USDA's Wildlife Services, in partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge System, will conduct feral swine control, outside of scheduled hunt seasons, on the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and sample for African swine fever. They will be using many methods including thermal imaging, helicopters, trapping, and traditional shooting. Feral swine are consideredthat present a clear harm to native plants and wildlife. African swine fever is a deadly pig disease that spreads rapidly and affects domestic and wild swine. While not a threat to human health, the virus could devastate America’s swine, pork industry, and food supply.
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.
Regulation of recreation activities allows for public enjoyment of the Refuge while still protecting the wildlife and habitats.
The Refuge is open from sunrise to sunset for appropriate recreational uses including boating, hiking, fishing, biking, photography, and birding. Formal interpretation and education visits can be arranged, though we do not lead such events.
There are three distinct areas to the LSNWR:
Shellmound 9 miles north of Cedar Key;
Levy County side of the LSNWR with a 9 mile Nature Drive and three formal trails as well as many grass roads that are open to walking and biking;
Dixie County side of the LSNWR.
Visitors access the Refuge via the Nature Drive in Levy County and the Dixie Mainline and County Road 357 in Dixie County. Roads throughout the refuge are lime rock; visitors must maintain the posted speed limit. No camping or overnight parking is allowed within the Refuge; although, there are County campgrounds adjacent to the refuge on both sides of the Suwannee River.
Winter visitors will enjoy the mild weather, but sunscreen is suggested. Summer requires lots of water, bug repellent and sunscreen – maybe even a hat and sunglasses. Cell phone reception is spotty in the backcountry; most of the area is backcountry and Verizon seems to work best
There are 194 miles of refuge roads and trails for public access to view wildlife, hike, bike, drive in your vehicles, photograph, and fish. The maintained lime rock roads are open to public driving. The grass roads behind the locked gates are open to hiking and biking.
The refuge hosts 10 different hunts; please consult the "Refuge Hunt Brochure" and "How to Buy a LSNWR Quota Hunt Permit" in our Library.
For mobility impaired hunters who wish to access the Refuge by alternative access means please read "Overview for Mobility Impaired Hunters SUP" and "Alternative Mobility Hunt Permit" in the Library
Refuge trails, boardwalks, fishing piers, overlooks, and kiosks provide family-friendly wildlife viewing areas. The refuge has few hills, so all trails have very little elevation-gain, offering easy walks without losing any of the nature-experience opportunities. Need help navigating? Print your own trail map or pick up one of the yellow trail description brochures when you arrive on the refuge.
The Friends of the Refuges Website has many refuge maps for public use.
Lower Suwannee Map
From US 19 in Chiefland, Florida, turn south onto County Road 345 and then go to County Road 347; drive for approximately 11 miles to the hamlet of Fowlers Bluff. As you pass Fowlers Bluff follow the big brown information signs. You can also do a computer search using these words: "Vista, Levy County, Florida", or our address "16450 NW 31st Place, Chiefland, Florida 32626".
The headquarters office has a visitor contact station open 7:30 - 4:00 Monday - Thursday. Call before you come on Fridays. The contact station provides maps, brochures, information, and a warm welcome for visitors. Restroom facilities, a pollinator garden, hiking, and paddling information are also available. If you are coming on a Friday or a weekend, definitely call or text as no one might be there; Andrew’s cell (+1) 703-622-3896 or the office (+1) 352-493-0238 x224.
Dixie Mainline North Entrance: 29° 26.504'N, 83° 11.234'W
Dixie Mainline South Entrance: 29° 20.819'N, 83° 7.516'W
Shired Island Boat Launch and Beach Trail: 29° 23.893'N, 83° 12.108'W
Numerous refuge roads off of Dixie County Road 349 between: 29° 28.419'N, 83° 0.666'W, south to 29° 23.215'N, 83° 4.797'W.
Refuge headquarters entrance: 29° 22.438'N, 83° 2.244'W.
North entrance Nature Drive: 29° 21.889'N, 83° 2.334'W.
Pond 4 Road: 29° 18.604'N, 83° 3.262'W
Barnett Creek Road: 29° 18.422'N, 83° 3.775'W.
McCormick Creek Road: 29° 17.490'N, 83° 3.620'W.
Cabin Road: 29° 17.433'N, 83° 3.149'W.
South Entrance Nature Drive: 29° 17.795'N, 83° 1.958'W.
Gate 10 Road: 29° 16.016'N, 83° 0.552'W.
Shellmound Road: 29° 12.816'N, 83° 0.664'W.