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Natural Communities Management:
Management Tools

Starting a prescribed fire with drip torches. (Photo by Karla Brandt)

Mopping Up
After a prescribed fire, a crew member puts out a smoldering stump. The hose is attached to a water tank on the back of a pickup truck. (Photo by Karla Brandt)

By using the right tools at the right time, managers can promote the health and productivity of the natural communities in their care. These tools include:

Fire: Many of the upland natural communities in the ARROW region require fire to maintain their plants and animals. Some plants cannot grow from seed unless their seeds find an open patch of ground without competition from other plants. Fire, applied correctly, can supply these little patches. Other plants don’t flower, or don’t flower as much, if they are not burned at the right time of year. Wiregrass, the foundation plant of the sandhills, needs fire in the spring to flower and produce seed in the fall. Planned applications of fire is called prescribed or controlled burning, and requires expertise, experience, and common sense, particularly when burning areas that haven’t had fire in a long time where hardwoods and brush have accumulated to a high level. While burned areas may be unsightly immediately after a fire, grasses will start to sprout in just a few days or weeks, and in a matter of months the ground will be blanketed with greenery and flowers. Animals in natural communities that need fire are well adapted to it. They burrow into the soil or hide in gopher tortoise burrows or hollow trees until the danger has passed. Many birds are attracted to fire, either while it’s burning or in the following weeks, because insects are easy to find.

Hydrological Restoration: Restoring the natural patterns of water flow can do a lot for a natural community. Some wetlands, for example, are adapted to seasons with no water. If a dike is built surrounding the wetland to keep water in all year, the wetland will not function properly. Removing that dike can start the wetland on the road back to ecological health. In Tate’s Hell State Forest, biologists are investigating ways to restore the natural flows in a large area that is now drained by ditches. (When Tate’s Hell was a tree farm, managers didn’t want water to move slowly across the land so they dug a lot of ditches to quickly drain the land.) Now the Florida Division of Forestry has started the arduous and long-term project of restoring the natural communities there by formulating and carrying out a strategy to restore the slow sheet flow of water as it was before. The Florida Department of Enviromental Protection now has a web portal whose focus is on the restoration of wetlands and associated uplands. The Florida Wetland Restoration Information Center can be accessed at the url

At the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve, volunteers have hand-planted thousands of longleaf pine seedlings. (Photo by Karla Brandt)
Planting: Tree farmers have been using this tool for many years, giving their plantations a head start by planting seedling trees instead of sowing seeds. Natural community restoration can involve planting seedlings, too, not only of trees, but also of grasses and flowering non-woody plants.

Drilling Cavity
Biologist Michael Keys drills an artificial cavity for red-cockaded woodpeckers on the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by Karla Brandt)
Habitat enhancement: Sometimes a declining animal’s habitat has been altered to the point where the animal just can’t find what it needs, so people create artificial habitats to tide the animal over until its habitat can be restored. For example: To carve its nest cavity, the red-cockaded woodpecker requires big old pines with a disease that softens the wood, making excavation a little easier. After a century of intensive tree-cutting throughout the red-cockaded woodpecker’s range, these big old pines have become rare. Biologists have installed artificial nest boxes in pines to substitute for the bird’s preferred trees, and the birds have made use of them. The artificial nest box sometimes has reinforcement around the entrance hole, making it harder for other species to enlarge the hole and take over the cavity. Pretty thoughtful, those wildlife biologists.

Ecopassages: Mortality on the highway can take a toll on many species, particularly reptiles. In places where animals must cross a road to get to better habitat, tunnels can be installed underneath the road to give animals a safe passage. Low walls are built to funnel the animals into the tunnel. Such a tunnel, called an “ecopassage,” has reduced roadkill substantially at some localities such as Paynes Prairie State Preserve near Gainesville.

Looking for larvae
FNAI Senior Scientist Dan Hipes uses a net to look for salamander larvae in Tate's Hell State Forest. The first step in managing natural areas is to find out what species live in them. (Photo by Karla Brandt)
Biological surveys: Biologists have various techniques to find out and keep track of what species use a particular area. Some, such as surveys of reptiles and amphibians, involve trapping and releasing animals, keeping records of what species and how many were found in the traps during what times of year. Many of these species are secretive and well-camouflaged, so trapping makes their identities known and does little, if any, harm to the animals. Surveying for animals signs, such as tracks, burrows, and nests, is also useful. Birds can be identified by their songs and calls. Radio transmitters and satellite transmitters can be attached to animals, giving researchers information on where they go and what route they take. A hefty dose of statistics is often a big part of survey design, which makes the results scientifically acceptable. From these surveys, land managers have a more comprehensive inventory of what biological resources are located where on their lands and how to better manage those lands for the benefit of those species.

Education: Land management can sometimes be improved merely through public education and outreach. For instance, some people are not aware of the value of a large dead tree (a “snag”) to many animal species. The more education that is provided to local residents about the surrounding land, the more those residents will appreciate its intricacies and want to ensure that those lands are not irreparably damaged. Environmental education can connect people with places. Its success is measured not by As and Bs but by the degree to which residents are inspired to get involved in actively caring for the places important to them.

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This page was last modified on : 01/25/2005

Florida Natural Areas Inventory
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Phone: (850) 224-8207
Fax: (850) 681-9364