Over half of the Fort White's acreage embraces sandhills habitat where wiregrass, gopher apple, runner oak, and other groundcovers are well established. Canopy coverage is dominated by longleaf pine, but hardwoods, mostly sand live oak, and turkey oak and red bay, have moved into some areas. Within the sandhills, small plots cleared for cultivation by previous landowners have been colonized by sand live oak and longleaf pine.
Herbicides and prescribed fire help control the spread of hardwoods in this habitat. Pinelands previously managed for timber production comprise about 15% of the area's acreage. Slash pine is the dominant overstory species, with loblolly and longleaf also represented. This area was thinned in the initial management phase.
Hardwood swamp occurs in a narrow band along the Santa Fe River. These regularly inundated wetlands are dominated by pond cypress, with scattered black gum, red maple, and sweetbay. Understory and groundcover are usually sparse due to frequent flooding but sometimes include such species as buttonbush, lizard's-tail, and various ferns. Several small ponds, located in the southern portion of the tract, dry and refill in response to seasonal rainfall. Hardwood hammock, dominated by live oak, with water oak, wild cherry, sweetgum, and pignut hickory, is interspersed throughout the area in low-lying, poorly drained areas.
Fort White was acquired with funds received through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Mitigation Park Program. The primary goal of this program is to minimize the effects of new development on gopher tortoise populations. Developers may provide funds that are used for the acquisition and management of other offsite, upland communities. The FWC is responsible for all aspects of management on Fort White and the primary goal is to promote habitat conditions critical to sustaining gopher tortoise, Sherman's fox squirrel and other listed upland species.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists have thinned pines to open up dense tree canopies and stimulate the growth of ground-dwelling plants used for food by the gopher tortoise. Fire exclusion by previous landowners allowed oaks and other hardwoods to become established, creating unfavorable conditions for gopher tortoises and fox squirrels. Herbicide treatment and selective mechanical removal are used to control this hardwood encroachment, but the primary management tool is prescribed fire, using frequent, high intensity growing season burns. These burns mimic lightning ignited fires and help control hardwood growth while promoting wiregrass and longleaf pine seed germination. The resulting open, grassy understory provides excellent wildlife habitat and scenic expanses of fall wildflowers.