Longleaf pine, turkey oak and wiregrass typify the sandhills
Habitats provide the food, water, shelter and space that animals need to thrive and reproduce. Well-managed sandhills provide outstanding habitat for wildlife at Bell Ridge Longleaf WEA.
The WEA has gently rolling hills and ridges that represent relict sand dunes. The predominant habitat is composed of widely spaced, mixed aged longleaf pine with an understory of turkey oak, sand live oak and post oak. The diverse herbaceous groundcover is dominated by wiregrass. Upland habitats support a healthy gopher tortoise population as well as other wildlife. Rain that falls on Bell Ridge percolates through sandy soils, rapidly replenishing underlying aquifers including the Floridan aquifer, a source of drinking water in the region. The State Endangered sandhill spiny-pod occurs here.
Land managers often use drip torches to initiate a prescribed fire
The forest is a benchmark example of a high-quality longleaf pine/turkey oak ecosystem. The primary management objective is to promote habitat conditions most critical to meeting the life history requirements of the gopher tortoise and other upland wildlife. To this end, biologists manage and protect the native habitats with selective hardwood control and an aggressive prescribed fire program. Prescribed fire is regularly applied across the area every two to three years to mimic the role natural fires played in maintaining the habitats. Occurrences of nonnative invasive plants are rare here.
In addition to the management work described here, biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rely on a wide range of techniques to ensure that natural areas throughout the state stay healthy for wildlife and inviting to visitors.