Archbold Biological Station / Saving The Florida Scrub Of The Lake Wales Ridge

Hilary Swain, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Archbold Biological Station
123 Main Drive
Venus, FL 33960
863-465-2571
hswain@archbold-station.org
 

Initiative Description and Primary Objectives 

To provide for the long-term persistence and continued biological health of all species and natural communities native to the upland scrub habitats of the Lake Wales Ridge in south central Florida, and to preserve their original geographic extent.  The Florida scrub is ranked as the 15th most endangered ecosystem in the USA; it harbors one of the highest densities of rare endemic plants and animals in the world, and is known internationally for its threatened and endangered species.  The conservation initiative, which goes back to the founding of Archbold Biological Station in 1941, involves the application of Archbold-driven science to:

• Continue building the fundamental scientific knowledge of this ecosystem (1,700 publications).

• Managing Archbold's own preserve (~10,000 acres, 19 federally listed species) to meet conservation and research goals.

• Assessment of the conservation status of the Florida scrub ecosystem (status reports in 1970s, 80s, 90s, 2000s) and its associated rare species (numerous reports).

• Selection and prioritization of land acquisition sites for a network of protected lands on the Lake Wales Ridge (1990 proposal to the state of Florida, 1993 proposal to the US Fish and Wildlife Service). Trebled the amount of protected land and led to the establishment of a protected area network of conservation lands with (to date) 60 sites, 104,000-acres and 12 managing agencies.

• Evaluation of this reserve design towards meeting conservation goals (State of the Scrub).

• Identifying landscape-scale linkages needed for wildlife movements and working with local and state government to protect this connectivity (one county and two regional corridor plans, revision of road transportation networks).

• Determining land management needs for scrub habitat (particularly using prescribed fire) and the species-specific management requirements (nearly 30 species) to achieve conservation success (numerous studies, experiments, modeling, publications, recovery planning reports). 

• Supporting the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Working Group, an information exchange for the 70+ members of all the conservation agencies on the Ridge (providing science input to coordinate land management among12 state, federal, local and non-profit land management entities).

• Measuring effectiveness of management programs, providing maps and GIS training for managers, and guiding priorities for management support teams (e.g. Central Florida Ecosystem Restoration Team)

• Integrating science into conservation actions by
   o supporting and administering citizen science programs (e.g. Jay Watch)
   o advising volunteer groups (e.g. Ridge Rangers)

• Preparing K-12 and public outreach materials to link science, conservation, and education goals (e.g.  Discovering the Florida Scrub, Frances Archbold Hufty Learning Center).

• Providing extensive liaison for elected officials and serving on numerous boards, committees, and other civic groups to ensure conservation priorities.

Key Academic Disciplines 

The initiative takes an interdisciplinary approach combining:
• Organismic biology - Avian Ecology, Plant Ecology, Entomology, Herpetology, Mammalogy, Systematics
• Landscape Ecology - Restoration Ecology, Conservation Biology, Fire Ecology, Eco-hydrology, Agro-ecology, and
• Reserve Design - Endangered Species Planning, Land Management Planning, Environmental Education

Key Partner Organizations and Individuals 

Since 1971, the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has been the closest of partners with Archbold Biological Station for scrub conservation issues on the Lake Wales Ridge. Archbold would not have achieved success without TNC, and TNC would not have had the relevant and necessary scientific input without Archbold. Although there is no formal arrangement, staff at Archbold and TNC interact virtually every week. With the establishment of the Lake Wales Ridge network of protected areas many more partners now work on this initiative, all manage land on the Ridge and are members of a scientist-manager collaboration known as the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Working Group. 

Three state agencies:

Florida Department of Environmental Protection (parks and recreation)
Florida Forest Service (was Division of Forestry)
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
 
Two federal agencies:

US Fish and Wildlife Service
US DOD Avon Park Air Force Range
Two Water Management Districts:

South Florida Water Management District
Southwest Florida Water Management District

Three non-profit organizations:

Archbold Biological Station
The Nature Conservancy (FL Chapter) 
Bok Tower Garden

Two County governments:

Highlands County
Polk County 

In addition, Florida Natural Areas Inventory, although not regionally based, is a key partner, continually building the rare species databases for the Lake Wales Ridge and tracking the protected areas programs.

Initiative History and Champions 

Serendipity set the stage for this research-conservation collaboration, for chance brought three wealthy philanthropists with an interest in science and conservation to the Ridge in the first half of the last century. Philanthropists John A. Roebling II, Richard Archbold, and Edward Bok established the tradition of science and land conservation that would lead to the protection of the Ridge.

Many of the first naturalists on the Ridge were early champions of saving the scrub, highlighting its importance, but did not have the wherewithal to achieve conservation. The huge body of science accumulated at Archbold in the decades after 1941 was critical to making the case for conservation on the Lake Wales Ridge.

The critical conservation champions emerged in the 1980s when the scrub and its associated species looked to be "all going extinct". There was a turning point in 1989 when scientists and TNC rallied together to convince state and federal agencies to establish a major protected network on the Lake Wales Ridge. 

• Archbold Executive Directors (and the Archbold board that appointed them) Jim Layne (1967-1984), John Fitzpatrick (1987-1995) and Hilary Swain (1995-present).

• Archbold scientists (many, but especially Glen Woolfenden, Reed Bowman, Ron Myers, Tom Eisner, Mark Deyrup, Warren Abrahamson, Ann Johnstone, Eric Menges) and scientists from other institutions, especially Steve Christman who compiled a critical report in 1988 that served as the stimulus for scientist action.  

