Sometime late last Tuesday night, or early Wednesday morning, some nefarious creature decided it a wise decision to light a fire on the eastern boundary of Everglades National Park, at a location commonly known as “Mustang Corner” (named because of the propensity for folks to drag-race on the secluded road). By Wednesday morning at 8:30am the fire had been discovered by Everglades Fire Management, and assessed at two acres. With the easterly winds building quickly, though, the fire threatened to make a run to the west… right into critical sparrow habitat during the most vulnerable time of the year.
Between 8:30am and 6:00pm, the fire had grown to almost 13,000 acres in size, consuming most of the vegetation in its path and leaving little to no habitat mosaic into which sparrows might seek refuge. By Wednesday night the fire had reached the eastern boundary of Shark Slough, a low-lying trough that remains (at least partially) wet even during the driest season of the year. This year, being a drought year, the slough has been particularly important in keeping the fire from tearing across the entire Everglades landscape.
Over the last week, reinforcements from around the country and Puerto Rico have come to Everglades to help contain the Mustang Corner fire. One of our field camps (the one at which I’ve been doing my phd research) lies just a couple of kilometers south of the southern boundary of the fire, right in the center of the second largest population of the federally endangered sparrow. Thanks primarily to all of the hard working fire fighters, and secondarily to fortunate winds conditions, this southern front has been kept from spreading through the entire population, which would definitely spell devastation for the sparrow.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Mustang Corner fire, the Incident Information System website provides very timely reports and maps of the incident. My first manuscript on the effects of fire on the Cape Sable seaside sparrow can be found here, and the second is currently in review at The Auk.