Management at Work
The high-quality habitats found within Florida’s wildlife management area system ensure abundant wildlife, help protect water sources that supply drinking water for the state’s growing population and create outstanding places to enjoy outdoor recreation. These areas are managed by teams of biologists and technicians with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission using some of the techniques described here.
Fire is so important to the long-term health of many of Florida’s ecosystems that it is prescribed by biologists. Before the benefits of fire were clearly understood, many wildfires, often started by lightning, were quickly extinguished. Today, highly skilled management teams deliberately set and carefully manage prescribed fires (sometimes called controlled burns), knowing that burning releases nutrients into the soil, stimulates seeds to sprout and helps control invasive plants and woody undergrowth that shade out native wildflowers and grasses valuable to wildlife. Learn how prescribed fire benefits wildlife and people.
Roller chopping and mowing
When fire has been absent for an extended period of time, an undesirable, dense growth of shrubs and trees can quickly overtake a natural area, making it less attractive to wildlife and more prone to wildfires that are difficult to control. Roller chopping or mowing this growth before burning allows for safer, more effective fires. Roller chopping is also sometimes done after burning to prepare for planting in areas being restored. In habitats such as scrub, roller chopping is also used to create open areas attractive to scrub-jays, sand skinks, scrub lizards and gopher tortoises.
During thinning, some trees in a forest are removed, allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor and promoting a greater variety of plant growth to attract wildlife. This practice is common in areas with dense stands of planted pines. The management team often burns an area after thinning it.
Creating healthy wildlife management areas sometimes involves replanting the vegetation that originally grew in the area (groundcover restoration) or restoring natural water flow (hydrological restoration). For example, restoration is typically required after previous landowners have logged out native pine and cypress trees, or planted pasture grasses for cattle or rows of pine and citrus for commercial production. Many times, they also constructed ditches or earthen dams to drain wetlands and dry out the land. Learn more about restoration projects statewide.
Controlling nonnative invasive species
The rapid growth and spread of invasive, nonnative plants and animals pose major threats to Florida’s natural areas and wildlife, causing economic and environmental damage, and potentially harming human health. From the fire ant and Burmese python to Brazilian pepper and Japanese climbing fern, invasive, nonnative animals and plants create expensive and time-consuming problems for the management team. They fight back by removing invasive plants or treating them with environmentally safe chemicals; problem wildlife are removed or controlled through hunting.
The team monitors fish and wildlife populations to determine population trends and evaluate the effectiveness of management techniques. This includes tasks as varied as mapping the locations and abundance of threatened wildlife and their critical habitats, to conducting deer spotlight counts and quail call counts. Improving wildlife populations often involves erecting nest boxes for wood ducks, bats, blue birds and kestrels; creating dove fields and planting high-quality forage in food plots and wildlife openings; or relocating wildlife, such as the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, to wildlife management areas where they once occurred.
Because management teams work to create and maintain outstanding habitats for fish and wildlife, wildlife management areas are popular destinations for activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, bicycling and wildlife viewing. To create enjoyable experiences for visitors, the team maintains roads, trails, fence lines, parking areas, fishing docks, campgrounds, restrooms and other amenities. They manage public access to avoid disturbing wildlife, and to protect archaeological and historical resources. They also run check stations during seasonal hunts to monitor the overall health of harvested species populations.