The latest edition of Florida’s Special Places comes from former Florida Audubon Society President Clay Henderson. His nominee is for the beautiful Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve in Volusia County. The preserve is going through some changes, but we are looking at some positive news for Florida’s native habitat. Enjoy Clay’s article and let us know what you think of this special place in the comment section below:
Following six months of controversy, controlled burns have finally begun at the Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve in Volusia County. Audubon leaders and three local chapters have been involved in the establishment of the 2500-acre preserve for over 30 years. Officially known as the Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve, named for a hall of fame artist and conservationist, the preserve contains a number of imperiled ecosystems such as scrub and maritime hammock. The preserve is also well used by trail users who enjoy the bike and equestrian trails and the breathtaking views from Spruce Creek Bluffs.
In recent years, management plans for the preserve have brought trail users and ecologists into conflict. Since the preserve is just east of I-95, the fire dependent natural communities have been fire suppressed for over 50 years. Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count over the last 20 years has documented a steep decline in scrub jay populations as scrub communities became overgrown. In recent years, CBC volunteers noted the preserve was unusually quiet from lack of birdlife.
Spruce Creek Preserve was purchased with a range of funding sources including CARL, Preservation 2000, Florida Forever, Florida Communities Trust, and Volusia Forever. Over the last several years, state land agencies have urged Volusia County, which actually manages the property, to begin prescribed fire. But when roller chopping began over the summer, dozens of hikers and bikers came forward and convinced the county council to stop restoration efforts until all stakeholders could be heard.
In October, an outside facilitator was brought in for a full day stakeholder workshop which included representatives of state agencies, Volusia County, local cities, and user and conservation groups including Audubon. The stakeholder group reached agreement on relocation of a trail and forged a consensus on the need for ongoing restoration of the preserve. The county council and the state’s Acquisition and Restoration Council approved the deal. Representatives of West Volusia Audubon, Halifax River Audubon, Southeast Volusia Audubon, and Audubon Florida advocated for the restoration of the preserve.
Local birders reported than within days of roller chopping of the over grown scrub, more bird life was seen on the property than during any of the recent CBC surveys. Finally on January 24 weather conditions were conducive for the first controlled burn in the 30 year history of the preserve. Plans call for 200 acres of scrub to be burned as conditions permit. Fire managers reported that as soon as the fire took hold, a pair of curious Florida Scrub-jays came out to observe.
Florida has been very successful in acquiring important conservation lands, but the story of Spruce Creek Preserve is a glimpse into the future of conservation. The future of Florida Scrub-jays depends in great part on successful management and restoration of lands that we have already acquired.