Fort White - Habitat and Management
Habitats provide the food, water, shelter and space that animals need to thrive and reproduce. Fort White’s extensive sandhill community occurs with interspersed patches of mesic hammock, upland hardwood forest, floodplain forest and wetlands such as depression marsh and basin marsh. These diverse habitats support a variety of common and rare wildlife and plant species.
Over half of Fort White's acreage comprises sandhill habitat. Prior to state ownership, fire suppression resulted in excessive hardwood encroachment and degraded groundcover. A small portion of the property was in row crop agriculture prior to 1949 and timber harvests were conducted into the mid-1980s. Today, the area is actively managed to restore the natural functions of the habitats.
Four rare and protected plant species occur here: spiked crested coralroot orchid, sandhill spiny-pod, cardinal flower and atamasco lily.
Fort White was acquired with funds received through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Mitigation Park Program. In April 2011, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) entered into a Cooperative Management Agreement granting the FWC lead management responsibility over a 281-acre tract of land titled to the SRWMD. This tract, located on the north end of the area, is known as the Santa Fe Oasis and has been incorporated into the WEA, bringing the total size of the area to approximately 1,610 acres.
Prescribed fire, mechanical and chemical vegetation controls are used to manage the natural communities on Fort White. Regular burning reduces fuel loads, lessens the chance of catastrophic wildfires, and enhances natural communities for the benefit of wildlife. Many of the area’s focal species are adapted to open canopied uplands with fire-maintained herbaceous ground cover. Therefore, frequent fire is essential to maintaining suitable habitat for these species. Additionally, fire-maintained ephemeral wetlands in these upland habitats are essential to several focal species.
Biologists erected nest boxes for the Southeastern American kestrel and these are maintained and checked during the April and May nesting season. Regular monitoring for the presence of other protected species is an ongoing activity.
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.