Land Management Review: Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area 2020

by Stacy Klema, Cuplet Fern Chapter Board Member

This land management review happened in January. Please follow and adhere to CDC guidelines pertaining to the public health crisis at this time. 

The beautiful FWC sign at the main entrance.

Late this past January, a two-day land management review was performed at Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area - a 30,701 acre property located in Orange County. Every five years the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission evaluates the property, along with representatives from user groups, the Florida Forest Service and the Florida Native Plant Society. It is our job to document the land use, management practices, make suggestions and applaud efforts. With this particular review, we found a lot of great things happening on the property.

A roller chopper.

Tosohatchee encompasses close to a dozen natural Florida communities. Some of these include scrubby flatwoods, bay gall, floodplain marsh and swamp, mesic flatwoods and hydric hammocks. Keeping these areas as close to native as possible requires constant attention and maintenance. Currently, there are four students who spray for exotic species and each do this for 20 hours a week. Prescribed burning, which is a vital practice to keep native plants as the dominant species, is performed on over 18,000 acres. 4,000 acres are burned annually. This daunting process involves a highly skilled gentleman roller-cropping the area first in and around the giant longleaf pine trees (Pinus palustris). The area is then given 6 months for the debris to dry and turn into tinder. This timeframe also allows smaller pines that did get chopped a chance to heal the top of their roots, strengthen, and be ready for the upcoming fire. With constant public use and varying wind directions, this is quite an accomplishment for the manager, Tom O’Neil.

Tosohatchee is home to close to 100 Florida-endangered Hand Ferns (Cheiroglossa palmata syn. Ophioglossum palmatum), growing in old leaf bases of cabbage palmetto (Sabal palmetto). A survey of the entire property was done to document the locations and there are plans to repeat this survey.

The Land Management Review revealed some other excitement within Tosohatchee. Florida Black Bears have been known to pass through the area, but recently a female has taken up permanent residence. This has led to changes, including bear-proof garbage facilities. One of the more fascinating reveals was that of a World War II airplane crash site. Area archaeologists, historians and park staff have been recovering artifacts, some completely intact. Cadaver dogs brought in were able to smell the remains of the victims in the plants growing on top of the crash. The staff is closely guarding the location, but plans for a memorial in the park are in the works.

Tosohatchee WMA is a wonderful representation of natural Florida. Tom O’Neil and his staff work extra hard to make sure of this and that effort shows. The countless species and general public are fortunate to have such a place available.

A view on one of Tosohatchee's 60 miles of trails.

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