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Re: NFC: Lake restoration

Compiled by: Herb Allen 

Wildlife islands, constructed as part of a lake enhancement strategy
first developed by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
biologists, may prove to be a godsend for degraded waters throughout the
Initiated during an extreme drawdown on Osceola County's Lake Jackson in
1994, the wildlife island concept now has been amplified to include
projects at five other lakes throughout central Florida.

During the next decade, dozens of wildlife islands are expected to be
created in the Sunshine State as cost-effective alternatives to upland
muck disposal.

According to Commission Biologist Jon Buntz, previous drawdown and lake
habitat enhancement projects centered on organic material being removed
by scraping a lake's dewatered bottom with bulldozers and loading the
matter onto trucks for transport to dumping sites a mile or more away.

"Due to an increasing reluctance of upland landowners to store muck,
along with the potential of reduced hauling costs, we investigated the
possibility of stockpiling organic material in the lake itself," said

"As part of the permitting conditions set by the Department of
Environmental Protection (DEP), the Commission was required to
investigate the effect these spoil islands have on water quality,
vegetation and wildlife."

A study conducted by Biological Scientist Mikel Hulon concluded that the
original pair of one to two-acre vegetated wildlife islands did not
produce a nutrient pollution source nor a turbidity problem as first

Instead, biologists were ecstatic after cataloging the benefits derived
by the additions.

From an economic standpoint, in-lake storage halves the cost of
transporting and stockpiling organic material onto land areas.

Our figures show that we spend $1.20 per cubic yard to deposit scraped
vegetation and bottom sediments in-lake, compared to $2.50 or more per
cubic yard for hauling it away," said Buntz.

For anglers, wildlife island construction opens vast areas of fishable
water that was previously choked off by hydrilla, cattails and other
undesirable vegetation.

The reestablishment of such covetable native plants as bulrush,
maidencane, pickerelweed and spatterdock provides quality fish, aquatic
invertebrate, insect and waterfowl habitat.

"Also," Buntz emphasized, "the islands open up additional shorelines for
fishermen and bedding areas for various species of fish including bass
and bream."

Continual monitoring by biologists document exceptional utilization by
amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles, along with a varied plant

At least 10 species of toads and frogs call these oasis areas home. More
than two dozen bird varieties, including kestrels, anhingas, kingfishers,
ibis, herons, egrets, limpkins, gallinule, hawks, stork and wild turkey
either roost, nest or regularly visit the islands.

Sightings, tracks, diggings and/or scat of bobcats, fox, marsh rabbits,
raccoons, otters, skunks, muskrat, deer and wild hogs are but a few of
the mammals regularly noted, while more than a dozen kinds of snakes and
turtles are known to be active.

During an island's construction, a delta, shelf or plateau is factored
into the equation, which mammal and reptile access. Except during the
coldest months, it's rare to approach a wildlife island without seeing
anywhere from two to a half-dozen or more alligators on or near its

Since Lake Jackson's original pair of islands, four more have been added.
Twenty-one wildlife islands were erected during Lake Kissimmee's most
recent drawdown.

Orange Lake, currently undergoing a major renovation effort, now has two
islands with, perhaps, more to come. Lake Cypress has a brand new
wildlife island while others are under construction on Lake Istokpoga and
the tiny 200-acre Piney Z.

Because of strategic locations, it will be relatively simple to add
organic material to existing windrows should the need arise and if, at a
future date, it is deemed an island should be removed entirely, the
project can be done quickly and economically. Due to current Commission
budget restraints, creation of wildlife islands during its ambitious lake
renovation efforts throughout the state appear to be of great benefit to
the fishery while saving substantial amounts of money, thus giving
anglers and nature lovers more bang for their buck.

NOTE: Photos are by Herb Allen. Newpaper-quality photos can be downloaded
directly from the higher resolution image by clicking the small photo and
then saving the larger photo. For enlarged magazine-quality photos please
email Bob Wattendorf.