Fellsmere Water Management Area Fish and Wildlife Habitat Creation

Aerial view of Fellsmere Water Management Area

Man-made river channels carved into future reservoir-bottom at FWMA.

The Black Bass Management Plan included four major action-based subject areas: new opportunities, habitat management, fish management and people management. The Fellsmere project encompasses all of those, but is an especially good example of a new opportunity.

Fellsmere Water Management Area (FWMA) is a 10,000-acre parcel of land in Indian River County that was purchased by the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) as part of the restoration of the Upper St. Johns River (USJR) ecosystem. The land is currently being converted into a reservoir, which may officially flood as early as autumn 2014.  Historically part of the St. Johns River floodplain, the area within the reservoir once supported a mosaic of vegetation communities including emergent marsh, tree islands and wet prairie. Agricultural development in the early 1900's removed the habitats ability to function naturally, as a water filter and fish-and-wildlife nursery, through creation of levees and agricultural ditches. These agricultural practices have created large blocks of homogenous habitat (flat topography with monotypic vegetation) within the FWMA.
Due to the homogenous nature of the habitat at FWMA, the Division of Freshwater Fisheries (DFFM) invested $471,374 on construction activities that will increase the diversity of structure and cover types available to fish and wildlife once the reservoir floods. Specifically, the topography was modified and planted with five different tree species within a 500-acre project area, which was previously a monotypic cattle pasture.

During creation of microtopography, excavators and bulldozers manipulated nearly 150 acres of the future lake- bottom.  A total of 70 acres of the modified topography created were converted to lower elevations (holes, trenches, drop-offs etc.), which will provide necessary structure and areas of refuge for largemouth bass and other fish species.  A total of 80 acres of lake-bottom was converted to higher elevation (shallow water habitat, sunken islands, emergent marsh etc.), which will provide habitat for juvenile largemouth bass and other young-of-year fishes as well as various wildlife species.  Five species of trees were planted on the newly created higher elevation areas: 7,933 bald cypress, 3,069 swamp tupelo, 1,042 dahoon holly, 958 red maple and 206 sweet gum, for a total of 13,208 trees.  The trees will provide cover and structure for both fish and wildlife, in addition to acting as a wind-break to protect growth of submerged aquatic vegetation.

The project was a cooperative effort of the FWC and the St Johns River Management District that greatly enhanced the fisheries habitat and will provide long-term benefits for the fish and wildlife populations as well as anglers, bird watchers and other wildlife viewers.

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