrass is an important source of food and shelter for animals like gopher tortoises.

“It gives them food and it gives them space to dig their really deep burrows,” Buyer said.

However, it’s not only gopher tortoises who enjoy the native wiregrass plant.

“A lot of animals require frequently burned habitats, such as quail, turkeys, and even some salamanders really like this wiregrass,” Buyer said.

Buyer encourages people to come out and track the progress of the habitat restoration themselves.

“By next year it’ll be hard to tell we even did this work and ideally the habitat will be looking a lot better,” Buyer said.

The park will open in between the mowing and burning stages of the project. Buyer said they would like to begin the burning phase around two months after they finish the mowing portion of the project.

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Emily joined WKMG-TV in November 2022.