Habitats provide the food, water, shelter and space animals need to thrive and reproduce. At Branan Field WEA, pine flatwoods (both mesic flatwoods and wet flatwoods) are the predominant plant community and wildlife is abundant. Slash pine thrives in the seasonally wet conditions found in the wet flatwoods, while longleaf pines occur with slash pines in the higher, drier mesic flatwoods and sandhill habitats. Wiregrass, saw palmetto and gallberry are common understory plants. Low-lying wetter areas (basin swamp, dome swamp and depression marsh) support slash pine, pond cypress, swamp tupelo, red maple and shrubs such as wax myrtle, fetterbush, highbush blueberry and myrtle dahoon. Scattered, small areas of sandhill feature a sparse canopy of slash and longleaf pine with laurel oak and turkey oak. Carnivorous pitcher plants, sundews and showy wildflowers such as lupine occur throughout the area. Four imperiled plants - hooded pitcher plant, piedmont joint grass, giant orchid and Florida toothache grass – have been identified here. Surface waters on Branan Field WEA drain off-site to Yellow Water Creek, through Black Creek and into the St. Johns River.
Branan Field WEA was acquired with funds received through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Mitigation Park Program. The management goal on the area is to restore and maintain the habitats critical to the long-term benefit of state and federally listed upland species, particularly the gopher tortoise.
An enclosure protects hatchling gopher tortoises from predators
After coming into state ownership and management, commercial pine stands were thinned to open up dense tree canopies and stimulate the growth of ground-dwelling plants used for food by the gopher tortoise. A more open tree canopy also allows the sun’s heat to help incubate gopher tortoise eggs. Regular prescribed burning was introduced as a primary management tool. These burns mimic lightning-ignited fires, helping to control hardwood growth and promoting wiregrass and longleaf pine seed germination. Burns also help control hardwood encroachment in wetter areas dominated by slash pines and palmettos and help maintain the open character of the pine flatwoods.
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.