What remains of the pine ridges are still areas of great natural beauty. Hiking, biking, and horse trails have been created throughout some of the pinelands to allow people to enjoy its beauty and serenity without harming the landscape in any way. The best way to enjoy the pinelands now and for years to come is to stay on the trail and make sure not to leave behind litter or potential fire starters.
The periodic fires required for maintenance of the pinelands used to start and spread naturally due to lightning. But as people began to settle in the pinelands, they kept fires from spreading for their own safety. This fire prevention actually increased the chance of a more destructive fire to follow, because overgrown vegetation creates excess fuel and allows fires to burn longer. For the safety of both people and the ecosystem, controlled, “prescribed” fires must periodically be set on purpose.
Courtesy Florida State Archives.
Invasive plants are ones that are not native to Florida and damage our natural ecosystems. Because they compete for the same sunlight, water, and earth as native plants, they threaten them as well as the animals that depend on the plants. Without natural enemies, invasive plants such as Australian pine, Brazilian pepper, melaleuca, old world climbing fern, and water hyacinth can spread rapidly.
Migrating birds and other natural movements carry invasive plants to an area, as do humans. The melaleuca, one of the most environmentally dangerous trees, was brought to Florida precisely because it is good at taking over an area, at a time when people wanted to make the wetlands into “usable” land. But the melaleuca is still here, spreading quickly, making it difficult to remove from the pinelands.
Courtesy Forrest and Kim Starr.
Historically humans have sometimes acted like an invasive species. It is hoped that new rules will minimize damage to the pine ridge when humans move in. If people plan to build where gopher tortoises live, for example, they are required to relocate the tortoises or provide mitigation funding. Natural habitats are also protected through the creation of national parks.