Chassahowitzka - Habitat and Management
Within Chassahowitzka an extensive expanse of hardwood swamp is punctuated with creeks, marshes, scrub islands, and springs. Tidal marsh is found directly along the coast in the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.
Farther inland are flatwoods and sandhill interspersed with wet prairies, freshwater marshes, and cypress domes. Running north-south about 3 to 4 miles from the coast on historic sand dunes are remnants of the rare scrub community.
Plant and animal communities at Chassahowitzka WMA have been modified by past human activities. These included logging (pines, cypress, and red cedar trees), constructing associated roads and railroad trams, converting native habitats to pine plantations, pasture, and suppressing fires. Through a contract with the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI), the Commission mapped the current plant communities; in the future, historic plant communities will also be mapped. This information guides habitat management and restoration.
Commercial stands of planted slash and sand pines are cleared or thinned and replanted with longleaf pine seedlings. When necessary, shredders take down thick hardwood in the sandhills and along firebreaks in order to to make prescribed fire more effective. Periodic controlled burns maintain scrub habitat in a condition suitable for imperiled species such as gopher tortoises.
Thousands of acres of Chassahowitzka WMA are covered by hardwood swamps and forests, and punctuated by creeks, marshes, and springs. These wetlands work hard, providing flood protection and storm buffering to nearby communities; replenishing the drinking water aquifer below the land's surface; sheltering wildlife such as the Florida black bear; and providing clean, fresh water to the productive coastal marshes. To protect these functions, managers are working with the Florida Springs Initiative to locate and map springs and other sensitive wetlands and limit public access, when necessary.
Invasive plants such as skunk vine, cogongrass, and air potato are controlled through chemical or mechanical means. Recreational hunting keeps the population of feral hogs in check. They may cause harm when they uproot plants as they search for food.
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.