Article and photography by Alice Mary Herden
Could Cypress Lakes Preserve be a new home for the threatened Florida Scrub-Jay?
Ridge Manor, Fla.-- Environmentally Sensitive Lands provide preservation of natural habitats utilized by threatened or potentially endangered species such as the Florida Scrub-Jay and opportunities for public access and enjoyment.
In 1984, Florida scrub-jays were recorded in Hernando County, according to Fish and Wildlife Service documentation. (https://ecos.fws.gov/docs/recovery_plan/900509.pdf) and three years later, on June 3, 1987, the Florida scrub-jays were federally listed as a threatened species due to habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation.
Florida Scrub-Jays are endemic species, meaning they are only found in Florida and within very particular habitats. The birds require a small habitat range, known as a “territory” of around 24 acres with a mixture of dense and open sandy soil habitats, for instance, thick oak scrub and rosemary scrub.
“At Cypress Lakes, we are managing to enhance an area of scrub that has been restored over the past ten years from an overgrown state to optimal conditions, which are preferred by the Florida scrub-jay,” Conservation Lands Specialist Mike Singer said. “If we can emulate perfect conditions for the scrub-jays, we can potentially expect to see them translocate here.”
Cypress Lakes Preserve is made up of 331 acres in Ridge Manor. The preserve is managed by Mike Singer, Conservation Lands Specialist for Hernando County’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands.
Florida scrub habitat is listed as a “Globally and State imperiled habitat” by the Florida Natural Area Inventory (FNAI), meaning “because of its rarity or because of some factor(s) making it vulnerable to extinction throughout its range.”
“This will provide an opportunity for residents and visitors to see a vegetative community that is disappearing across the state,” Singer said.
Invitation to Explore Nature
For the past three years, Singer has taken steps to make Cypress Lakes Preserves more accessible. One step, in particular, was the widening of the Cypress Lakes hiking trails. A 1.3-mile section of the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST) and an additional 3 miles of hiking trails exist at the preserve.
“We are making it as user-friendly as possible,” said Mike Singer.
Some hikers like the very primitive trails, especially those that hike the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST), which guides hikers through Cypress Lakes Preserve. However, the additional 3 miles of paths within Cypress Lakes Preserve take visitors around scenic areas within the preserve which you would otherwise miss if only hiking the FNST. Widening the trails creates a more welcoming and inviting space to walk side by side.
In 1994 a resource management plan for Cypress Lakes Preserve was drawn up. The conceptual drawing in the plan included proposed improvements and access, for instance, a couple of boardwalks, an observation tower, and an accommodating parking area.
The preserve concept is well-inviting to any visitor. Hiking trails lead to boardwalks for incredible and scenic wildlife viewing. Having the opportunity to walk through the cypress dome, surrounded by hundred-year-old cypress trees that encompass these ‘old Florida’ swamps is breathtaking.
“What I am working on specifically, is implementing improvements for access and accessibility. Potential improvements include improved parking, kiosks with trail maps, habitat information, and other recreational opportunities,” Singer said.
Cypress Lakes Preserve has some fascinating spots. There is such a diversity of engaging habitats. There are massive cypress trees in the swamps and wildflowers that bring a variety of pollinators to ensure blooms every season.
“On all properties under my responsibility, I strive to manage them for the natural vegetative communities present utilizing best management practices while also enhancing appropriate passive recreation opportunities,” Singer said