Flood and fire adapted

Not just a watershed and not just fire adapted, every square inch of the swamp is flood AND fire adapted. So goes flood and fire, so goes the swamp. Cypress domes | Strands and sloughsSwamp mosaic?Flood and fire | Marl Prairies | UplandsBotany | Alligators and more | Life cycle of a pond apple | mangroves

Big Cypress Master Plan?
One hydrologist's view

When it comes to master planning …

Everglades Restoration comes to mind, emphasis on Everglades.

What to do with the Big Cypress?

But what’s about the Big Cypress Swamp? Partly because it was marketed as a “self contained” watershed in the early days of its preservation (i.e. it gets all its water from the sky, so it came gift-wrapped already restored) and partly because it lies outside the traditional boundaries of the U.S. Army Corps and South Florida Water Management District’s Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Project and partly because it’s a mysterious place cloaked in a mythology that’s hard to shake, there’s never been a consensus on what should or could be done to get the water right, and why it’s so important for the greater whole.

Until now! In the presentation above, I provide an overview of the Big Cypress Swamp as a sum of its parts and why and where hydrologic restoration may lie ahead.

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Quote: “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” —Henry David Thoreau

water table

Rainy season begins on a dry note
As usual (and despite the April rains)

The start of one season …

Usually means the end of the season that came before.

History of drought in Big Cypress Nat’l Preserve

Well, hold your horses. While Memorial Day Weekend does mark the unofficial start of south Florida’s summer wet season, and to be sure from this point on we can expect the regular build up of afternoon clouds and thunderstorms — it may take a few couple weeks before the swamp starts filling up, or it could happen in a day. Until that time and until that day, the swamp is still in a state of drought. Not as deep as last year. But as you can see on the hydrograph above, it wasn’t until early June that the water table bottomed out. June is soaking in and filling up month. What we do know is that probably by July and definitely by August the swamp will get its water back.

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Meteorological Proverb: “All droughts end in flood”

Flood and fire friendly
A swamp love affair

The swamp is more than …

Just a watershed or just fire adapted:

FloodFire2

Report on the history of flood and fire in the swamp

It’s more properly understood as being a “flood and fire adapted” ecosystem. Every square inch of flora and fauna depends on some goldilocks dosage and return interval of flood and fire. Or in other words, so goes flood and fire, so goes the swamp. Well, easier said than done. The truth is that both are blunt tool instruments that have a time lag of ecological responses, some of which we see happening in months or years, and others that take decades to unfold. The thing about the swamp: It’s malleable, too. Destroyers in other landscapes, flood and fire are a swamp’s best friend. This report discusses the history of water and fire management in Big Cypress National Preserve, how it’s changed over time and other factors that weave into the fire-water mix.

More about the report: I tried to make it coffee table friendly. I always say, “there’s nothing more complicated than water in the swamp, with the exception of fire. But somehow by combining the two we simplify the math.”

ecology

Wading bird delight
Why wading birds love fire

By definition …

Wading birds love water.

Video filmed along scenic Tamiami Trail

But in addition to wading through the shallow swamp, could they just as much (if not more) like the fire, too? Evidence from a recent prescribed burn says “yes.” The reason? My first guess was that the egrets were sick of sushi and wanted some charbroiled (or flash cooked) fish. But after further inquiry with a biologist, they suggested the birds were flocking to the higher visibility afforded by the charred landscape. Or in other words, it helped them see the water better, and the critters they were foraging for.

In a nutshell, the swamp is a flood and fire adapted ecosystem in which every square inch of flora and fauna depends on a goldilocks dosage and return interval of water and fire. So goes flood and fire, so goes the swamp — and the wading birds.