Florida State Park Resource Management Philosophy
The Florida State Parks system was created in 1935 to preserve representative portions of the state's
original natural lands for all time, and to make them accessible for public enjoyment and recreation. The
state park system has grown to encompass over 600,000 acres of diverse conservation lands – a
substantial and irreplaceable part of the public's natural heritage. However, simply acquiring land does
not ensure preservation of its resources. The lands must be actively managed to retain the values for which
they were acquired.
The health of Florida's ecosystems depends on dynamic natural processes associated with fire, hydrology,
and a delicate ecological balance between native species. Our resource management goal is to restore and
maintain the original landscapes of Florida State Parks by reestablishing these processes. In this way we
insure that citizens and visitors experience healthy old–growth forests, wildflower–blanketed
prairies, free–flowing springs, and an abundance of diverse native wildlife in The Real Florida.
Natural resource management of the uplands in Florida State Park system involves four major activities: prescribed
exotic species control, hydrological
restoration, and other kinds of habitat
restoration. Most of this work is done by park staff as a part of their day to day activities, which also
include the many other aspects of providing recreational facilities and opportunities to about 17 million park
The Florida Park Service manages more than 300,000 acres that are in "fire–dependant"
natural communities requiring prescribed burning on different fire–return intervals (ranging from 2 to
Historical Role of Wildland Fire in Florida
The critical role that fire plays in maintaining many of the earth's ecosystems is now widely recognized.
Largely because more lightning strikes occur per square mile in Florida than any other place in North America,
fire is one of the primary natural forces under which Florida's land ecosystems have evolved. Before there
were roads, canals, modern agriculture, or big cities, lightning–set fires frequently swept almost
unimpeded across Florida's landscape. Over thousands of years, many natural habitats have evolved under
the influence of periodic fire and are dependent on fire today.
Restoration and maintenance of such fire–dependent habitats now requires prescribed burning –
the mimicking of lightning fires by carefully introducing fire according to detailed control plans called "prescriptions."
On average, more than 33,000 acres of state park lands are burned each year, either through prescribed burning,
naturally occurring fires, or a combination of both.
Maintaining Our Natural and Cultural Heritage
As the human population of the state has grown and fire has been increasingly excluded from natural lands,
fire–dependent habitats have drastically declined. As a result, many unique plants and animals needing
these habitats are disappearing.
The open piney woods, ever–blooming prairies, and aromatic scrubs of Florida and the unique species
they support are an irreplaceable part of Florida's natural and cultural heritage. They not only provide a
source of enjoyment and inspiration, but continue to play a vital role in shaping the character and spirit of
the people of Florida. If our native fire–dependent habitats and species were lost, we would not only
lose a critical link to our past, but our quality of life would be diminished.
Of Florida's 44 land–based natural community types, 17 depend on periodic fire for their continued
existence and 16 more benefit from an occasional fire. Without fire, applied at appropriate frequencies and
intensities, many of Florida's fire–dependent natural communities and the species that depend on
them would gradually disappear – forever.
With prolonged fire exclusion, fire–resistant hardwood species begin to invade and dominate many fire–dependent
communities. Over time, the entire structure and species composition of such areas change, often with much
less species diversity.
Rare Species Conservation
Many of Florida's rare and endangered species of animals and plants are dependent on periodic fire for
their continued existence. Without periodic fire, species such as the Florida scrub jay, Sherman's fox
squirrel, red–cockaded woodpecker, and white–top pitcher–plant would disappear forever.
Increased Wildlife Abundance
Prescribed burning of natural lands is known to increase abundance and health of many wildlife species,
including native game species such as deer, turkey, and quail.
Fire–dependent natural communities contain pyrogenic vegetation. In other words, species produce
vegetation that promotes the spread of fire. Over time these fuels gradually accumulate, making the occurrence
of fire increasingly likely. So for much of Florida's wildlands, it is not a question of whether an area
will burn or not, but WHEN.
With prolonged fire exclusion, fuel levels can become dangerously high. Under such conditions, a single
lightning strike or an ember from a backyard grill can cause a raging wildfire. With prescribed burning, we
are able to reduce fuel levels in natural communities under controlled conditions.
Burning In Your State Parks
Invasive Exotic Species Control
The ability of humans to transport plants and animals around the world has never been greater. This ability
is a double–edge sword – allowing ready access to many useful and beautiful plants and animals
from around the world, but also occasionally resulting in unruly and unwanted guests.
