Located on the outskirts of DeLand, Longleaf Pine Preserve is an area within the Florida Wildlife Corridor that protects over 12,000 acres of natural landscapes. The preserve consists of many parcels of land acquired over time, mostly between 2000 and 2007. The Volusia Forever program, a county taxpayer-funded conservation initiative, obtained the preserve in 2007. Nick Dunnam, the Resource Stewardship Interim Director at the preserve, said,
“We have seen an improvement ecologically since we’ve taken over management.”
According to Dunnam, the preserve has seen an increase in wildlife since its creation.
Plant and Animal Life on the Preserve
Longleaf Pine Preserve is made up of several different habitats such as, cypress stands, cypress domes, scrub, and flatwoods. Dunnam’s favorite of these is the flatwoods,
“The flatwoods represent what’s left of old Florida, and you can still see species here that have declined in other areas of the state, such as the bobwhite quail,” said Dunnam. The preserve is located within what’s called the palmetto curtain of Volusia County. “This palmetto curtain is the corridor that separates the urban areas of east Volusia County from the west side of the county. This corridor serves as a very important ecological link for wildlife such as the black bear.”
There is a large diversity of plants and animals that can be found within the preserve. The most commonly seen plants on the preserve include saw palmetto, wiregrass, gallberry, wildflowers, and of course longleaf pine which the preserve is named after. As for wildlife commonly seen species include white-tailed deer, wild turkey, black bear, alligators, and gopher tortoises. In addition, there are several species of birds that can be found on the preserve as well, from sandhill cranes, bobwhite quail, osprey, and great blue herons. During the winter months, many migrating bird species will also pass through the preserve.
Land Management for Conservation and Restoration
The Volusia County Resource Stewardship Division houses the Volusia Forever land management program. Dunnam says this program consists of a team of professional foresters, biologists, and land management technicians. This group uses a science-based management plan to restore and maintain the preserves managed by Volusia County. “You may see prescribed burns, logging operations, evidence of exotic species control, and other management activities that are used to accomplish our goals.” said Dunnam.
An example of their restoration work is restoring longleaf pine as the dominant tree species in the flatwoods. They use selective harvesting to remove species such as slash pine and replace it with longleaf pine, which as Dunnam says “historically was the dominant species here.” Dunnam shared that selective harvesting is also benefiting the scrub jay found on the preserve as it is used to remove tall trees from the scrub habitat in which the scrub jay lives.
“Scrub jays are federally listed as threatened and only found in the state of Florida. The more scrub habitat that can be provided on the preserve the more likely they could survive here,” said Dunnam.
He shared that maintaining the restored land is what comes next, this includes the management techniques they use to keep the habitats in a healthy condition after restoration work has been done. Prescribed fire is what Dunnam says is the most important tool used in maintaining habitats on the preserve. The historic role of fire in Florida was that it maintained the ecosystems through early successional growth. Because of this many plants and animals have since adapted to that for survival and rely on fire for their continued survival.
“Since the completion of the preserve, land management activities such as prescribed fire in the flatwoods and select timber harvesting in scrub habitats have improved the habitat quality for many animals on the preserve,” Dunnam said.
The preserve offers outdoor enthusiasts around 15 miles of trails to explore. Visitors can also partake in recreational activities such as hiking, biking, camping, horseback riding, and fishing. They also offer tours to the public of the property, one option being an eco-buggy tour. In terms of community outreach and education, they have speakers come out to the preserve to educate the public on things such as the habitats and wildlife that can be found there.