Big Bend - Habitat and Management
Habitats provide the food, water, shelter and space animals need to thrive and reproduce. Each of the five units that comprise the Big Bend WMA have some slight habitat and elevation variations, but primary natural communities in each one are typical of the region and include hydric hammock, mesic flatwoods, tidal marsh and basin swamp. Numerous streams and rivers flow through or adjacent to the area. Rare plants observed at Big Bend include beaked spikerush, Chapman’s sedge, corkwood, palegreen orchid, pinewood dainties, pondspice, sandhill spiny pod and southern crabapple.
Within the WMA, freshwater springs, tidal creeks, swamps, depression ponds and freshwater marshes are an important source of high-quality surface water, which helps replenish the Floridan Aquifer and sustains healthy salt marshes, seagrass beds and other submerged habitats in the Gulf of Mexico.
Prior to state purchase, virtually all of the forested portions of Big Bend WMA were logged. The original longleaf pine was clear-cut and replaced with fast growing slash, loblolly, and sand pine; large cypress trees were harvested from swamps. Large-scale restoration is underway.
Uplands and wetlands were altered by previous logging activity (construction of ditches and raised trams) associated with commercial timber production. Today, biologists are restoring natural water flow and groundcover using tools such as roller chopping and other mechanical treatments, invasive plant and animal control, prescribed fire, low water crossings, culverts, timber thinning and planting of native grasses and longleaf pine seedlings. Wildlife openings are managed with periodic mowing and burning to benefit wildlife that thrives in early successional communities-pollinators, southeastern American kestrel, red-shouldered hawk, red-tailed hawk, northern harrier, barred owl, great horned owl, eastern meadowlark, eastern bluebird as well as deer, turkey, quail, and dove.
Water control structures help biologists regulate water and salinity levels in the man-made Hickory Mound Impoundment, creating suitable habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and marine species. The impoundment provides opportunities for waterfowl hunting, crabbing, fishing and wildlife viewing.
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.