LAKE PLACID - On land, controlled burns that eliminate undergrowth and reduce natural fuels for wildfires during dry seasons are relatively common.
But when Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began this week a controlled burn on Lake Istokpoga, it was more unusual and unprecedented in the sense that it was the first such burn of cattail, an aquatic plant.
Steve Gornak, who is with habitat conservation for the FWCC, said ultimately the controlled burn would help maintain the amount of large fish that fishermen seek in Lake Istokpoga.
Gornak said the project involves 200 acres of cattail that was treated previously. The cattail is dead and without a burn would eventually sink to the bottom of the lake. That would result in more organics going to the bottom of the lake, he said.
The aim of the controlled burn is reduce the "organic substances that will go to the bottom of the lake," he said.
When the organics go to the bottom, that can eventually create an organic mass that takes over larger areas of the lake's surface, he said. That takes over areas where other types of vegetation could grow that are better for the lake, he said.
Another problem is that the growing organic mass can eliminate areas used by fishes to spawn, Gornak said.
The mass can also affect certain types of birds, such as kites, that seek food from the surface of the lake, he said.
In the end, he said, fishermen will encounter a smaller population of the types of fish for which they fish in the lake.
"If you're a fisherman, you'll find that the lake can't produce the number of large trophy fish we currently have in the lake" he said.
The FWCC has never burned cattail in Lake Istokpoga before "because in the past the conditions were never ripe," he said.
Before they can do it, he said, the vegetation needs to be totally brown. Beyond that, he said, they need a time when there's been little rain for awhile and the direction and the speed of the winds need to be favorable, he said.
Gornak said FWCC did controlled burning Monday. But as of Tuesday, the wind speed had changed, resulting in the decision that further burning would be delayed until next week.