Longleaf Pine Habitat Restoration & Roadside Hazard Fuel Reduction Projects

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 is unlike other Refuges in that it was not established for the protection of a specific species, but in order to protect the high water quality of the historic Suwannee River. The flow of the Suwannee feeds the estuarine waters of the Gulf of Mexico, habitat for the Gulf sturgeon and feeding grounds for resident and migratory shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl.

"NOTE:  Lower Suwannee NWR roadside and overhead clearing is expected to begin in 2024.

The Refuge received funding to reclaim roads, clear roadsides, and overhead trees on 70 miles of our grass roads ("behind the locked yellow gates").  After 44 years of ecological succession the forest has regrown with a vengeance. We are reclaiming our right of ways primarily for ease of access with equipment, for prescribed fire safety, and to increase grasses and flowering shrubs for pollinators.  While we encourage the contractors to not work during hunt seasons, they do have the prerogative to do so.

Shellmound Observation Pier will be rebuilt starting at the soonest in August.  This will be closed to public entry while under construction.

Refuge Hunts 

The Refuge remains open to all activities during hunts.
Hunters and non hunters are expected to share the Refuge and be respectful of each other.

You are advised to:

  • Avoid going down a gated side road where a vehicle is already parked during an active hunt. 
  • Non hunters should consider wearing bright safety colors.
  • Avoid interactions that interfere with each other.

2023 - 2024 Refuge Hunt Dates:

Type of HuntDates
Archery 16 Sept. – 15 Oct.
Muzzleloader21 Oct.  -  29 Oct.  
General Gun No. 1 4 Nov. - 12 Nov. 
Thanksgiving Family Hunt    17 – 19 Nov. 
Thanksgiving General Gun No. 2   20 – 26 Nov. 
Feral Hog/Small Game   27 Jan. – 11 Feb. 
Youth Turkey  9 – 10 Mar. 
Spring Turkey  16 Mar. – 7 Apr.

Visit Us

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

      About Us

      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

      Our Species

      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 endangered salt marsh salt marsh
      Salt marshes are found in tidal areas near the coast, where freshwater mixes with saltwater.

      Learn more about salt marsh
      vole.  At the Lower Suwannee NWR, wildlife comes first!

      Our Library

      Refuge Hunt Brochure Lower Suwannee NWR

      Hunt regulations and hunt dates; pdf and Word docx. Also, how to buy a permit for the Refuge Quota hunts.

      How to Buy Lower Suwannee Hunt Permit

      This describes the steps in obtaining a hunt permit on the GoOutdoorsFlorida website.

      Get Involved

      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.

      Friends of Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife 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, invasive species invasive species
      An invasive species is any plant or animal that has spread or been introduced into a new area where they are, or could, cause harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health. Their unwelcome presence can destroy ecosystems and cost millions of dollars.

      Learn more about invasive species
      removal, and assisting FWS, state of Florida, university, and other partners on a wide array of projects.