Okaloacoochee Slough - Habitat and Management
Habitats provide the food, water, shelter and space animals need to thrive and reproduce. At Okaloacoochee Slough, diverse natural communities include a central slough system, basin marshes, depression marshes, wet prairies, mesic hammocks and mesic flatwoods, with some areas of pasture.
Okaloacoochee Slough WMA covers over 34,700 acres. The Florida Forestry Service (FFS) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) share management responsibilities. FFS is responsible for land management on 31,902 acres while FWC is responsible for land management on 2,798 acres and manages hunting activities across the entire WMA.
Plant and animal communities at Okaloacoochee Slough were altered by human activities that disrupted natural fire cycles and water flows and removed native timber to create areas for cattle grazing, as well as row crop and timber production. To increase the value of plant communities for native wildlife, some of these disturbed areas are now being restored to native habitats.
Restoration of pine flatwoods may involve thinning, followed by prescribed burning and reforestation. In addition to managing existing flatwoods communities, FWC intensely manages approximately 400 acres of ground cover restoration with herbicides, planting native flatwoods species and burning to restore historic pine flatwoods from pasture. Regular prescribed burning will provide long-term maintenance of this plant community. Prescribed fire is one of the most important tool land managers use and is critical to the health of upland and many wetland plant communities. Regular burns maintain existing fire-adapted habitats and increase the native plant diversity.
To restore the natural hydrology of the area, some ditches, swales and borrow pits are filled and low water crossings constructed to replace culverts. Invasive nonnative plants such as Old World climbing fern, Brazilian pepper, torpedo grass, cogon grass, West Indian marsh grass and others are controlled through prescribed fire and chemical or mechanical means. Feral hogs, a nonnative species, cause great harm to vegetation and soils by uprooting plants in search of food. They currently exist at relatively low densities on this WMA. The Florida panther is known to prey on this species.
In addition to the management work described, biologists with the FWC rely on a wide range of techniques to ensure that natural areas throughout the state stay healthy for wildlife and inviting to visitors.