The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has completed an important phase in a habitat enhancement project on East Lake Tohopekaliga in St. Cloud.
The East Lake Toho drawdown, which began in October of 2019, is now complete and will improve both fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities in and around the lake.
For the project, the FWC dried out almost a quarter of the lake bottom, an area of more than 2,800 acres. The agency then used bulldozers, excavators and other earth-moving equipment to remove 134 acres - an area equal to more than 100 football fields – of nuisance aquatic plants and trees and organic sediment along the east shoreline of the lake. The FWC and the Florida Forest Service also conducted prescribed burns on 150 acres of dense cattail on the north end of the lake.
The drying of lake marsh habitat and follow-up removal and burning of nuisance plants serve an important role in restoring and maintaining suitable habitat for many fish and wildlife species, while also allowing improved lake access for anglers, boaters and hunters. This management is especially beneficial to the Endangered Everglade snail kite, which uses East Lake Tohopekaliga for foraging, nesting and rearing young.
“This integrated management approach will enhance important fish and wildlife habitat which has degraded over decades due to stabilized water levels as a result of flood control,” said FWC Project Manager Tim Coughlin. “When lakes do not maintain naturally fluctuating water levels, nuisance aquatic vegetation and organic sediments – also known as muck – build up on the lake bottom resulting in poor habitat conditions.
Application of drawdowns and prescribed burning is part of an integrated management approach used by the FWC on many lakes and wetlands throughout Florida. They are a way to apply natural processes and ensure ecosystem health.
Now that this phase of the project is complete, the lake will begin to refill, dependent on rainfall. Once lake levels return to normal, the FWC will complete the project by replanting portions of the east shoreline with 70,000 native emergent plants including bulrush, Kissimmee grass and duck-potato.
For more information about the FWC’s Aquatic Habitat Conservation and Restoration projects, visit MyFWC.com/AquaticHabitat.
For general waterbody information, fishing forecasts, virtual tours, plant control operation schedules and annual workplans, boat ramp information, and more, visit the “What’s Happening on My Lake” website at MyFWC.com/Lake.