The Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge (LSNWR or Refuge) will conduct two habitat restoration projects that will also serve as prescribed fire safety and wildfire risk reduction efforts. The Refuge’s pine forests were heavily impacted by clearcutting old growth and then followed by multiple generations of replanting under intensive tree farming operations. Since the Refuge’s establishment in 1979 the regrowth of the forest has reached a state where the mid- and understory in this ecological successional phase has proceeded with such a vengeance that it has also created a situation of wildfire risk and presents access challenges as the forest encroaches on our road and trail system.
The first project is a 330-acre longleaf pine habitat restoration project covering 23 sites in Dixie County east of County Road 349. This restoration project is a site conversion from slash pine to longleaf pine. Mastication to reduce palmetto, gallberry, and woody mid- and understory vegetation will be followed by a herbicide application to prepare the site for planting 300,000 containerized longleaf pine seedlings. Work is beginning in May 2023 and is anticipated to be completed in early 2024.
The second project is to reduce roadside hazard fuel loads on 70 miles of LSNWR roads. Refuge roads serve as fire breaks for burn units, buffers for Wildland Urban Interfaces, and access for fire equipment while conducting controlled burns and wildfire suppression. Due to lack of funding for road maintenance over the years combined with the forest’s ecological successional growth in the absence of what used to be controlled by commercial logging before this place was a National Wildlife Refuge, roadside fuel loads have become a fire hazard, causing spot-overs during control burns and wildfires. The dense forest growth alongside and overhead also restricts and limits access and the types of access with equipment required for prescribed and wildfire operations. The project will remove hazard fuels 20 feet horizontal distance either side of road center line creating a right-of-way 40 feet wide. Overhanging tree limbs within the 40-foot right-of-way to a height of 15 feet vertical distance from road surface will be removed. In essence it will allow a greater degree of safety and access during wildfire control and while conducting controlled burns.
Vegetation removal will consist of onsite mastication/mulching with heavy equipment, and/or hand removal and chipping. Vegetation removal will be followed up with herbicide application to control regrowth of palm trees, hardwoods, dense woody fuels, and palmettos alongside roadways. This herbicide application encourages grass/herbaceous and flowering plant growth for pollinators, a habitat that is lacking on the Refuge. Work is expected to start this summer and be completed in early 2024.
Any questions can be directed to Andrew Gude, Refuge Manager, at 703.622.3896.
The Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge provides numerous recreation opportunities to its visitors every season of the year. People enjoy viewing the variety of habitats and diverse wildlife; whether paddling, driving, or walking.
All outdoor areas of the Refuge are open sunrise to sunset.
Areas behind the locked yellow gates are closed to driving but open to foot and bike traffic.
Location and Contact Information
Located along the southern edge of the Big Bend Region of Florida's Gulf Coast, Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect this riverine and estuarine ecosystem dominated by fresh and saltwater wetlands.
What We Do
Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect, maintain, enhance, and where appropriate, restore habitats along the lower reaches of the Suwannee River. The refuge also protects water quality and quantity through sound land resource management and cooperative relationships with state agencies that have jurisdictional authority over the water and aquatic resources therein. Further, the Refuge provides habitat for several Federal threatened and endangered species and species of special concern in the state of Florida
The historic Suwannee River, featured in the song by Stephen Foster, is home to many native species like whitetail deer, gray fox, otter, eagles, and the endangeredvole. At the Lower Suwannee NWR, wildlife comes first!
The mission of the Friends of the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges is to provide active advocacy and physical support for the successful stewardship of the Refuges.
Projects and Research
The Refuge’s initiatives are: trails and roads maintenance for public access, law enforcement to protect the public and trust resources, supporting our Friends, Volunteers, and partners; bird surveys, forest habitat restoration, habitat management and the prescribed fire program; supporting a diverse array of wildlife dependent recreational activities, maintenance of public facilities like boat ramps and fishing piers, removal, and assisting FWS, state of Florida, university, and other partners on a wide array of projects.