The Big Cypress Preserve as well as the Everglades National Park have controlled burning programs. However, I am told they have not burned the marshes in the Mangrove Country (Ten Thousand Islands). There must be a misunderstanding on just how important, for the good of the wildlife, it is to burn these marshes in the Mangrove Country.

One may think that burning the marshes would destroy the ground, but it is just the opposite. Unlike the high dry sand and pine country, north and east of here, the ground in the mangroves including the marshes is usually wet and muddy even in the driest of season.

When we used to burn regularly, every other year or so, the sawgrass was not so heavily matted as it is now, and it burned like wild fire. The fire went out when it hit the mangrove swamp, we didn't need controlled burning. Within three days there were green shoots coming up right out of the burn and the ground wasn't even scorched.

In less than two weeks all wildlife would be thriving on the green open marsh. In the dry season the deer ranged down from The Glades to the burned marshes. With the panther's main diet being deer meat, they came right along, too. In fact the old timers had to watch their animals (pigs etc.) at night to keep the panthers from eating them. Even in my time while living in the old Watson home (Chatham Bend) in 1933 we had to shoot a gun occasionally at night to run the panthers off.

Today with the whole country grown up, I seldom see a deer track let alone a deer and darn few bobcats, let alone, a panther. Remember again, it all holds together one eating on the other. And especially the panther, right in the middle of it all, having the feast of his life. Let's don't forget the old 'gator who would be in the water hole that the burning kept open, having his feast on all of them. And, don't think for a minute the old 'gator wasn't eye balling the old panther.


There are many little ponds and lakes in the marshes that the feed for the wildlife, especially the birds, go into in the dry season. The problem is that the edge of the water holes is also good for mangrove growth. Burning kept the little mangroves around the water holes stunned down and the water holes as well as the marshes open. I have charts which were made in 1928 showing the many open marshes. Flying over it today it looks as though at least a third or more of the marshes have grown into a heavy mangrove swamp. Once again, we had better move and fast. There are also government charts available, made in the 40s and the 90s that show just how bad the marshes have grown over with mangroves. The marshes as a whole have not been burned now for probably more than 40 years and as a result half of the marshes are gone for good.

Harney River

We had a marsh in Harney River we kept burned so we could kill deer to eat. A few years after the burning was stopped I slipped in there to kill a deer. The marsh was already grown up with tall sawgrass and willows and no sign of deer. Only one ol' buck which we call a Lone Ranger had passed through. I struck a match to the marsh and burned it off, and three weeks later when I came back within one hour I had killed two deer to eat and was in my boat and was on my way out the river.

Deer Island

There is a key called Deer Island that was 80 percent marsh. We kept the marsh burned off to bring in the deer to feed. I flew over Deer Island a few months back and also walked out there and took pictures. At least one third, if not more, of the marsh is not gone with mangroves and shrubs scattered all over what is left.

Not only is the marsh on Deer Island about gone, there are many more that will soon be gone if we don't start burning. I repeat, we must burn these marshes to make good feeding grounds for the wildlife. If we are going to try to help the Everglades, let's use a little common sense and quit stalling around, afraid some rat is going to get his tail burned off, and burn these marshes, like the Seminoles and the natives did so successfully for many years. If we don't use a little common sense and start right away burning these marshes again there will be no marshes left for the wildlife to feed in, or for us the even argue about, for that matter.


Here is a good example of just how important the burning of the marshes and the rainwater is to the wildlife and their habitat in the Mangrove Mainland and The Islands. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992 there were more birds in the south rivers, where the hurricane hit the hardest, than I have seen since I lived in the Watson home on Chatham River in '33.

The reason is simple. Birds will not fly down into a thicket that they can't fly out of quick and easy to keep from getting caught. Andrew blew the leaves off the mangroves leaving the swamp open, like a burned marsh, for the birds to feed in. It also left a lot of rainwater which is definitely needed to bring in feed for the birds.

Two years later there were only a few birds left. The leaves had grown back on the trees choking up the feed grounds and the water had become too salty. In 1995 we had more rain than we have seen in many years making plenty of brackish water to bring in the fed and the birds were back. By now the mangrove swamps had grown up too thick for the birds to feed in. Instead, they flocked to what little open shoreline there was. They were so thick they looked as though they were on top of one another.

In my opinion, the water has to flow on its own, uncontrolled, like mother nature planned it.

Little Rivers

This is just another example of how the Mangrove Country is going down. Some of the little rivers mentioned before that drain the rainwater from The Glades into the Mangrove Country were no wider than a good size canoe.

Before becoming a park in 1947, the natives and the Seminoles, while on our beat, traveled these rivers constantly. With the rivers so narrow we kept the roots and limbs cut back keeping the rivers open. The flow of rainwater, so strong back then, gushing down rivers helped keep them open, too.

There was one river we called New River that went all the way to the cypress country in the Glades, and this was the most frequently used. I notice that today the mangrove roots and limbs have grown completely across it. Not even a big 'gator could travel New River today.


Photographs at this Site Provided by Oscar Thompson

Totch Brown

The Everglades

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