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The FWC's OBVM Program Systematically Tracks Progress Toward Land Management Goals

researchers in forest

The FWC is the lead managing agency for approximately 1.4 million acres of land across 42 Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) and Wildlife Environmental Areas (WEA) in Florida. To restore, develop and maintain healthy ecosystems throughout these expansive natural areas, the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s Upland Habitat scientists work with the FWC Division of Habitat and Species Conservation to develop, implement and advance an Objectives-Based Vegetation Management (OBVM) approach to land restoration and management. During a time when significant portions of the state's extraordinary lands and essential resources are lost to urbanization, this responsibility is paramount. 

The OBVM program emphasizes four things: 1) maintaining and restoring natural plant communities toward predetermined desired conditions; 2) monitoring progress towards that goal; 3) adapting land management practices and prescriptions to reach desired land conditions; and 4) providing solid quantitative data to guide land-management decisions. This approach enables science-based land management decisions by setting clear, measurable objectives for existing and historic natural communities, taking management actions towards achieving those objectives, and methodically monitoring vegetation response to specific land management actions at set intervals.

In general, actively managed natural communities are those ecosystems that are fire-dependent and can be managed effectively with mechanical treatments and prescribed burns. Examples are mesic, wet or scrubby flatwoods; sandhill; scrub; wet or dry prairie; depressions; or tidal marshes. Scientists differentiate these ecosystems from natural communities like hardwood and floodplain swamps or hardwood upland forests that are not managed or manipulated on a landscape scale. For these habitats, Upland Habitat scientists generally focus on community or ecosystem type, over-story (canopy) cover, herbaceous plant cover, pine-stand density, non-pine stem density and sub-canopy density. They also monitor additional attributes according to the unique conditions of each WMA or WEA. Once this vegetative data is collected and passes strict quality assurance standards, it is analyzed and used to assist FWC land managers in reaching their desired future conditions for each WMA or WEA.

The OBVM program is based on a theory of adaptive management. Scientists first summarize ecosystem structure and then compare it to desired future conditions. Over time, trends reveal vegetation responses to land management practices. If the vegetative structure in a given WMA or WEA does not correspond with the vegetative structure that is most desirable, land managers can use OBVM data to adapt their land management strategies and thus more effectively reach land management goals. In short, OBVM provides measurable data that reflects the cause-and-effect relationships between land management strategies and resulting land conditions. Ecosystem assessment and land management feedback help the FWC protect and maintain Florida’s magnificent public lands.

Three key concepts make OBVM unique: 1) defining measurable management objectives for long-term natural community management; 2) tying management objectives and actions to a permanent impact; and 3) systematically tracking progress towards management objectives.

ReferenceGuide to the Natural Communities of Florida 2010 Edition