Babcock/Webb - Habitat and Management
Habitats provide the food, water, shelter and space animals need to thrive and reproduce. Over 50 percent of the land cover at Babcock-Webb is composed of mesic and wet flatwoods dominated by south Florida slash pine.
Several listed species of animals and plants are dependent on this fire-maintained plant community. This includes the largest known population of the rare “Beautiful Pawpaw,” a plant endemic to Charlotte and Lee counties and listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Department of Agriculture. The beautiful pawpaw has fragrant white flowers and three-inch-long fruits that resemble large, lumpy bean pods. Flowering tends to occur from late March through May, usually after a fire or mowing of new growth. The greatest threat to the beautiful pawpaw is destruction of habitat.
The landscape of the WMA appears flat, but is actually slightly rolling, with ridges rising 20 to 40 feet above mean sea level. Depression marshes, dome swamps, seasonal ponds and wet and dry prairies are interspersed throughout the flatwoods. Six man-made ponds and the 395-acre artificially constructed Webb Lake provide habitat for aquatic species as well as recreational opportunities. During the summer rainy season, a majority of the area may be flooded for brief periods.
To restore habitats to historic conditions, areas that were clear-cut prior to state acquisition are replanted with pine seedlings and dense pine stands are selectively thinned. Roller chopping is used to reduce heavily overgrown palmetto areas and to return the vegetation to the primary stages of plant succession, which benefits many species of wildlife. Roller chopping also reduces the volume of volatile fuels, which deters potentially dangerous wildfires. The regular application of prescribed fire further reduces hazardous fuel accumulation, improves wildlife habitat and restores fire-dependent ecological communities, such as pine flatwoods favored by the pawpaw and the red-cockaded woodpecker. Chemical and mechanical treatments help control invasive nonnative vegetation. Managers work closely with adjacent landowners to set the timing and volume of seasonal flow via existing wetlands and water control structures, thus mimicking natural water movement through the land. In addition to the management work described here, FWC biologists rely on a wide range of techniques to ensure that natural areas throughout the state stay healthy for wildlife and inviting to visitors.