Ecosystem Restoration on the Ocala National Forest
As the southernmost National Forest in the continental United States, the Ocala National Forest’s geography and climate combine to create an enchanting and unique sanctuary for Florida’s diverse wildlife. Supporting a vast majority of this wildlife are the Ocala’s longleaf forests.
A healthy longleaf forest features the greatest vegetative diversity in North America, providing habitat for nearly 60 percent of the reptiles and amphibians in the southeastern United States, almost 900 endemic plant species, and 29 federally listed threatened or endangered species including the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) – a keystone species and federally listed as endangered.
Nesting only in mature live conifers in the southeastern United States, the RCW depends on longleaf pine forests for its habitat. Currently 98 RCW family groups live in the Ocala. This is an increase from the seven pairs that inhabited the Forest in the 1990s. Without action to increase current longleaf pine acreage, the species will not recover much beyond the current population.
Continued restoration activities include removing oak and other invasive species and planting longleaf pine seedlings in priority RCW habitat areas. We will plan community volunteer days to directly engage local residents and youth groups, and support the partnership between the Florida Councils of Boy Scouts and the Ocala National Forest.
As one of the most-visited forests in the country, the Ocala is beginning to show its use. We will improve access to Grasshopper Lake and reconstruct the fishing pier. We will also build a pier at the River Forest Group Campground for fishing opportunities. To minimize the human-bear interactions, the NFF has worked with the Forest Service and support from the Batchelor Foundation, to install bear-proof food lockers at all campsites on the forest.
Silver Glen Springs is a magical place on the Ocala National Forest. With crystal-clear water and a safe harbor from the large and windy Lake George, visitors enjoy boating, swimming, wildlife and bird watching, and fishing. Manatees use the Springs as a warm water refugia in the winter, and alligators and turtles are frequently seen patrolling the shallows.
The Working Group has also developed a joint vision and stewardship plan to guide the future of Silver Glen Springs and will finalize a Memorandum of Understanding to:
- provide a framework of cooperation;
- clarify roles and responsibilities; and
- improve communications regarding management of Silver Glen.
This cooperation, clarity, and improved communication will serve the mutual interest of all stakeholders.
The revitalization of these habitats, along with the enhancement of key trails and recreation sites will ensure that future generations can enjoy the diverse and ecologically important wonders that the Ocala has to offer.