Environment in recovery from Mussett Bayou Wildfire

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SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — Evolution forces wildlife to adapt to their surroundings. officials say the species affected by the Mussett Bayou Wildfire have had some time to adapt to fire because the area is prone to burns.

Walton County Forestry senior forester, Ariel Sewell, used the gopher tortoise as an example. As a keystone species, many other animals in the habitat rely on the gopher tortoise and its adaptations.

“They have these burrows that they dig and live in,” Sewell said. “And they can go there for cover during fires. But also there are a lot of other animals that depend on these burrows not just for coverage from fire but for habitats.”

Fire-adapted plants affected by the wildfire include palmettos, which have begun popping up among the ashes just a month after being scorched. Officials say although this fire was destructive, fire plays an important role in maintaining the environment amidst human interaction.

“We use prescribed burning in our state forest to reduce the fuel, keep any major wildfires,” Sewell said. “And also to help restore wildlife habitats.”

In this case, the Mussett Bayou fire had plenty of fuel.

“So a lot of areas we can’t do a lot of burning,” Sewell said. “Private property, residential property —conditions don’t really allow for doing a lot of burning in those areas because of smoke issues.”

Sewell says the affected grasses will regenerate by next spring and the larger species like trees and shrubs will take a little longer.

“It’s going to come back as something,” Sewell said. “It may not be what people want exactly.”

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