When the Okefenokee Swamp Burns

Hot summers… extended periods of drought… plenty of exposed organic peat material… and a random but well-placed lightning strike; all these ingredients cook up to make large fires. South Georgia, and especially the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, face this imminent threat every year. Often, hundreds upon hundreds of square miles burn for several days at a time.

Burned cypress tree stump in the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. May, 2020. ©http://www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally from Dreamstime.com.

But is fire bad? In reality, wildfires actually are what keep the Okefenokee Swamp a swamp. As the fires sweep the prairies of the refuge, the shrubs and young hardwoods are killed back. The large cypress and Long-leaf pines tolerate the flames and thus the characteristic open habitats of the Okefenokee remain.

According to the Georgia Wildlife Federation, “Fire is a necessary part of the swamp ecosystem. When it burns the swamp, usual plant succession is interrupted, preventing swamp prairies from filling with cypresses, black gums, and bays and becoming Woodland.” (Georgia Wildlife: The Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia Wildlife, Volume 6, Number 1, from Georgia Wildlife Press; 1997.)

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