Lovely blackwater stream
Habitats provide the food, water, shelter and space animals need to thrive and reproduce. Several natural communities provide habitat for the fish and wildlife found at Tosohatchee. The area's numerous streams, freshwater marshes and swamps, pine flatwoods, and hammocks are part of a mosaic of wildlife-rich, publicly-owned land within the St. Johns River Watershed. Tosohatchee’s habitats, and those of adjacent public lands, are essential to clean and store the water supplying the St. John's River.
Over the past 100 years, changes in the hydrology (amount and timing of water flow across the landscape), coupled with fire suppression, commercial timbering operations, and cattle grazing, have altered environmental conditions and changed the composition of some of the plant communities. Biologists have been working to restore habitats so that Tosohatchee continues to attract and sustain many resident and migratory wildlife species and offer visitors a glimpse of wild Florida along the St. Johns River.
Historically, plant and animal communities at Tosohatchee were shaped by alternating cycles of fire and flood. Over the years, canal construction, logging, cattle grazing, road or utility easement construction and the exclusion of fire, changed the landscape. Hydrological changes diverted water from the WMA, resulting in drier marshes overgrown with cabbage palms, wax myrtles and other shrubs and hardwoods. Without regular burning, hardwoods displaced the pines and associated groundcover and the animals dependent on them.
To restore historic water flow, some ditches and canals were filled, and culverts, bridges and low-water crossings were constructed on roads. FWC staff also work with adjacent landowners to improve the quality and quantity of water moving through Tosohatchee's habitats.
Regular prescribed burning promotes growth of native groundcover
In freshwater marshes overgrown with cabbage palms, wax myrtles and other shrubs, biologists mechanically removing the overgrown vegetation just prior to burning. Overly dense pine stands are selectively thinned, then burned to reduce accumulated debris and eliminate encroaching hardwoods. Prescribed burns are usually conducted in spring and early summer. Native groundcovers that are important to wildlife grow vigorously in these burned areas when summer rains begin.
Nonnative invasive plants such as Chinese tallow, cogon grass, Brazilian pepper and wild taro, are removed using environmentally-safe chemicals and careful use of heavy equipment.
The nonnative feral hog causes great harm to native wildlife populations and vegetation by uprooting plants, searching for food. These wild hogs exist at moderate to high densities and are managed through hunting.
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.