From the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service:
Billy and Marcia Boothe are naturalists, having spent a lifetime observing, documenting, photographing and teaching about Florida’s plants, insects and wildlife. So when they bought their land in the late 90s, it was to restore the land and preserve its plants, which include the Torreya tree, a very rare conifer that grows only in the bluffs and ravines in Gadsden and Liberty counties and an adjacent county in Georgia. Discovering a robust population of endangered gopher tortoises with 40 burrows scattered throughout the property was a plus. Located between Torreya State Park and Greensboro, Fla., they named Crooked Creek Preserve after the creek running through their land to the Apalachicola River.
While working with a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s biologist they mentioned that they wanted to increase their wildlife habitat. He directed them to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Billy and Marcia began the process of restoring longleaf on 22 acres to bring the ecosystem back to what it used to be. They cut the hardwood and planted 8,400 longleaf pine tubelings, along with 25,000 wiregrass plugs, placed six feet apart to carry fire. Prescribed burns set every two years keep out the undergrowth and wildlife has flourished. The Boothes watch quail, wild turkey, deer, bobcat and bear. Fire has caused wildflowers, including some endangered species, to bloom profusely again. “It has worked out beautifully,” Marcia says.
Even though the couple manages their forest primarily for wildlife instead of harvest, Marcia recommends other landowners consider longleaf pine. “The tales about longleaf taking forever to grow aren’t really true,” she says. Although the species is slow growing the first 10 to 15 years, she says it catches up. “Longleaf is a lot less work. It is adapted to the habitat, drought and insect resistant, fire adapted and you get a lot more money for it,” Marcia says.
Last year they planted pollinator-attracting flowers, shrubs and trees. After clearing the area of weeds, they planted three acres in native wild flowers bordered by hedgerows of Chinquapins, Chickasaw plums, redbuds and silverbells. They also planted less well-known plants such as native blueberries, aralias and Hercules’ clubs that Billy says are great for pollinators. He built 20 bee boxes.
Financial and technical assistance from NRCS helped them do the work through the Longleaf Pine and Pollinator initiatives. As soon as they cleared their land, they started seeing the benefits of their hard work. Motion-activated cameras set up at 14 gopher tortoise burrows track their behavior and wildlife passing by. The gopher tortoise is the keystone species of the longleaf pine ecosystem and hundreds of species depend on their burrows for survival. And friends who keep 32 bee hives on the property provide the couple with honey. Billy photographs rare plants and wildlife for publication in natural history books, magazines and websites.
The couple continue their outreach and education about land stewardship through a Facebook page for landowners in Northwest Florida at: https://www.facebook.com/FloridaLandStewardsofNWFlorida/
Join the discussion about land restoration, tree selection, vendors, how to get forestry assistance and financial assistance at their Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/FloridaLandStewardsofNWFlorida/
See Billy and Marcia Boothes’ photography at http://natureinfocus.com/
To learn how you can restore longleaf pine or develop wildlife or pollinator habitat on your land contact your local NRCS office.