Suwannee - Habitat and Management
Habitats provide the food, water, shelter and space animals need to thrive and reproduce. Historically, Suwannee Ridge was a mix of upland pine forest, sandhill and mesic hammock interspersed with sinkholes. When the FWC assumed management of the area, more than 90 percent of its 1,428 acres had been converted to commercial plantations of slash, longleaf, sand and loblolly pine. These densely-planted trees shaded out grasses and wildflowers, eliminating valuable wildlife habitat.
Many of the sinkholes on the WEA contain very large trees, steep limestone walls and permanent water, making for some spectacular vantage points. Several rare plant species such as the Florida mountain-mint, Florida spiny-pod and the incised agrimony are protected here.
Suwannee Ridge is a great example of successful restoration at work. Biologists are using a variety of management techniques to benefit wildlife. Clearing and thinning of pines has opened up the tree canopy, allowing sunlight to reach the soil. Clear cuts have been planted with longleaf pine, and frequent burns, every 1 to 5 years, have been reinstituted. Prescribed fire helps prevent invasion by hardwoods and encourages the natural reseeding of wiregrass.
All these techniques are benefitting species such as the gopher tortoise and the southern fox squirrel. Other species, like Bachman’s sparrows, pine and eastern indigo snakes, and the northern bobwhite should return to the area or increase in numbers as habitat improves. The FWC’s wildlife managers also work cooperatively with neighboring landowners to magnify these effects. In addition to the management work described here, FWC biologists rely on a wide range of techniques to ensure that natural areas throughout the state stay healthy for wildlife and inviting to visitors.