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Accelerating Sandhill Restoration in the Trail Ridge Region

view of forest reflected on lens

The Terrestrial Habitat Research team is partnering with the Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT) on a large-scale sandhill restoration project in the Trail Ridge region east of Gainesville, with funding from the State Wildlife Grants (SWG) program. The Trail Ridge is one of peninsular Florida’s ancient ridges, which has remained above sea level for approximately 1.4 million years—an era characterized by many ice age cycles, during which the ridges became oceanic islands and served as refugia for native plants and animals. The soils of the Trail Ridge are extremely dry dune-like sands that support fire-prone longleaf pine sandhill plant communities, along with many animal Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

This project entailed two years of work by a full-time prescribed fire and restoration crew under the supervision of ACT. The crew applied mechanical and chemical hardwood removal treatments on 262 acres of fire-suppressed sandhill and embedded ephemeral wetlands, in order to reverse woody encroachment and facilitate the recovery of high-diversity herbaceous plant communities. Restoration sites are located at Gold Head Branch State Park, Camp Blanding, Little Rain Lake Preserve (a North Florida Land Trust property), Fox Pens preserve (an ACT property), and the Ordway-Swisher Biological Station (a UF property). In addition to the restoration projects on these sites, the roving crew conducted prescribed burns on a targeted 23,500 acres throughout the Trail Ridge region.

The role of FWRI’s Terrestrial Habitat research team in this endeavor is to conduct pre- and post-restoration plant-community monitoring throughout the restoration areas, in order to assess the effectiveness of treatments and document plant community assembly on restored sites. Pre-treatment monitoring was conducted  from Fall 2021 – Spring 2022, and post-treatment monitoring is being conducted from Fall 2023 – Spring 2024.