Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
The Florida Forest Service currently manages over 1 million acres of forested land across the state of Florida. There is a plethora of diverse natural communities to be found on these public landscapes, approximately 30% of which are classified as jurisdictional wetlands.
Wetlands play many key hydrologic roles in the health of our environment. These roles include groundwater recharge, attenuation of floodwaters, and the filtration of nutrients and pesticides found in surface runoff. They also provide food and shelter for many wildlife species, including most of the state's current threatened and endangered species. Additionally, many endangered plant species grow exclusively in Florida's wetlands.
Much of the land now managed by the Florida Forest Service has been impacted to varying degrees by previous human activities. Many wetlands found today on state forests had been drained, while others had been impounded or filled for varying land use purposes in the past. Altering wetlands in this way not only significantly impacted the natural communities and hydrological function of the wetlands themselves, but that of adjacent communities and connected off-site water resources as well.
Healthy, functional wetlands retain stormwater drainage and slowly release it downstream over an extended period of time (hydroperiod), while channelized wetlands quickly release the accumulating rain waters, causing flooding downstream and perhaps causing the wetland to dry out more quickly than normal. In certain parts of the state, such a "dry-down" can make wetlands with deep organic soils vulnerable to muck fires that are difficult to extinguish, causing lingering smoke problems for nearby developments and traffic corridors.
Also, such an acceleration of freshwater discharge from wetlands adjacent to saltwater ecosystems can cause problems by rapidly changing salinity levels, which can disrupt fish and invertebrate breeding cycles and reduce the shellfish populations in these areas.
In view of these effects on wetland communities, the Florida Forest Service has made wetland restoration an integral part of our total resource management strategy on state forests. Through partnerships with the state's five Water Management Districts, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), and other public and private entities, over 100,000 wetland acres on state forests have been enhanced or restored since the program was initiated in 2000. Funding for many of these projects is made possible through cooperative arrangements between the Florida Forest Service and local, state and federal government agencies. As of October 2010, almost $5 million has been spent on state forest wetland restoration projects.
Examples include enhancement projects on the Little-Big Econ and Seminole State Forests, funded through FDOT mitigation, and administered by the Water Management Districts; wetland restoration and enhancement projects on the Blackwater River and Lake Wales Ridge State Forests, funded by federal grants; and wetland restoration mitigation projects, again administered by the Water Management Districts and FDEP, on the Tate’s Hell, Jennings, and Point Washington State Forests.
In 2007 the Florida Forest Service began conducting a Wetland Restoration Needs Assessment on all state forests with impaired wetlands. This information is made available to the public through postings on the Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Ecological Restoration Database (FERI) as the information becomes available.