The NWTF recently finished its GOAL (Greater Okefenokee Association of Landowners) Stewardship Agreement, a seven-year shared stewardship agreement between the NWTF and the USDA Forest Service on the Osceola National Forest, benefitting about 7,000 acres of wildlife habitat since the agreement’s outset.
Located in northeast Florida, the nearly 200,000-acre national forest is commonplace for many recreational activities amongst tourists and Floridians alike, including hunting, fishing, cycling and camping, among others. The forest is also home to an abundance of wildlife species and features unique landscapes, including the historical, yet threatened, longleaf pine ecosystem.
Longleaf pine ecosystems once dominated the southeastern coastal plains at an estimated 90 million acres and have since dwindled to fewer than 3 million fragmented acres in Florida due to development and urbanization. However, organizations like the NWTF and the Forest Service are committed to ensuring these special ecosystems are healthy, resilient and continue to provide robust habitat for game and nongame species.
“The shared stewardship agreement between NWTF and the USFS was focused primarily on conserving and enhancing the present longleaf pine ecosystem,” NWTF District Biologist Ricky Lackey said. “We implemented numerous active land management practices, such as timber thinning, roller chopping, prescribed burning, converting planted slash pine back to historical longleaf and much more.”
These land management exercises opened the forest canopy to a more natural state, allowing more sunlight to reach the forest floor. This promotes highly diverse and vigorous groundcover, making prescribed fire more effective, which increases the overall habitat quality for many plant and wildlife species.
“Often, people see timbering as bad for a forest,” Lackey said. “However, selective timbering done properly under the supervision of organizations like NWTF will result in a well-managed, healthy forest that is ideal for the plant and wildlife species that inhabit it. Better yet, under stewardship agreements with the USFS, funds used from the timber sales go directly back into funding other land management practices. It is a win across the board.”