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SCCF Preserve Lands Will Take Time to Heal

February 21, 2024
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With ongoing chipping or removal of dead vegetation on SCCF properties, the landscape has taken on a different look while the ecosystems heal from the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Before the storm, many properties were lush with shrubby, dense vegetation including large stands of hardwood trees.

“Even though it may have looked natural or healthy to many people, we considered it overgrown and not in a natural state for how most of Sanibel existed before 1960 when it was primarily a grassland,” said Wildlife & Habitat Management Director Chris Lechowicz.

Shortly after Hurricane Ian’s storm surge, a large percentage of these densely vegetated areas were killed off due to their inability to withstand saltwater intrusion into their root systems for extended lengths of time.

State contractors provided a tremendous amount of cleanup effort with their large crews until their funding ran out. Since then, an SCCF contractor, as well as Wildlife & Habitat Management staff, and volunteers organized by Coastal Watch have been continuing this work, but there is still much to be done.

“The ongoing rain, caused by the El Niño event, has slowed down deceased vegetation removal in many areas due to the inability to get machinery and crews into those places,” said Lechowicz. “However, there are places that can still be restored and we are seizing the opportunity when possible.”

The dead vegetation can be left in some areas to break down naturally, but in other areas, it must be removed to allow future access on fire lines and to provide habitat for key wildlife species such as gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) and Sanibel Island rice rats (Oryzomys palustris sanibeli).

The cost to remove vegetation off island is astronomical, so piles of vegetation are being made in areas where pile burns can be done in the future.

“Restoration efforts on SCCF lands are a top priority that will take persistence and time,” he added.

Check here for upcoming volunteer opportunities to help clean up SCCF preserve lands.


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