Galveston Island State Park had a burning desire to improve the ecology of its wild areas, and the results are beautiful and healthy for many of our native animals.

Back in January, GISP burned the entire acreage from gulf to bay shores and left a lot of charred ground along FM 3005, just east of Jamaica Beach. Many might wonder the wisdom of such an act, but scientists can only stand and applaud this wise management of our state’s wild lands.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of this “controlled burn” is that those species that belong there will easily survive the flames, while most invasives perish in this cleansing act of nature. It essentially resets the natural areas’ plants, and in so doing, the native animals have the vegetation they evolved in to successfully live and thrive.

Fires also open up the ground, which allows sunlight to reach the soil where seedlings can sprout and grow. In fact, with some plants, it takes the flames to open their seeds, getting them on their way. In so doing, burns also kill off huge amounts of plant diseases such as funguses that retard healthy growth.

By opening up the ground, the keystone plant species, known as Coastal Bluestem, uses the carbon from the burn, water from winter rains and sun for photosynthesis to reestablish itself in the grassland community. These ecosystems are common in the Great Plains, from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.

One group of birds, which are relatively unknown to the average person, due to their secrecy, is the sparrows of the genus Ammodramus. These are target species of many birders, and the member that inhabits well-managed bluestem is the Le Conte’s sparrow. They arrive in October, quietly sneak around all winter and leave in April.

Such is the case with many specialists of the fire tolerant communities. The generalists like mockingbirds can live in lots of places and survival is easy, but these creatures with narrow needs must have the healthy ecosystem in which they evolved. By managing the acreage scientifically, many species of birds, mammals, reptiles and more have the habitat they need to be successful.

We have not always managed our wild lands so well. Many of us remember seeing Smokey Bear on TV saying, “Only you can prevent forest fires!” Through the first half of last century, we feared any fires in the forest, as kindling built up and fires were enormously destructive.

However, places like Tall Timbers Research Station, in North Florida, discovered that fires were, in fact, essential to proper forest maintenance. They began starting controlled fires that eliminated the potential for wild, destructive events, just like we had in pre-colonial days before we arrived in the New World. (Some, like the Aborigine of Australia, have been practicing proper forest burns for thousands of years.)

The state park and its volunteers have worked hard to restore GISP to what the birds and other animals require, from periodic burns to tallow tree eradication. I’m sure you join me in expressing our appreciation to all for their wise management of our wild lands.

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