Aucilla - Habitat and Management
Habitats provide the food, water, shelter and space animals need to thrive and reproduce. Several natural communities provide habitat for fish and wildlife found at Aucilla. The most distinctive habitats are the rivers themselves. The Aucilla River is a blackwater river that originates from artesian springs in Georgia and flows to the Gulf. The water becomes "black" or darkly stained from tannins that leach into the water as vegetation decays. A product of the region's limestone or karst topography, the river flows underground in places. Its final emergence on its way to the Gulf is Nutall Rise.
At least 12 springs give rise to the Wacissa River, a tributary of the Aucilla. These springs and spring runs have attracted humans and wildlife since prehistoric times. Today, the Wacissa supports abundant aquatic life, including alligators, turtles, water snakes, wading birds and river otters. The limpkin, now absent from many of Florida's rivers because of poor water quality, is still present on the Wacissa.
Past land uses at Aucilla included logging of longleaf pine, bald cypress and hardwoods. After logging longleaf pine, paper companies replanted with fast-growing pine plantations comprised of "off-site" species, including slash and loblolly pines, which required extensive ditching that altered natural water flow.
Restoration is underway and biologists have constructed culverts and low-water crossings (hardened road surfaces built at elevations that permit natural water flow) along existing roads to reconnect wetlands and provide good public access. With this restoration, a more natural wet and dry cycle is returning to the land. When coupled with active management on the uplands, particularly prescribed burns in fire dependent habitats, the result is better foraging, cover and breeding opportunities for a wide variety of wildlife. They also continue to protect cultural resources and conduct inventories of wildlife species.
In places on the Wacissa River, hydrilla and elodea have replaced the native eelgrass, and mats of other nonnative invasives, such as water hyacinth, have covered the water surface. These nonnatives interfere with boating and swimming, displace native vegetation and have adverse impacts on sport fish. The removal of invasive nonnative vegetation is an on-going activity that is both expensive and labor-intensive.
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.