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Habitat restoration commences on Pine Island

By Staff | Sep 4, 2009

After a seven-year wait, a tract of land in St. James City on Pine Island is undergoing an extreme habitat makeover.
The property, known as the Galt Preserve, just north of St. James City near mile marker 2, is being cleared of all exotic vegetation to encourage the growth of native trees, plants and underbrush.
The preservation effort began when a group of neighbors in the area of the preserve did some fund raising and collected $32,500.
The funds were added to a $22,500 contribution from the Calusa Land Trust, which was coupled with Conservation 20/20 funds, enabling the purchase of the land at a cost of $4.415 million.
Phil Buchanan, an active advocate for preserving ecologically sensitive land on Pine Island and member of the Calusa Land Trust, said he is pleased that the restoration of Galt Preserve is under way.
“I and my neighbors are excited that the time for removal of the exotics from the Galt Preserve has finally arrived,” he said. “We contributed our money and our time to the establishment of this preserve and now, some 10 years later, it is all coming together.”
Recreational opportunities at the Galt Preserve include hiking, bird watching, nature study, photography and possibly fishing in the future.
“Within the next two years, our plans are to improve the hiking paths and create a picnic area with tables and restroom facilities,” said Jeff Anderson, land stewardship coordinator with Conservation 20/20. “When we finish clearing out the exotic vegetation, our next project will be to fence in the area and create parking at the east side of the property on Stringfellow Road.”
According to Anderson, about one-half of the clearing of exotics is complete, but workers were forced to discontinue due to wet conditions and nesting anhinga.
The clearing will resume in October. The Australian pines that hang over Stringfellow will be removed in the next two weeks.
Removal of the exotics is being done by Lee Timber.
“Selective tree removal is very expensive, but Lee Timber agreed to remove the unwanted trees at no charge in exchange for the melaleuca trees, which they will grind up and then sell for mulch,” Anderson said. “This worked out well for both of us as the county will save money, which will go back into habitat restoration at the Galt Preserve.”
Most of the preserve will be allowed to regrow with natural vegetation on its own.
Anderson explained that in most of the areas where the exotics are being removed, there is enough seed base for plants to grow on their own. Places where small melaleuca have completely taken over may need a boost with selective plantings.
Before work began on the property, a wildlife survey was conducted and many species that occupy the area were identified.
They include brown pelicans, frigate birds, great egrets, snowy egrets, little blue herons, tricolored herons, reddish egrets, black-crowned night herons, yellow-crowned herons, wood storks, osprey, swallow-tailed kites, bald eagles, short-tailed hawks, hairy woodpeckers, American alligators, gopher tortoises and Eastern indigo snakes.
The original tract of land that became the Galt Preserve spans more than 56 acres and is jointly maintained by the county and the Calusa Land Trust.
Coupled with two other parcels, one of which was acquired in 2002 and the other in 2007, the total acreage is now approximately 265.
The preserve is bordered by a Lee County Mosquito Control District helicopter pad to the east, mangrove swamps to the west, a palm nursery to the north and a residential development to the south.
The preserve has several hiking trails which take visitors through a mix of pine flatwoods, mangroves and a brackish lake, and extends all the way to the mangroves near the shoreline of Pine Island Sound.
Once the preserve has been cleared of unwanted vegetation and major restoration projects are completed, the future plans are to make the area more user friendly by constructing nature trails that loop through the preserve allowing visitors to move with ease throughout the property.
It has also been proposed that at some point the area will include a fishing pier and picnic tables, which would be located adjacent to the borrow pond, which is a short walk from the proposed trail head.