Dinner Island - Habitat and Management
Originally, Dinner Island's dry prairies, cypress domes, freshwater marshes, pine flatwoods and hammocks were a part of the Kissimmee/Everglades Watershed. Slow moving water flowed from Lake Okeechobee's southern end and continued south and southwest down the peninsula, through the Big Cypress Swamp and eventually into Florida Bay. To satisfy the demand for flood protection and dry ranchlands, water flow across natural landscapes such as Dinner Island was altered by ditching and canal construction that began in the mid-19th century.
The disruption of natural fire cycles and planting of cattle forage, citrus and sugarcane further altered plant communities. Despite these changes, Dinner Island has continued to attract and sustain many resident and migratory wildlife species. Planned restoration will create habitat diversity and link the site to a growing mosaic of publicly-owned land that provides critical habitat for the Florida panther, Florida black bear and other listed species. Hydrological restoration in portions of the management area have been completed.
Plant and animal communities at Dinner Island have been modified by past human activities (i.e. drainage, exclusion of fire, conversion of native habitats to improved pasture, sugarcane and citrus groves).
Portions of the property are under contract with private companies to continue cattle grazing and citrus production. The long term goal is habitat enhancement and restoration for Florida panther and other listed species.
Cattle grazing is used as a tool to manage plant succession and maintain wildlife habitat diversity. To increase the value of this range for native wildlife, areas will be restored with pine flatwoods, wetlands, hardwood hammocks and other native plant communities where appropriate.
Prescribed fire is also used to manage existing desirable plant communities and increase the diversity of native groundcovers on flatwoods and wetland communities. Invasive exotics such as Brazilian pepper, tropical soda apple, wetland nightshade, Australian pine and smutgrass are controlled through chemical or mechanical means.
Feral hogs exist at low to moderate densities. This species causes great harm to vegetation when it uproots plants in search of food. Hunting opportunities help to control the population of feral hogs on Dinner Island.
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.