Learn more about the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Mitigation Park Program and Division of Habitat and Species Conservation's efforts at groundcover restoration. Watermelon Pond is a case study in restoration. Based on historical photographs, sandhill habitat dominated the uplands at Watermelon Pond and was interspersed with xeric hammock, depression and basin marshes, and small sinkholes. Naturally occurring fire stimulated the seed production of longleaf pine, wiregrass and other vegetation, and limited the growth of oaks and woody vegetation. Prior to its purchase by the state, much of Watermelon Pond was used for cattle grazing and row crop and timber production. To accommodate these industries, parts of the WEA were stripped of most or all native vegetation and replanted with pasture grasses, fast-growing slash pines and agricultural crops. Fires were suppressed in the sandhills, allowing oaks to flourish and ultimately shading out low-growing grasses and pine seedlings. Without an open tree canopy and a diverse groundcover of grasses, herbs, flowers and fruit, the population of gopher tortoises declined.
Regular burning promotes healthy groundcover
Restoration of these natural communities is a high priority for land managers. Sandhills that were clear cut will be planted with wiregrass and longleaf pine and managed with prescribed fire. Bermuda grass and bahia grass fields will be treated with herbicides, followed by reseeding with native groundcover and maintenance with regular controlled burns. Longleaf pine seedlings will be planted once the groundcover has become established. Planted pines will be thinned and burned regularly. Basin marshes will be regularly burned.
Invasive nonnative vegetation such as tropical soda apple, mimosa and Chinese tallow are controlled with herbicides as needed.
As management efforts restore native plant communities, wildlife found on adjacent areas that are in public ownership will begin to repopulate the habitats in the WEA.