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Lake Wales Ridge
National Wildlife Refuge

The scrub blazing-star is just one of many federally listed plant species on Lake Wales Ridge NWR.  The scrub habitat in this area relies on routine fire for survival.
4055 Wildlife Way
Vero Beach, FL   32963
E-mail: lakewalesridge@fws.gov
Phone Number: 772-581-5557
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Lake Wales Ridge NWR was the first refuge created for endangered and threatened plants. Many of them are found no where else in the world.
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Lake Wales Ridge National Wildlife Refuge

Lake Wales Ridge National Wildlife Refuge (LWRNWR) is the first Refuge designated primarily for the preservation of endangered plants. Thirty-one rare plants can be found within the project boundary, 22 of them federally listed as endangered or threatened, and nine candidates for such listing. Four federally listed vertebrates as well as 40 rare invertebrate species are also present.

The sand hills of Central Florida are home to a unique collection of plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else. The Lake Wales Ridge ecosystem, the oldest in the southeast, has been disappearing faster than any other in the United States. Citrus farms, ranching, and residential development have claimed 85 percent of this ancient ridge. The habitat has become highly fragmented. Fourteen tracts were identified for acquisition by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and four were acquired. Acquiring the Lake Wales Ridge was a high priority for the State of Florida, The Nature Conservancy, and several local governments due to the urgency of this rapidly declining landscape.

Getting There . . .
There is no public access.

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Wildlife and Habitat

The ancient scrub that occupies this area is a remnant of beaches and sand dune systems that existed when sea levels were much higher millions of years ago. After the sea receded, a sand ridge was left behind, dominated by low shrubby plants. This ancient scrub is usually composed of dense but occasionally patchy stands of shrubby oaks, sand pine, scrub hickory and Florida rosemary. The ground is often covered in lichen. The sandy soil drains water quickly and is generally low in nutrients, but form important recharge areas for Florida aquifers.

The scrub habitat of Lake Wales Ridge supports 45 state or federally protected wildlife species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. The ridge has one of the highest concentrations of threatened and endangered species in the United States, including Florida scrub jays, eastern indigo snakes and plants such as Florida ziziphus and the scrub blazing star.

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Lake Wales Ridge is an ancient beach and sand dune system in central Florida approximately 100 miles long that stretches from Orange County to southern Highlands County. The ridge, ranging in width of 4 - 10 miles, was once a peninsula that existed when much of Florida was under the sea millions of years ago. The ridges scrub vegetation and wildlife is the remnant of this ancient ecosystem, and is found no where else in the world. Plants atop these ancient islands evolved uniquely with their isolated habitat.

Scientists estimate that before the arrival of European settlers, about 80,000 acres of ancient scrub existed along Lake Wales Ridge. Today, the ocean is more than 60 miles away and these islands of sand are surrounded by citrus groves and housing developments. An estimated 85% of the ridge has already been cleared for development. The remaining scrub is scattered and is rapidly being destroyed for the citrus industry, cattle pastures and commercial and residential areas. The refuge is working in partnership with the State of Florida and several conservation groups to manage this rare scrub habitat and educate others about its importance.

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There is no public access.

Recreation and Education Opportunities
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Management Activities
Prescribed fire is the primary management tool for the refuge. The Lake Wales Ridge area, like many areas in the southeastern United States, depends on fire to maintain its ecosystem. Natural wildfires have historically swept through, promoting growth, reducing ground litter, regenerating the soil and keeping exotic species at bay. Fire staff mimic natural fires with prescribed burning, to maintain the habitat for wildlife.

Educating others about the importance of this area to local wildlife is another tool used to manage the refuge. Archbold Biological Station, the Nature Conservancy and local county and state officials coordinate education in the Lake Wales Ridge area to instill conservation ethics in others. A scrub curriculum, guided tours, summer camps, trails and environmental education with local elementary schools serve to teach others about the rarity of this ecosystem and its importance to wildlife.