• The Nature Conservancy staff at the regional level (Steve Morrison, Mary Huffman and Tricia Martin) and at a state level the protection staff Bob Burns and Keith Fountain.

Since 1990, the number of protected sites on the Lake Wales Ridge has increased from 7 to nearly 60, and the area of ancient Florida scrub protected has trebled to 104,000 acres. There has been a significant improvement in the status of most of the listed species on the Ridge (State of the Scrub Report - Turner, Wilcove, and Swain 2006). The acquisition program is not complete - much remains to be purchased and perseverance is critical. 
Increasing public land ownership has ushered in the next critical phase for the

Distinctiveness and Strategic Significance of the Initiative 

The Lake Wales Ridge is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in North America; the ecosystem garnered attention because it is so vital to save.
Archbold Biological Station is unusual in that it is a world-renowned center of scientific research (over 1,700 publications largely based on the Florida scrub) with a mission that explicitly links research and education with conservation. This is unlike many other academic institutions. Archbold has independent funding (it was founded in 1941 by a wealthy aviator explorer Richard Archbold) which favored a long-term ecology program, building extraordinary knowledge of this ecosystem. The primary focus of Archbold research is on Lake Wales Ridge, and surrounding environs. Archbold scientists do not work elsewhere in the world, resulting in a tight interdisciplinary and focused approach to the regional ecosystem.

The organizational collaborative established in 1991 called the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Working Group provides the framework for all the partners managing land along the Ridge to work collaboratively. Twenty years later the Group is still going strong. The initial hopes have been realized beyond all reasonable expectations, allowing scientists and agencies to share information, resources and develop a shared vision. With no charter, byelaws, government oversight, votes, or any kind of formal structuring, the Group has exhibited surprising resiliency.

The Florida scrub is of international conservation importance. It harbors 56 species that either have NatureServe ranks of G3 (globally vulnerable) or higher, or are listed by the US FWS as Threatened or Endangered (29 species are federally listed). Highlands and Polk counties, which support most of the remaining scrub habitat, rank among the top 11 counties in the U.S.A critical to the protection of endangered species.  Archbold Biological Station serves as a role model for other biological stations throughout North America. 

Measurable Effectiveness of the Initiative 

Since 1990, the number of protected sites on the Lake Wales Ridge has increased from 7 to nearly 60, and the area of ancient Florida scrub protected has trebled to 104,000 acres. Several species that were close to extinction have been saved. The acquisition program is not complete - much remains to be purchased and perseverance is critical. 

There has been a significant improvement in the status of most of the threatened and endangered species on the Ridge. This was quantified in a major study in 2006, State of the Scrub Report (Turner, Wilcove, and Swain 2006).

The Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Working Group, the scientist management collaborative, has persisted for more than twenty years and attracts more and more people to its quarterly meetings - it is a must-do calendar event.

Fire management on the Ridge is quantified and known to be lagging significantly behind requirements; this has measured negative conservation implications on species such as scrub-jays. The partners work continually on ways to increase the acreage of land burned annually.

Transferability of the Initiative 

Already, the many visitors and colleagues of the Lake Wells Ridge initiative are using its methods and organization in a meaningful and productive way.

The Initiative’s Ability to Endure 

The Lake Wales Ridge Project initiative has endured for at least 20 years, maybe more depending on your viewpoint. Its impacts will be forever - many species were saved from likely extinction as a result of this initiative. Archbold Biological Station, the institution, over 70 years old, has the long-view and will be conducting science in this ecosystem into the future, even when staff and scientists change. Archbold is an enduring and evolving organization.
The number of partners in the broad conservation alliance provides some buffering and also peer pressure to maintain success. 

Success in conservation is never a single step; it is always a very long journey. Conservation success increases demands on a scientist's time, as they are asked to provide more catalytic input at every incremental step of the conservation journey. Every new step adds to the continuing burdens of earlier steps. It is harder to maintain a conservation program than to start, and scientists and conservationists can become spread very thin. This Project needs a wider base of support to prevent institutional fatigue from setting in.  Investments to move from a largely professional-driven conservation program to building grassroots public support, despite all the challenges, will be essential. The challenge remains to find a way to convey how the Florida scrub is not only vital for conservation but also intertwined with the things the public care most deeply about: connection to family, a sense of place, and love of country. 

Engagement Strategies 

Archbold Biological Station supports a staff of more than 50, half of whom are actively engaged in scientific research and conservation. The Station also hosts thousands of visiting scientists and students annually - all are exposed to Archbold's culture of conservation. More than 350 students have supported as Archbold research interns, trained in both science and conservation; many have gone onto careers in science and conservation elsewhere in the world. Archbold offers extensive K-12 programs for the regional communities and has just opened a new 9,000 SF learning center aimed at public education.

See above for extensive coordination among scientists and mangers in the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Working Group and for Archbold participation in civic groups, advisory bodies, and other conservation organizations.

One practical note; Archbold is the place of contact for all scientists and land managers interested in this Florida scrub and Lake Wales Ridge. As well as a beautiful preserve, it has excellent meeting facilities (meeting rooms, housing, meal service pleasant atmosphere) meaning that it is usually the location of choice for any group meeting on the scrub-related issues. This has the direct benefit of Archbold always knowing what is going on and being at the center of Ridge-related activities. The Station also has an excellent library, GIS, biological collections, and other facilities which attract agencies, conservation groups, and other scientists - and means it serves as a wonderful blending ground to discover what each it up to.

Archbold's other division; the MacArthur Agro-ecology Research Center serves as a conservation catalyst for the adjacent Northern Everglades (another Archbold conservation initiative we have not discussed here).