Foresters protect Florida’s forests
The timber industry provides jobs, landscapes and refuge to Nassau County residents. The Record explores the protective services, historical aspects, landowner assistance and recreational opportunities available through the Florida Forest Service.
Hiking, kayaking and biking are a few of the outdoor activities that abound in western Nassau.
Recreation opportunities like these are available at Four Creeks State Forest and Wildlife Management Area, Ralph E. Simmons Memorial and Cary state forests.
Since May, Florida Forest Service Forester Jeffrey Hill has assisted in the management of Four Creeks State Forest.
In April 2005, the property was “acquired jointly by the St. Johns River Water Management District and Florida Forever Program’s Northeast Timberlands and Watershed Reserve Project,” according to information from the FFS.
Hill drives throughout the site four days per week to evaluate road conditions, the effects of prescribed burns or to scout out potential stands for timber harvesting/sales. At least 220 acres will be harvested in the near future.
“Checking trees for survivability – that’s something we have to monitor for a while after we burn,” Hill said.
As part of the timber management, tree harvests, thinning, forest replanting and prescribed burns assist the ecosystems within the woodlands. A few grassy plots serve to provide food for wildlife as they forage.
“Young pine stands provide cover for deer,” Hill said. “Young pine stands serve as a reminder of the future of the park. I think people are surprised too, that it doesn’t take very long (to grow).”
The extraction of a small cylinder of pine from a young tree outlines its history. The number of rings shows the age of the tree while the white-colored spaces between the rings shows whether the tree grew within tight or ample space under intense sunlight or shade. The rings also indicate growth spurts, revealing whether a tree has grown during times of fire, drought or rain.
Hill’s responsibilities also include checking on wildlife in the aftermath of storms to locate any fatalities, inspecting pine stands for Southern Pine Beetle infestation or other insects that may consume timber. Vandalism of property is another issue that Hill must manage.
Such was the case in early August when vandals struck, kicking down the door and breaking windows of an onsite cabin.
The Nassau County Sheriff’s Office alerted the FFS to the break-in, which Hill then inspected. The cabin is not for camping but was utilized by employees at one point.
“It happens all the time,” Hill said of the vandalism.
But he would rather focus on the forest’s natural aspects by encouraging visitors to take advantage of the scenery and wildlife.
“This is an area that’s here and funded by their tax dollars for them to use,” Hill said. “This will always be here.”
Four Creeks encompasses 13,147 acres with Alligator, Thomas, Boggy and Plummer creeks associated with the area. The creeks join to form the headwaters of the Nassau River, making boating, kayaking, fishing and other water activities possible. Hunting and fishing licenses and seasons are under the management of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Hunting is allowed during certain times of the year.
“We have been driving to get more recreation,” Hill said, adding that three primitive campsites will soon open near the Pacetti Road entrance with tent pads and parking spots available for use.
Although designated hiking trails are not available, visitors are allowed to ride bicycles or horses on 24 miles of dirt roads. The roads are not easy to travel after heavy rains, so two-wheel vehicles may have difficulty. The park recently received $150,000 in funds to improve the roads.
“Hopefully when we’re done we’ll have roads that won’t need a lot of maintenance,” Hill said.
Nature enthusiasts may choose to observe turkey, deer, gopher tortoises, various birds and butterflies in their natural habitat, according to Hill.
The wildlife management area is accessible for those observances but because of various hunting seasons, check with the FWC for available access before venturing out at http://myfwc.com/hunting/season-dates.