Limestone caves form where streams disappear and resurface
Habitats provide the food, water, shelter and space animals need to thrive and reproduce. Half Moon WMA features a diverse mosaic of natural and old field plant communities. The Withlacoochee River and its hardwood swamp comprise the southern and western borders of the management area.
The heart of the WMA contains pine flatwoods with marshes and oak hammocks scattered throughout. The Gum Slough spring run and its floodplain forest are situated on the northern edge of the property. Scrubby flatwoods and the Mill Creek swamp comprise much of the eastern side. Half Moon also has pockets of baygall, sandhill and wet flatwoods. Numerous rare plants occur here, including the giant airplant, plume polypody, yellow butterwort, blue butterwort, angle pod and cardinal flower.
The FWC strives to restore and maintain a diversity of habitats on Half Moon WMA to benefit a wide array of wildlife species and provide nature-based recreation. While in private ownership, many land management practices had negative impacts on wildlife and native habitats. These included ditching, poor timber management, conversion of uplands to pastures, and logging of most forested wetlands at Half Moon in the early 20th century. Righting many of these past wrongs has become a primary focus of FWC and area managers.
Some of the techniques area personnel use to aid in the management and restoration process include prescribed burning, tree planting, tree thinning, roller chopping and disking. Native plants and seeds, as well as longleaf pines, are planted on Half Moon to help expedite the restoration process. Grain crops like sorghum and millet are planted in disturbed areas to provide supplemental wildlife food and cover.
Longleaf pine was the original dominant tree on the uplands and is thus the species used in reforestation on Half Moon. Past logging and conversion to pasture removed much of the old-growth longleaf pine, leaving slash, loblolly and pond pine in the wetter, more inaccessible sites where they were normally confined by fire. Today, regular prescribed burns keep the fire-dependent longleaf pine habitat healthy.
In cattle-grazed areas, flatwoods restoration is a challenge since cattle can trample and destroy seedlings and small trees. Cattle grazing, especially at the very low stocking rate of over 50 acres per cow/calf unit found on Half Moon, does have some management advantages. Grazing sets back ecological succession to an earlier stage and reduces fuel near the ground in a way similar to prescribed burning. Cattle grazing also produces revenue and provides for the multiple use of public land.
Within 500 acres of potential Florida scrub-jay habitat, specific management techniques include longer intervals between prescribed burns and mechanical control of oversized oak. These techniques help maintain and expand areas of scrubby flatwoods suitable for Florida scrub-jays.
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.