Habitat Restoration Projects Move Upland
Habitat management and restoration of SCCF lands is a year-long effort that must be timed with the wet season, controlled-burn schedules, and the nesting behavior of various wildlife species. Many techniques are utilized to complete these goals. During the wet season, most of these efforts shift to the higher ground where SCCF crews still have access.
During the rainy season, restoration work in wetlands and transitional wetlands halts as rainwater builds up. That’s when the focus moves to the uplands and requires a slightly different style of effort. Wetlands and uplands restoration approaches are similar, such as the removal of excess woody vegetation and invasive exotic plants.
However, physical removals require a precise approach dictated by the use of heavy machinery. A skid-steer cannot maneuver through areas where certain trees will be left in place, so targeted trees are removed by hand and dragged out with machinery.
The primary purpose of thinning out shrubs and trees in the uplands is to enhance the ground forage plants (grasses) for gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus), which are a keystone species because of their burrows, which create habitats for many other wildlife species. In the absence of frequent fire, these open, grassy habitats fill with saplings and shrubs that eventually shade the area and limit the variety and density of grasses. Wax myrtle (Merica cerifera), salt bush (Baccharis halimifolia), gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba), and wild olive (Forestiera segregata) are typically the first to become established in these restored areas and quickly sprout, becoming dominant and overshadowing grass growth within three years.
During this time of the year, mowing and widening of the fire lines occurs due to the quick growth of vegetation. Frannie’s Preserve and the C. R. Johnston Tract contain some of the highest uplands on the island hosting a sizable gopher tortoise population. These areas are maintained for habitat management access to the property, for controlling wildfires, and for controlled burns.