Land management at Lakes Park benefits local residents and wildlife, too

Gopher tortoise at Lakes Park explores the mowed area along Summerlin Road

Gopher tortoise at Lakes Park explores the mowed area along Summerlin Road

If you’ve passed by the Summerlin Road entrance to Lakes Park recently, you’ve seen that this side of the park looks quite different than it did a few months ago. County land management agents have worked to improve the habitat for a community of gopher tortoises, and also to reduce the fuel load in that area for the protection of the human community surrounding the park.

Felicia Nudo, a Land Stewardship Coordinator with the County’s Conservation 20/20 program, graciously provided us with this explanation of the work that was done and the resulting benefits:

 

 

The reasoning behind the land management work at Lakes Park was to improve habitat for gopher tortoises and reduce fuel loads. Before the project started, the area was dominated by dense saw palmetto. This vegetation needed to be reduced. Historically, the palmetto would have been reduced through wildfires caused by lightning strikes. Since the park is sandwiched between development on all boundaries, prescribed burning is not an option for this area. This dense vegetation was reduced using mechanical means (the palmetto was essentially mowed down) and gopher tortoise burrows were marked beforehand so that heavy equipment operators would be aware of where they are. A boundary of palmetto was left along the public trail system to provide a buffer.

Why does this matter?

For humans:

This reduction of overgrown vegetation reduces the amount of fuel in the area. This in turn lessens the severity and intensity of a wildfire. Should a wildfire occur in that area, it will be much easier for emergency personal to access and control.

For gopher tortoises:

Dense patches of palmetto shade out the herbaceous plants that gopher tortoises eat. Now that the palmetto has been reduced, the area has been opened up to allow for these plant species to grow. In addition, the tortoises now have room to expand and dig new burrows. 

 

 

A survey was done in 2018 before any work was performed. 29 potentially occupied burrows were located and flagged for equipment operators. Another survey will be completed soon to locate and record the existing burrows and any new burrows that may have been created.

Attached are some photos after the work took place. I don’t have any before photos, but remember the area was covered in dense palmetto. The work was completed in early February of 2019.

Some of the species that initially started growing after the work was done included ferns, oaks, and grapevine. During my last inspection I observed shiny blueberry in bloom, which is a plant species that gopher tortoises eat.” 

Many thanks to Felicia for the land management lesson!