TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — The Sunshine State is trending up in many positive directions, and air quality is no exception. Florida has some of the best quality of air in the country, according to measurements from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).
Third party rankings affirm the state’s own assessment. Despite having the third largest population of any state in the nation, U.S. News and World Report ranked Florida the 5th best state for air and water quality. WiseVoter ranked Florida 7th behind much smaller states such as Hawaii, Vermont, Alaska and New Hampshire. Additionally, Florida was one of just four states in the entire country to achieve 0 percent for “Unhealthy Air Quality Days.”
FLORIDA LEADING THE WAY
Florida’s progressive prescribed burn program helps mitigate wildfires, which produce damaging effects to air quality. Overseen by Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson and the Florida Forest Service, the state authorizes more than 2 million acres of prescribed burning on both public and private lands each year.
In 2021, NPR reported that Florida led the nation in controlled burns. The story, “Why The South Is Decades Ahead Of The West In Wildfire Prevention,” held up Florida as a model for western states like California to follow.
A fire adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension told the outlet: “We have this generational gap in fire knowledge in the Western U.S. that we're trying to rebuild now. But Florida and the Southeast still have it.”
BENEFITS OF PRESCRIBED BURNS
In addition to protecting residents from wildfires, prescribed burning removes threatening, invasive pests and limits the spread of forest disease. It prevents trees and other vegetation from stress caused by overcrowding.
The burns also protect habitats for endangered species and contribute nutrients back into the soil, allowing for the healthy growth of plants and trees.
“The Florida Forest Service uses weather forecasts and sophisticated smoke models to determine the best conditions for burning,” Jim Karels, former Director of the Florida Forest Service, wrote in a guest column for Florida Politics last September. “Factors include the drought index, wind speed and direction, and atmospheric lifting.”
IMPACT OF AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY
Florida’s strong agriculture industry also contributes to clean air. The forest industry contributes $25 billion to the state’s economy and more than 124,000 jobs, according to a 2017 study.
With more than 17 million acres of forestland, Florida’s robust agriculture industry also plays a part in the air quality. The trees help purify both the air and water.
AIR QUALITY CONTINUES UPWARD TREND
Despite steady population growth in Florida over the past two decades, both the total emissions of pollutants to the atmosphere and the monitored levels of these pollutants in the air have been trending downward since 2000.
In his column, Karels pointed out that in 2021 the Department of Environmental Protection called Florida “the most populous state in the United States to meet these stringent federal standards for air quality.”
He added: “We are a national model that other states look to replicate.”