Cypress dot the landscape at Lake Lafayette.
Habitats provide the food, water, shelter and space animals need to thrive and reproduce. In early descriptions, Lake Lafayette was referred to as a prairie lake, perhaps indicating that it was mostly a grassy wetland with widely fluctuating water levels, dependent on rainfall, surface water flow and seepage into the aquifer (partly via a sinkhole). Construction of earthen dikes and a railroad line, as well as other alterations, changed the lake's natural hydrology, dividing it into the three separate lakes that exist today.
Forested uplands within the WEA and its extensive swamps and marshes help to recharge the groundwater and cleanse the surface water that flows into the Lake Lafayette system and the upper St. Marks River. Numerous sinkholes attest to the connection between uplands and the Floridan aquifer, the source of drinking water in the region. The wetlands also provide valuable nesting habitat for wood ducks and other waterfowl and a variety of wading birds, including the threatened wood stork. Within the cypress swamp, some trees are over a century old.
Along with periodic herbicide applications, machinery is used to reduce floating vegetation on Lower Lake Lafayette.
Past human uses, including the construction of berms, dikes and drainage channels, altered the hydrology and soils in the Lake Lafayette basin. As a result, interconnected wetlands were fragmented into artificial basins. Longleaf pine uplands were logged and used for silviculture, as evidenced by remaining slash pine plantations. Today, nutrient-laden stormwater from surrounding development flows into the lake, further altering the habitat for aquatic plants and animals.
L. Kirk Edwards is managed to improve the habitats for upland species such as northern bobwhite, gopher tortoise and Bachman’s sparrow, as well as waterfowl and wading birds. The FWC conducts yearly monitoring of nesting activity within the wood stork colony and maintains 60-80 wood duck nest boxes. The structures provide high quality nest sites for this species, which helps to maintain the local population. These efforts are part of statewide research and monitoring projects.
The past installation of water barriers stabilized water levels and prevented the periodic drying out and reflooding that would have naturally occurred. As a result, aquatic vegetation has overgrown approximately 94 percent of the surface of Lower Lake Lafayette. Floating islands of vegetation (tussocks) can clog waterways and trap boats. FWC and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection use periodic herbicide applications and mechanical harvesting to reduce the extent and density of the aquatic vegetation.
On uplands, stands of offsite timber are thinned and prescribed fire is used to enhance native groundcover and reduce mid-story hardwoods. Pastures are also undergoing restoration; non-native bahiagrass is replaced with native groundcover and longleaf pine. In areas where fire exclusion by former landowners allowed woody vegetation to become established, biologists use mechanical equipment such as mulchers and mowers to control brush prior to burning.
The control of non-native and invasive plant species on the area may include mechanical, chemical and biological treatments. Nonnative feral hogs are controlled by providing hunting opportunities.
In addition to the management work described here, biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rely on a wide range of techniques to ensure that natural areas throughout the state stay healthy for wildlife and inviting to visitors.