SEBRING -The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has received a $25,000 grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund to restore 20 acres of scrub habitat in the Lake Wales Ridge Wildlife and Environmental Area (WEA), in Highlands and Polk counties.
The three-year project will restore part of the scrub ecosystem that occurs in patches throughout the state but is concentrated along the central spine of peninsular Florida in these two counties, a FWC news release adds.
"Sandy scrub habitat supports many native species, including endangered and threatened wildlife such as the Florida scrub-jay, gopher tortoise and Southeastern American kestrel," the news release adds.
The work at Lake Wales Ridge WEA will involve removing invasive exotic plants and re-establishing native plants such as saw palmetto, scrub palmetto and scrub holly.
"We want to thank Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund for its $25,000 grant, an investment in restoring Florida scrub habitat in the Lake Wales Ridge WEA," said Mike Brooks, the FWC's Wildlife and Habitat Management section leader. "Scrub habitat is what remains of ancient sand dunes and shorelines from seas that once covered much of Florida, and it is a critical ecosystem for survival of imperiled species such as the Florida scrub-jay and gopher tortoise."
The project will involve the local community through the volunteer efforts of the FWC's Ridge Rangers program.
Ridge Rangers will assist with growing select scrub plants in an onsite nursery/greenhouse, collecting and planting acorns and scrub palmetto berries, and setting out native scrub plants.
The long-term goal is to restore native vegetation in this area of the Lake Wales Ridge WEA to support imperiled wildlife, with the habitat maintained by use of prescribed fire to mimic the natural cycle of fire necessary to conserve this natural landscape, the news release adds.
The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund works to protect species and habitats, and connect kids to nature to help develop lifelong conservation values. Since its founding in 1995, the fund has supported more than 1,000 conservation programs in 112 countries, the news release adds.
To learn about scrub habitat, go to MyFWC.com/WildlifeHabitats, and click on the "Scrub" link under "Habitat Information."