A substantial portion of the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area south of Hwy. 523 is part of the central peninsular Florida dry prairie ecosystem. The landscape is a mosaic of dry and wet prairie, ephemeral depression ponds and marshes, mesic (moist) flatwoods, hammocks, and cypress ponds and sloughs. Diversity-both in plant and animal life-distinguishes Florida's dry prairies from the vast grasslands of the Great Plains of North America and the steppes of Asia.
North of Hwy. 523 the majority of land is pine flatwoods, interspersed with ephemeral depression ponds and marshes and cypress ponds and sloughs. Patches of scrub are found on higher land between the Florida Turnpike and Hwy. 441.
Fire is a critical tool for managing the dry prairie and the mesic flatwoods on Three Lakes. The plants and animals of the prairie are adapted to and sustained by fire.
Florida grasshopper sparrow
The Florida grasshopper sparrow, a federal and state listed endangered subspecies, rarely nests in areas that have not been recently burned (within 2.5 years). The sparrow is usually found in areas that have been burned within 1.5 years. Wiregrass, a common dry prairie ground cover, won't flower and seed unless it burns during spring or summer.
Historically, fires were most frequent in the spring and early summer at the onset of the lightning season. The managers of Three Lakes burn the prairie between January and August with a goal of maintaining the prairie in a low, grassy condition by controlling the encroachment of palmettos, myrtles, oaks, and other hardwoods. The prairie is divided into small burn units that are burned at different frequencies, although all are burned at least once very 3 years.
Nonnative invasive plants such as cogongrass, Brazilian pepper, Japanese climbing fern and Old-world climbing fern are removed using environmentally-safe chemicals.