The Lake Okeechobee Interagency Task Force report for March states “Florida’s ecosystems have been dependent on fire for centuries and Lake Okeechobee is no exception. With more and more development, it has become increasingly difficult and unsafe for natural fires to take place. Fire management, or prescribed fires, are now essential to maintain this natural process that protects the ecosystems health. Fires help reduce brush material, encourage new healthy vegetation to grow and can also help boost fishing! Studies have shown that fires can help increase proper nutrients in wetland systems and reduce muck layers. These nutrients are then able to move up the food web which can help enhance fish nursery habitats. For Lake Okeechobee, the dry season is usually the best time of year for biologists to conduct prescribed fires in certain areas the lake. This year however will be challenging since lake levels remain on the higher side.”
• The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is conducting interagency surveys via airboat, monitoring for floating aquatic plants throughout the lake. If you spot a navigational way that is blocked, please notify either Jessica Fair (email: Jessica.firstname.lastname@example.org), Ian Markovich (email Ian Markovich, Ian.email@example.com), or Brendon Hession (email Brendon Hession, Brendon.Hession@MyFWC.com). The corps will be conducting aquatic plant management treatment via contractor on Lake Okeechobee to maintain navigation and flood control structures around the south end of the lake. Area of responsibility will include the rim canal from Port Mayaca to Old Sportsman’s canal and in lake from Pelican Bay to Uncle Joe’s Cut. Current plant management work will take place from East of Clewiston to West of Rita Island. All USACE plant management contractors will be pulled from the lake March 5-12 to avoid conflicts with a large bass fishing tournament. Lake Okeechobee interagency task force meeting will be held March 23 via WebEx from 10 a.m. - noon. contact Jessica Fair for more information.
• Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Invasive Plant Management staff report floating plant management is ongoing in the north western and western marshes. Azolla pinnata has been treated near the Indian Prairie Canal and has been found on Bird Island. This suggests pinnata has spread much farther around the lake than previously thought. The north western and western inner marshes will begin to get surveyed for the emergence of Scleria lacustris. All FWC plant managment contractors will be pulled from the lake March 4-12.
• FWC Aquatic Habitat Restoration/Enhancement staff are preparing to burn, using a helicopter and airboats, the Moonshine cattail management area once weather conditions allow. Using airboats, spot treatments of torpedograss in the northwest marsh will begin, which will prevent regrowth in areas that have been managed for the past two years. In addition, management of vines, Phragmites and other invasives using hand pulling, machetes and backpacks on the northwest marsh islands are also planned.
• South Florida Water Management District, FWC, and USACE are scheduled to conduct their monthly invasive plant management survey around Lake Okeechobee by helicopter on March 4. The district is monitoring environmental conditions for opportunities to implement prescribed fire. At predicted water level recession rates, SFWMD may get the opportunity to resume prescribed burns within the seasonally dry portions of the lake in early summer.