FWC gets to work on objectives identified through Lake Istokpoga Habitat Management Plan
In February 2020, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), University of Florida and the Lake Istokpoga Stakeholder Advisory Committee completed the comprehensive stakeholder-driven Lake Istokpoga Habitat Management Plan, which provides guidance for future management of this Highlands County waterbody. The two habitat enhancement projects listed below, Illinois pondweed transplanting and Old World climbing fern biocontrol, are a direct result of the plan’s goals that are aimed at achieving management objectives and plant target ranges developed for the lake’s littoral zone, or nearshore portion of the lake.
Project 1: Illinois pondweed transplanting
Based on data collected over the past five years, pondweed, a type of native submerged aquatic vegetation often referred to as “peppergrass,” has become noticeably absent from Lake Istokpoga. In accordance with the management plan, the goal for native submersed aquatic vegetation is a minimum of 1,000 acres. Another FWC habitat restoration project, a drawdown on East Lake Tohopekaliga in Osceola County, presented an opportunity to sustainably harvest pondweed and transplant it into the waterbody.
On April 28, a team of FWC biologists harvested approximately 2,500 pondweed plants from East Lake Tohopekaliga and the following day the plants were transplanted along the western shore of Lake Istokpoga. This process was repeated during the month of May, with an additional 6,000 plants transplanted east of Istokpoga Park, on the north end of the lake. Submersed aquatic vegetation serves many important functions for the lake, including habitat and food for fish and wildlife, as well as protection of the shoreline and lake bottom from the effects of storms and hurricanes.
Project 2: Old World climbing fern biocontrol
On Lake Istokpoga, large populations of Old World climbing fern (Lygodium) create a management challenge. Old World climbing fern is an exotic weed that invades open forests and wetland areas, killing the plants over which it grows. In the past, limited access to the islands and a large scale infestation would require helicopter herbicide treatment. In an attempt to reduce the population of Lygodium without the use of herbicide, the FWC was able to obtain biocontrol insects from the United States Department of Agriculture. These insects only feed on Lygodium plants and have shown to be successful in reducing its coverage along the Kissimmee River in Osceola and Polk counties, as well as Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Martin County.
On March 27, 2,038 mites and 3,100 moth larvae were transferred to Lygodium populations on Lake Istokpoga, at a location called Bumblebee Island. The project objective is to establish a population of biocontrol insects that continue to eradicate Lygodium in the lake. The area will be monitored to determine if a population of biocontrol insects successfully establishes.
FWC staff will continue to work with partner agencies to implement projects that assist in meeting the goals recommended by stakeholders in the Lake Istokpoga Habitat Management Plan. To view the Lake Istokpoga Habitat Management Plan, visit LakeIstokpoga.wordpress.com.
For more information on Lake Habitat Management Plans and other enhancements to the FWC’s Aquatic Plant Management Program, visit MyFWC.com/AquaticPlants and click on “Learn More” at the top of the page.
For general waterbody information, fishing forecasts, virtual tours, plant control operation schedules and annual workplans, boat ramp information, and more, visit the “What’s Happening on My Lake” website at MyFWC.com/Lake.