The Stewardship Program at GTM Research Reserve uses the best available science to protect and restore the natural and cultural resources of the reserve. Secondarily, the program manages public access to the reserve consistent with resource protection. The Stewardship Program has adopted a policy to address this challenge on a watershed scale, focusing on threats to resources within and proximal to the reserve’s boundaries. Consistent with the reserve’s management plan, these issues are addressed in an integrated manner with the Ecosystem Science, Education and Outreach, Facilities, and Coastal Training programs.
Located between a city of approximately one million people to the north and one of the fastest growing counties in the United States to the south, the GTM Reserve’s Stewardship Program is focused on identifying impacts to water quality and other resources related to development within the watershed, and minimizing those impacts. Efforts to reduce such impacts within the watershed include education of local decision makers, homeowners, and developers on best management practices for storm water plans, fertilizer and pesticide use, as well as land acquisition of key parcels within the watershed.
Changes in Biological Communities
The subtropical climate of North Florida presents unique threats to its biological communities in the increasing presence of invasive non native plants and animals. GTM Reserve is addressing this threat in a proactive manner by meeting these invasive species “at the door” and working with local partners to identify, treat and control Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia), Chinese tallow (Sapium sebiferum),and giant reed (Arundo donax) on properties adjacent to the reserve’s boundary prior to their arrival on site. Current partners with GTM Reserve include the St. John’s County Environmental Division, the A1A Scenic Highway Association and the North Florida Student Conservation Association.
Another important element of the Stewardship Program involves the restoration of submerged and upland habitats within the reserve that have been identified as degraded due to anthropogenic influences. Such restoration projects may include reversal of direct human impacts, such as removal of drainage ditches to restore the hydrology of a freshwater marsh, or the reintroduction of prescribed fire to a historically fire dependent upland natural community.
Among the current habitat restoration efforts at GTM Reserve are:
- Freshwater Marsh Restoration: Aerial photos have confirmed that this 58 acre freshwater marsh has experienced significant hydrological degradation during the past half century. A professional hydrological study was completed on this marsh in 2009 that identified several adverse impacts related to anthropogenic activities at the site prior to acquisition by the State of Florida. The GTM Reserve Stewardship Program is working with its Ecosystem Science Program to implement measures to reverse these impacts and restore the marsh to its historical condition. These measures have been identified to include the application of prescribed fire to this seasonal marsh, the mechanical removal of encroaching hardwoods and slash pines, the breaching of vehicle roads to restore sheet flow across the marsh, alterations in water management on adjacent State owned property, and the construction of interpretive kiosks to inform the public of the ecological significance of seasonal marshes in Florida.
- Coastal Strand Restoration: GTM Reserve manages 677 acres of coastal strand within its boundaries. This fire dependent natural community is located immediately landward of the Atlantic beach dune system and has been described by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory as “the most rapidly disappearing natural community in Florida”. Threats to coastal strand habitat statewide include residential and commercial development, as well as habitat degradation related to fire exclusion. The Stewardship program is currently using a combination of mechanical pre-treatment followed by prescribed fire to restore the ecological integrity and subsequent biodiversity of this habitat. The project involves considerable public outreach to local homeowners regarding the public safety benefits of prescribed fire in order to maintain local support for the program.