Article and Photography by Alice Mary Herden
Brooksville- As mentioned in my previous article, there are a variety of responsibilities surrounding the Withlacoochee State Forest, one of those duties is to keep the public informed.
Judi Tear, Wildfire Mitigation Specialist & Information Officer at the Withlacoochee Forestry Center, is the one who keeps the public informed by providing essential information.
“Mitigation is whenever you identify a problem. It doesn’t matter if it’s a flooding problem, a sinkhole problem- with us it’s a wildfire problem,” Judi said.
A significant part of her job has to do with incorporating public outreach about wildfire awareness and prevention to residential homeowners and landowners.
“We work with agencies and communities, like the county, cities, and private landowners to see what kind of mitigation work we can do,” Judi said. “When we say mitigation, it can be chopping, mowing, or prescribed fire to remove those fuels. It’s a way to reduce the fuels that would cause a catastrophic fire,” she said.
Judi stated that Weeki Wachee historically has the highest rate of wildfires. “Our biggest one was in 2017 (known as the water tower fire). So what are some of the things we can do to help the Weeki Wachee area,” she questioned.
Being a Wildfire Mitigation Specialist, Judi dedicated herself to finding ways to work with homeowner associations to learn more about being fire-wise and how residents can reduce wildfire risks in their community.
Another part of her duties within the Florida Forest Service is also managing the social media outlets for Withlacoochee Forestry Center. She is behind the screen keeping the public informed about when the agency will be conducting prescribed fires and other crucial information.
Those that follow FFS Withlacoochee on Facebook or Twitter, can receive notifications about when prescribed burns are in their area.
“When someone looks out the window and sees smoke, they think it’s a wildfire. But the more information we can get out about our prescribed fire, the less they worry,” Judi said.
With over 30 years in public relations and emergency planning, Judi has been with the Florida Forest Service for six years. As she nears retirement, she takes the opportunity to help the community learn more about the agency and the importance of public wildfire safety. She has surrounded herself with a family and the heart of the forest.
“I came to the Forestry at the end of my career, because I love the agency,” Judi said. “These are wonderful first-responders, they have caring hearts.”