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Lower Suwannee
National Wildlife Refuge

16450 NW 31 Place
Chiefland, F, FL   32626
E-mail: lowersuwannee@fws.gov
Phone Number: 352-493-0238
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Canoeing, kayaking, biking, hiking or driving are all great ways to view the vast natural areas of Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge.
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Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge

Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1979, is located along the southern edge of the Big Bend region of Florida's west coast, approximately 50 miles southwest of Gainsville. This 54,000 acre refuge is one of the largest undeveloped river delta - estuarine systems in the United States and was established to protect natural ecosystems of the Suwannee River's lower reaches and coastal marsh, as it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

This diverse mixture of uplands, freshwater, saltwater and their associated wetlands, creates a great variety of wildlife habitat and scenic vistas. Osprey and bald eagle nest in early spring, while graceful swallow-tailed kites arrive in March for breeding and remain through July. In March and April migrating shorebirds cover the oysterbars; thousands of knots, dowitchers, oystercatchers, sandpipers, turnstones, and plovers fatten up for their northward trip to their breeding grounds.

Wading birds are most abundant during the summer and they can be found feeding in the freshwater and salt marshes. White ibis, great, snowy, and cattle egrets along with great blue, little blue, green, and tricolored herons are among the birds that roost and nest on nearby Cedar Keys refuge. Rare Limpkins and endangered wood storks are occasionally seen prowling the water's edge during the warm months.

Alert boaters may see endangered Gulf Sturgeon jumping in the river. These prehistoric fish migrate from the Gulf of Mexico to the Suwannee River in the spring for spawning and remain there all summer. Manatees leave Crystal River springs, their winter haven, when the gulf waters warm and utilize the Suwannee River and its estuary from March through November. Seaturtles, mostly green, loggerhead and Ridley's utilize the rich Suwannee sound during the summer months but generally go unnoticed.

The beauty of the Suwannee river, with its hardwood lined banks where alligators loaf on exposed logs, long legged wading birds feed and otters play is a wonderful place for visitors to celebrate our National Wildlife Refuge System.

Getting There . . .
The refuge can be accessed from Dixie County road 351 out of Cross City, Dixie County road 349 out of Old Town and Levy County road 347 out of Chiefland. To reach the refuge office, which is located in Levy County: from Gainesville take State Road 26 to Trenton, then Highway 129 south to Chiefland, then U.S. 19 south for 1 mile to County Road 345 south for 6 miles to County Road 347. Go west on 347 for 12 miles to the refuge sign leading to the refuge office, a good first stop for a brochure and map of the area.

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Wildlife and Habitat

The refuge, which is predominantly wetlands, is bisected by 20 miles of Stephen Fosters famous Suwannee River and includes 20 miles of coastal marsh habitat along the Gulf Coast. The salt marshes and tidal flats at the rivers mouth are a paradise for shorebirds and fish. The refuge also encompasses an unusual diversity of floodplain hardwoods, cypress-lined sloughs, cabbage palm and cedar islands, cypress domes, hydric, mesic and xeric hardwood hammocks, and low pine flatwoods. Ech of these diverse vegetative communities contributes to making the Lower Suwannee one of the largest undeveloped river delta-estuarine systems in the country.

The constant flow of nutrients from the river system coupled with numerous offshore islands and tidal creeks create excellent wildlife habitat. Natural salt marshes and tidal flats attract thousands of shore birds and diving ducks while acting as a valuable nursery area for fish, shrimp and shellfish. Freshwater fish, including largemouth bass, Suwannee bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and channel catfish are found in the Suwannee River and its creeks. Marine mammals such as the bottlenose dolphin and the endangered manatee along with several species of sea turtles utilize the coastal waters of the Suwannee Sound. The Gulf sturgeon, a threatened species, utilizes the Gulf as well as the historic river, for a phase of its life cycle.

Floodplain wetlands support nesting wood ducks, black bear, otter, alligator, wading birds and raccoons. Mixed hardwood pine forests and uplands offer cover to turkey and white-tail deer. More than 250 species of birds have been identified at the refuge including swallow-tailed kites and bald eagles. Several species of bats can be observed during their exodus from several of the refuge bat houses.

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More than seven thousand years ago, before Europeans arrived on this continent and pioneers ventured into the depths of Florida, Shired Island was inhabited by archaic and woodland cultures. They utilized the Suwannee River and rich estuarine waters in this area now known as Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. The 3,000 year- old Shell Mound and other middens dot the shorelines and coastal island within the refuge and are found throughout its swamps and forests.

Pioneers moving into the area also recognized the vast natural riches to be exploited. They not only took advantage of the river and marine resources but logged the abundant cedar and cypress until there were no more. Many of the site s that once supported native fish, hardwood hammocks - a mixture of pine and hardwoods - were next to be marketed by the timber industry. These areas were then converted to pine plantations which still stand tody.

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Management Activities
Management Programs - The mission of the refuge is to protect and enhance the diverse natural ecosystem with its associated native wildlife, emphasizing threatened and endangered species and migratory birds.

Biological goals are prioritized to monitor endangered or sensitive species such as manatee, bald eagle, Gulf sturgeon, swallow-tailed kite, gopher tortoise, and colonial nesting birds. Artificial nest structures are provided for osprey, wood duck, and prothonotary warblers while roost boxes are erected for various bat species. Planting of native wiregrass is a long-term restoration project aimed at enhancing the survival and reproductive success of endangered indigo snakes and gopher tortoise.

Forest management activities center around restoring plant communities to pre-commercial forest industry conditions. Selective tree thinning is one method used to improve tree quality, understory diversity, and overall wildlife habitat. Much of the refuge's habitat is pyrogenic - that is, its plants and animals have developed adaptations to fire. Burning forest or marsh under controlled conditions helps to remove old plants -- replacing them with young succulent vegetation preferred by most wildlife species. Controlled burns reduce the chance of uncontrolled wildfire caused by lightening or human ignition.