Restoring the Land
THE LONGLEAF & WIREGRASS ECOSYSTEM
Prescribed burns are a necessary component of successful land restoration plans, and key in restoring longleaf pine and wiregrass ecosystems.
From lower Virginia to Louisiana and down into Central Florida, this ecosystem adapted over millions of years to cyclical fire events, generally occurring every three to seven years. As the Native people and settlers learned to benefit from this natural process, so too can we learn to control fire for its ecological benefits.
Prescribed fire mimics lightning fires, but under conditions that safeguard human health and safety. These low-intensity fires help maintain the rich ground flora and park-like appearance of a healthy longleaf pine and wiregrass ecosystem.
Within 6 months to 2 years following a prescribed burn, vigorous regrowth quickly provides high-quality browse for wildlife, while unburned patches provide cover for wildlife. Two to three years following a burn, shrubs begin to shade out herbaceous species.
If too much time elapses between fires (20 years or more) dense hardwood brush begins to rob the lower plants of sunlight, while plant and animal diversity becomes drastically reduced. It also creates an excess accumulation of fuel for unplanned wild fires which are both destructive and cause human safety concerns.
For more information on the importance of prescribed fires visit FreshFromFlorida.com.
An eleven-acre tract on the northwest corner of the Preserve, is encircled by our Red Trail. This area was formerly dominated by planted sand pines. Over the last three years, this area has been undergoing extensive efforts to restore it back to the sandhill plant community, which existed in this area before the site was cleared for citrus.
The process began with the harvesting of the sand pines and later re-planted with native plant species found in a sandhill community. The sand pines normally occur in a native scrub community and have little habitat value. Ecologic restoration is very valuable in replacing habitat for a number of species that have been greatly reduced when natural areas were cleared for development or agriculture. Keystone species in the sandhill community include the threatened gopher tortoise, endangered Indigo snake, bobwhite quail, and many other different species of birds, and insects.
The grant used to acquire much of the land in the Preserve requires restoration and the environmental education programs presented here focus on the restoration of damaged uplands, wetlands, and Lake Apopka. Long-term restoration plans for this upland area include future controlled burns, essential for maintaining balanced plant communities.
The Preserve is home to four ecological zones:
- Upland Forest
- Wetland Edge
- Forested Wetland
- Lake Apopka