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two gopher tortoises, one hiding in shell and another looking from its burrow hole

Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

This WEA was established on land that was the location of Fort White, a military outpost established by U.S. Army troops in 1838 during the Second Seminole War. Supplies were brought up the Santa Fe River by steamboat and were distributed from Fort White to other military outposts and to settlers. Fort White was abandoned on June 26, 1842 because of illness among the troops. No remains of the fort are visible today.

Florida purchased most of the area comprising Fort White in 1997 for mitigation of the loss of gopher tortoise habitat to development. Prior to the initial purchase of 1,208 acres from the Elizabeth Tudeen estate, the property was open to public access. However, destructive activities such as off-road vehicle use and trash dumping degraded the site. Years of fire suppression resulted in excessive hardwood encroachment into the sandhills, which had a negative influence on the composition and quality of the ground cover. A small portion of the site was in row crop agriculture prior to 1949, and timber harvests were conducted into the mid-1980s. As a result, the amount of mature pine on Fort White WEA is limited.

In 2011, the FWC and the Suwannee River Water Management District entered into a cooperative agreement that granted lead management over a 281-acre tract to FWC. The parcel, known as the Santa Fe Oasis, is on the northern portion of the WEA, near the Santa Fe River. Surrounding land uses are primarily low-density rural residential, pine plantation forestry and improved pasture.