Florida scrub-jays are curious birds. They live in family groups and don’t range far from home. They are only found in Florida, and their favored habitat – young scrub forests – has always been a target for agriculture and housing developments because it’s easy to clear.
These federally endangered birds are getting a boost in Ocala. Scrub is not just the favored habitat of scrub-jays, but it’s highly flammable, too. So the sounds of logging you hear going on near the SW 49th Ave trailhead are a positive note.
Starting the last week of July, the Florida Trail and the bike trails between SW 49th Avenue and the Land Bridge will shut down for about a month along the Cross Florida Greenway. According to Bre Ximenes, Trails and Volunteer Coordinator, this closure is so “we can continue to improve fire mediation and wildlife quality in the area.”
Every time we drive through Marion Oaks, I look at the tall sand pines and think of how flammable they are. Sand pines require fire to germinate. It’s not the ideal habitat in which to build a subdivison. So I knew why fire mediation was important along this part of the Cross Florida Greenway. But until I asked Bre for a few more details, I didn’t know about the scrub-jays.
Environmental Specialist Laurie Dolan filled in the blanks regarding the scrub area. ” We are removing all the sand pine and large oaks to help restore the area to historic scrub.” And why? As it turns out, there are scrub-jays on a restoration site just north of this area. Give them a young scrub forest to rummage in, and they’ll show up if they don’t have to fly far. It’s the hope that the scrub-jays “will help to colonize this area as well.” Laurie later added that ten scrub-jay families had been found nearby in the latest bird count.
At the same time, a forested area that hasn’t seen fire in a while (think nearby residences, and you know why) is being cleared of sand pines that don’t belong there. It’s a sandhill forest, so getting it back to rolling hills topped with longleaf pine and wiregrass is the goal. Once a healthy sandhill forest is established, it can be managed with fire more safely. So the contractors are removing specific trees from this area as well. Said Bre, ” I appreciate how they are working with us and staying as far away from the trails as possible, only crossing when necessary for the equipment.”
Trail closing signs will be up and a detour – using the limerock road in the middle of the Cross Florida Greenway – will be marked. Trail users should be alert for logging trucks on that road if they use it. The trail closures will last through the month of August and perhaps into September.