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Help Was on the Way

Native wildlife in Florida often have to compete with the various forms of non native species for the food, cover, water and space that they need to survive. Our state is home to well over five hundred different types of non native wildlife species. When we typically define non native species, we say words like destruction, invasive, damage, negative impacts, etc. In that way, we humans are somewhat hypocritical because unfortunately we are the ultimate invasive species, having caused the sixth major extinction event upon this planet. Conservationists try their best to mitigate and repair the damage where they can. But, I digress.

Our non native species have a naturally food and climate friendly environment here in Florida which is one of the main reasons we have so many. One prime example of this invasive species conundrum facing this state is the feral hog populations. Feral hogs are a species that have been a part of the landscape since Florida was under Spanish occupation, which means that many generations have adapted to life here. To this day, they remain a problem because of their ability to exploit our native as well as working landscapes. In my experience with them, they are extremely difficult to eradicate and they have the ability to do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. Being a staff member of a state wildlife management area came with its frustrations. On our particular property, we were not allowed to interfere with the feral hog populations for various reasons, one of which being that it would reduce opportunity for hunters that utilized the area during the open seasons. We often would have to do nothing more than watch as the feral hogs inflicted heavy damage on the landscape.

I recall one day during a cattle pasture burn on the state property that stands out in my mind as an example of the dilemma that we often faced. The pasture was becoming dense and overgrown, and the green bahia grass perfect for foraging was now brown with a dried layer of dead fuel on the top layer caused by recent frost. The area was delineated by a large dich in the middle and head-high blackberries interspersed throughout. As I was traveling across a dense thicket on my ATV while lighting a long line of fire behind me from the rear-mounted torch, I came across a lone pig ambling along slowly. I stopped and noticed that its back leg was injured by what looked to have been bullet having passed through it by an unsuccessful hunter or a possible vehicle strike. Feeling bad and realizing that the pig would not have an escape route if I drove by, I stopped and easily picked it up. It let out a terrible ear-piercing squeal, but I laid it across the saddle of the machine anyway and in a moment we were off.

I took us across a large ditch, over thick palmettos and into a clearing on the other side away from the danger of the fire and smoke. As I came to a stop, I spoke to it. "There you go little buddy", I said with a smile. As I set it down, the pig turned around and scurried off right into the belly of the fire which soon came together like a wave crashing against the coast. I was dumbfounded. As much as I could tell, the animal was not well and was more than likely not of sound mind because of infection at that time. I felt bad momentarily, however my duties of the day were only half over. I carried on the rest of the afternoon thinking of the poor pig, but came to the conclusion that I had done what I could and that the rest was out of my hands.


Yes it is true that wildlife species can perish in a fire. Burning is a science that if done correctly, can be applied in a way as to allow for critters to successfully escape from advancing flames. Inevitably, the unfortunate does happen as in this case. An important point in all of this is to understand that not only are we applying fire under controlled, measured conditions that allow for special techniques to better help wildlife, but we are also at the same time preventing the risk of noncontrolled wildfire due to dense fuel accumulation over time.


CWL, 1/12/23


Caravelle Ranch WMA, Circa 2017

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