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05.2017 Shoreline Spotlight

A monthly submission from the Marine Resources Task Force

May 31, 2017
By Bill Veach, MRTF Chair , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

They say Nero fiddled while Rome burnt. Nero would need an orchestra during southwest Florida's fire season. Seems too typical lately that I step out of the house to get the morning paper and am hit with the unmistakable smell of smoke. My first instinct is to check around the house and make sure that me or my neighbors are not the source of the smoke. But I you look to the south east and see billowing towers of smoke raising up, then fanning out across the sky. It's a bit early for the peak of fire season, but our winter drought dried up wetlands that are rarely dry. Fire season follows the seasonal rhythm of southwest Florida. The wet season ends and the land slowly starts to dry out. When the rains finally come, they come as thunderstorms and that means lightning, lots of lightning. It is ironic that the source of the spark that starts the natural fire season also brings the water that will eventually end it. Florida plants have evolved with this rhythm. The rainy season is the growing season. Plants use fire as a signal to sprout. The fire creates some nutrients in the normally poor soil and is a signal that the growing season is about to start. Grasslands in southern Florida naturally burn every couple of years, and pine flatlands every few years. A local botanist told me that one of the best times to look for wildflowers is a couple of weeks after a burn. Peat fires that burn the usually damp peat can actually create depressions that can fill with water and become lakes. Without fire, shrubs start to encroach into the "river of grass" that makes up much of the Everglades. This process, called succession, changes the makeup of the natural lands. In the absence of regular fires, more and more flammable material accumulates and makes subsequent fires more intense.

The pine flatlands are typically well drained and make for suitable places for us to build. They also benefit from fire to keep the ground clear and suppress larger trees that can out compete them for resources. In stark contrast, us, our homes and our businesses don't tolerate fire. There is something fundamentally appealing to living close to nature, something soothing about removing ourselves from the traffic and pavement. The vast majority of the time it is safe to be close to nature, both flammable forest and rolling ocean. That safety can create complacency. Thickly wooded lots add privacy and intimacy, but make fighting fires difficult and dangerous for firefighters and add considerable risk. Housing developments are being built in the middle of vast tracts of naturally flammable lands. A small campfire can quickly rage out of control. Fires can cook our food and keep us warm, but they are nothing to fiddle with.

The next MRTF meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 14th at 4:30PM in council chambers. We will be reviewing MRTF's founding ordinances and proposals we will make, or have made, to council regarding plastic straws and town beach vehicles. We will continue our discussion of the town fertilizer ordinance. MRTF has recently completed installing dune plants at Newton Park with the hope of try to create a functioning dune system in the narrowest section of the beach. If time allows, MRTF will briefly discuss the progress of our nesting birds and sea turtles.

Article Photos

This month’s award goes to Brian and Lisa Foskey of South Fort Myers.

- Bill Veach, MRTF Chair

Fact Box

May's Murphy Award

The Marine Resource Task Force awards a monthly "Murphy" award to people who are seen dong acts of good environmental stewardship. The name of the award derives from our abbreviation, MRTF, said as "murph" rather than spelled out. This month's award goes to Brian and Lisa Foskey of South Fort Myers. Brian and Lisa were visiting our beautiful Newton Park with their dog Hemingway while MRTF was installing dune plants at Newton Park. Hemingway was always on a short leash, even when he was playing fetch in the surf. He was still having a great time, even ear scratches could not distract him from his toy. The Foskeys said they kept him on a short leash simply because it was the right thing to do. Thank you, Brian and Lisa, for respecting our beach, and to Hemingway for being an awesome dog. Our leash laws are important, they protect people, their dogs and our stressed shorebirds. The beach is quieter with the departure of snow birds, but we have nesting birds who need to feed their families and migrating birds who need to conserve their energy to get to mating grounds. Help keep the beach dog friendly by keeping your dog beach friendly.



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