Invasive exotic species are now recognized to not only be a major agricultural problem (e.g., Mediterranean
fruit fly and Argentine fire ant), but are now seen as major factors worldwide in degradation of the
environment. Invasion and disruption of native habitats by certain rapidly spreading non–native plant
species is now recognized as one of the greatest threats to maintaining healthy and diverse ecosystems in
What Makes a Species Invasive?
When a species is moved into a region in which it is not native, it is often released from the natural
controls of its homeland – such as diseases and predatory insects. With few or no natural controls, some
exotic species are able to out–compete, displace, or destroy native species and their habitats.
Florida, a Land in Balance
Florida's native species have coexisted for thousands of years, gradually developing a relationship known
as "the balance of nature." Humans have introduced many exotic plant and animal species to Florida,
some of which are heavily invading our remaining natural habitats. In the worst cases, invasive exotic plants
displace diverse native communities and leave impenetrable single–species stands, and exotic animals
impact vast areas of diverse native groundcover and directly consume rare native species. The worst invasive
exotic plants, about 125 species, are tracked and listed by the Florida
Exotic Pest Plant Council (EPPC) . The most troublesome include Brazilian pepper, Australian pine, Chinese
tallow, cogon grass, air–potato, Japanese climbing fern, Old World Climbing fern, and hydrilla. The most
troublesome animal by far is the feral hog (from Eurasia).
If left unchecked, invasive exotic plants and animals would eventually completely alter the character,
productivity, and conservation values of the natural areas in Florida's State Parks. The Florida Park
Service actively removes invasive exotic species from state parks, with priority being given to those causing
the most ecological damage. In the case of plants, most removal involves selectively applying herbicides that
are carefully chosen to have very low toxicity to wildlife and humans, and very short environmental
persistence. Animals are removed according to established guidelines that insure humane treatment.
Learn more about invasive species by
visiting the University of Florida's Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants.
For most of its history as a state, much of Florida was thought to have too much water. In earlier times,
citizens were anxious to modify nature on a grand scale by draining the state's "swamps and
overflowed lands, " channelizing streams and rivers, and holding back floodwaters with major engineering
Today, with over 50% of the original wetlands drained, lakes and springs often polluted and drying up, and
frequent critical water shortages, the finite nature of Florida's freshwater resources is clear. Likewise,
the values of intact functioning natural systems for water resource conservation, native wildlife habitat, and
outdoor recreation are now widely recognized.
A Land Shaped by Water
Most of Florida's native habitats are precisely adapted to natural drainage patterns and seasonal water
fluctuations. Depth to water table and the timing and length of flooding frequently determine what type of
natural community occurs on a site. Even minor changes to natural hydrology can result in the loss of plant
and animal species from a site.
It is now recognized that ditches, berms, roads, stabilized lake levels, and excessive water use can have
severe and unwanted impacts on natural lands by altering both the amount of water present and the timing of
The Florida Park Service is charge by statute to restore, maintain, and protect the original character of
representative portions of the state's natural lands. However, it is now realized that the natural
hydrology of many state parks is impaired to some degree. This is often especially the case on park lands
recently acquired for conservation and recreation. To the extent possible, we are actively restoring the
original hydrology in state parks. We do this primarily by filling or plugging ditches, removing obstructions
to surface water "sheet flow," installing culverts under roads, and installing water control
structures to manage water levels.
Habitat restoration is a complex process often involving a combination of several activities, often
including the removal of invading species (loblolly pines, slash pines, pasture grass), reintroducing missing
species (wiregrass, longleaf pine), beach rebuilding (sand renourishment and planting sea oats and other beach
species), as well as the other management techniques discussed in the sections above.
Dedicated park staff also locate, identify, and manage endangered and threatened species such as scrub jays,
gopher tortoises, sea turtles, and beach mice. Such activities are an integral part of sensitive development
and providing public access while maintaining the delicate ecological balance.
Oversight, consultation and coordination for the above Natural Resource Management activities is provided
by the Bureau Of Natural And Cultural Resources. For more information, contact the bureau office in
Tallahassee. Due to disruption of natural processes, invasions by nonnative species, and large–scale
disturbances associated with past land uses, many of the natural lands now within Florida State Park
boundaries are in an impaired condition. We are identifying restoration needs and costs for these lands, and
estimate the current statewide restoration needs to be at least $60 million.