Prospects are for continued drought
By Ron Masters, Director of Research
The latest drought projections have been released as we move into the winter period. La Niña conditions, although not as strong as last year, continue to strengthen. These conditions lead to warm and dry weather in north Florida. A significant part of our area, north Florida and southwest Georgia, is under extreme drought conditions based on the current Palmer Drought Index Map (http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/). These conditions also raise the index for wildland fire potential to above normal.
Typically however, this region does not experience the wildfire problems that other areas experience because of the aggressive prescribed burning programs that many landowners use. Although fuel loads are somewhat lower because of poor growing conditions this summer, increased drying conditions may cause more intense fire behavior when conducting prescribed burns this coming spring on 2-year or longer roughs. This will be somewhat dependent on the moderating influence of the Atlantic Oscillation and whether or not it allows La Niña conditions to continue strengthening. At this point, projections we have read suggest that La Niña conditions, after the first of the year, will not be as strong as last year.
So what does that mean for habitat conditions for wildlife species of interest to landowners? Habitat cover conditions are not ideal this year for ground dwelling or foraging species. But they are not terrible either. As burn plans are developed, consider your cover needs coming out of the winter. Keep in mind that even in an ordinary year, spring tends to be dryer than other seasons. If your particular cover conditions are sparse, we suggest leaving unburned 1-year roughs or at least a portion of them for additional cover.