Following successful pilot projects, SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management has been focused on clearing vegetation overgrowth and reopening wetlands canopies to encourage flora diversification and healthier habitats for wildlife.
The first restoration efforts on SCCF lands with a new John Deere tractor and skid-steer purchased in 2019 are showing remarkable results. Our thanks to Anne Nobles and David Johnson for funding the tractors’ purchase. Clearing work on small sections of the Erick Lindblad Preserve and Frannie’s Preserve began shortly after receiving the new equipment, although the onset of the 2019 rainy season slowed efforts. “One of the largest tasks is maintaining historically open-canopy wetlands from hardwood trees and shrubby vegetation invasion,” said Chris Lechowicz, SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Director. “The 2019 pilot areas had been a mixture of wetlands and transitional wetlands that were no longer functional for most species we manage for.”
Other areas that include transitional wetlands with dense and high-reaching trees and bushes were also cleared in early 2020. The invasion of buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus), saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia), and wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), which are all native plants, into wetlands change the groundcover and, ultimately, the canopy cover. Seasonal wildfires historically kept the groundcover—and these habitats—in balance. Choked canopies limit the presence of certain forms of wildlife, including wading birds and the Sanibel rice rat. Controlled burning, periodic mowing, and removing select trees in wetlands keep these areas functional for the wildlife species that use them.
The areas that were cleared first are now mostly low-growing sawgrass (Juncus jamaicense) and cordgrass (Spartina bakeri) with a spattering of other species.
“The reopened canopy now allows sunlight to reach these native grasses and other plants that are low to the ground,” Lechowicz said. “The open canopy also allows wading birds to find open pools during the wet season as well as access for their predators. More areas are planned for this type of restoration in the coming year.”