(The NWFWMD has implemented extensive hydrologic restoration within Tates Hell State Forest)
Tates Hell State Forest encompasses nearly 205,000 acres in Franklin and Liberty counties, Florida. This area was once a swampy mosaic of wet prairies, cypress sloughs, Atlantic White Cedar forests and other wetland and pine flatwoods communities. Near the coast, habitats also include fresh and saltwater marshes and sand pine scrub. Large-scale silvicultural operations during 1960s through 1980s converted extensive areas of native habitats to slash pine plantation. More than 800 miles of roads were constructed to support logging operations and ditches were excavated along most roads to provide road-fill material and drain adjacent wetlands. These activities have adversely impacted the hydrology and ecology of historic vegetation communities and affected the magnitude, timing, and quality of surface water runoff discharged to the Apalachicola Bay system.
In 1994, the State of Florida began purchasing the property from timber companies with the goals of improving the quality of surface water runoff discharged from the site to the Apalachicola Bay system, re-establishing historic surface water drainage patterns, and restoring wetland ecosystems. The Northwest Florida Water Management initiated the land acquisition process with the $3.5 million purchase of the Glawson tract in 1994. Tates Hell State Forest is now managed as a multi-use site by the Florida Forest Service with cooperation from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The management goals for the Tates Hell State Forest are to restore, protect, and manage Tates Hell ecosystems, while integrating public use. The Florida Forest Service continues to manage a large portion of the property for timber production. Pine management activities provide an economic benefit and are aimed at improving forest health. The forest is also a designated Wildlife Management Area, with opportunities for hunting, camping, fishing, kayaking, and off-highway vehicle use.
The Northwest Florida Water Management District shares the Florida Forest Service’s goals of restoring and protecting ecosystems at Tates Hell State Forest, with a particular emphasis on hydrologic restoration. The goals of hydrologic restoration are to:
- Improve the water quality of surface water flows and runoff discharged to East Bay, Apalachicola Bay, and surrounding waters
- Restore historic surface water drainage patterns and hydrologic connectivity
- Enhance wetland hydrology and function
- Restore a mix of natural ecological communities
Due to the large size of Tates Hell State Forest and the extensive degree of hydrologic impacts, restoration is anticipated to be a gradual process with cumulative benefits accruing as hydrologic restoration and ecosystem management activities are implemented during the next several decades.
Hydrologic Restoration Plan for 2010 – 2020
The Hydrologic Restoration Plan provides a blueprint for future hydrologic restoration activities at Tates Hell State Forest and is the result of a cooperative planning process among the Florida Forest Service, the Northwest Florida Water Management District, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The plan prioritizes areas for restoration and provides conceptual designs for specific projects that are proposed for the 2010 through 2020 time period. Guidelines for environmental monitoring and management are also included. The plan is intended to be dynamic and will be updated periodically to reflect changes in hydrologic and forest management conditions.
A number of hydrologic restoration activities have been implemented by the Northwest Florida Water Management District, the Florida Forest Service, and other entities. Existing projects are widely distributed across the site and target a variety of wetland types. The Hydrologic Restoration Plan provides conceptual designs and recommendations for future hydrologic restoration activities through 2020. Restoration activities include:
- Installation of low water crossings where roads bisect streams and wetlands
- Removal of selected logging roads and adjacent ditches
- Installation of ditch blocks and flashboard risers to decrease flow in drainage ditches
- Shrub reduction and tree thinning to restore habitat conditions
- Control of exotic and invasive species
- Revegetation with longleaf pines, wiregrass and cypress
- Prescribed burning to restore more natural fire frequencies.
Construction activities implemented to restore historical drainage patterns have included the removal and recontouring of dirt logging roads and adjacent ditches, installation of low water crossings, ditch plugs, and new culverts.