Habitat Restoration

Restoration of Species Diversity and Hydrologic Function in Wetlands within the Coastal Dune Lake Watershed

The Garden, in partnership with the Florida Park Service, is restoring 220 acres of wetlands at Deer Lake State Park in Walton County, Florida. The project is tasked with improving water quality and restoring wetlands within the watershed of globally rare and imperiled coastal dune lakes. This is made possible by an approximately $6 million grant funded by the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF) through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

Decades of fire exclusion has led to the degradation of wetlands throughout the Southeast. Formerly pruned by frequent naturally occurring fires, areas of wetland hardwood shrubs have expanded their footprint into open herbaceous wetlands. In the continuing absence of fire, the shrubs grew to tree form stands, shading out grasses, pitcher plants and orchids among many other herbaceous species.

Reintroduction of fire alone is not enough to restore these wetlands. This project uses both human labor and mechanical means to cut the hardwoods, chip them and remove the biomass from the site to return the wetlands to an herbaceous dominated, nutrient poor, natural state. Prescribed fire is also reintroduced to mimic the natural process and to reduce the buildup of organic litter.

The Garden is responsible for the project coordination, monitoring and data collection while the Florida Park Service is responsible for the operational components; prescribed fires are conducted jointly. The project as funded will continue through 2023.