FWC grant supporting Conservation Foundation efforts to protect and restore Upper Myakka region

Discovery of effects of invasive plant previously unseen in Sarasota and Manatee counties being addressed

The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast recently received a $59,000 grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to help create a buffer of managed lands on the Conservation Foundation’s Upper Myakka Preserve, the Foundation has announced.

The Preserve borders Myakka River State Park, a news release notes.

This 60-acre, riverfront property protects more than 1 mile of the Myakka River directly upstream of the park “and serves as a critical gateway between the sensitive ecosystems of the park and about 30 miles of unprotected river upstream,” the release explains.

The Conservation Foundation manages the Upper Myakka Preserve collaboratively with the FWC, park staff and the Wild and Scenic River Protection Program “to improve wetland habitats across boundaries and throughout the Myakka River corridor,” the release adds.

Funds from the FWC grant are being used for the Foundation’s initiative to eradicate invasive plant species — “which smother native marsh wildflowers and block wildlife from foraging and nesting — before they enter the park,” the release points out.

“An excellent example” of how this buffer of land is already protecting the park comes in the form of the recent discovery of an exotic plant called aquatic soda apple (Solanum tampicense), which previously was unseen in Sarasota County or Manatee County, the release adds. Property owners may be familiar with its close relative, tropical soda apple, which invades pastures, the release notes. Although aquatic soda apple is similarly covered in thorns and is also highly invasive, the release continues, “it is only found in wetlands, where it quickly establishes dense brambles” that exceed 6 feet in height and are taking over miles of shoreline and acres of wetlands.

The Foundation’s discovery of the plant and subsequent notification to Myakka River State Park staff, the Myakka Wild and Scenic River Protection Program, Sarasota and Manatee counties, FWC, adjacent private landowners, and other partners, led to the additional discovery of aquatic soda apple growing within the park, the release explains. “Thanks to this early detection, treatment has already begun and coordinated eradication efforts are underway.”

“Plants don’t respect property boundaries,” said Lee Amos, the Conservation Foundation’s biologist, in the release. “It’s critical for neighbors to work together to keep weeds under control for the benefit of people, wildlife, and livestock. It’s a community effort, and we are grateful to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for their support.”

In addition to the removal of invasive plant species, the Foundation “is working to restore and enhance the river shoreline and surrounding floodplain forests by planting thousands of native trees and wildflowers,” the release points out. “These plantings support wildlife, including numerous animals listed as species of greatest conservation need, by providing foraging habitat within Upper Myakka Preserve and safeguarding the significant foraging habitat within [the park],” the release notes.

To learn more about volunteer planting opportunities, visit conservationfoundation.com/myakkarestoration.

Beyond the Upper Myakka Preserve, the upper half of the Myakka River remains largely unprotected and, therefore, at risk, the release points out. The Foundation continues to work with members of the community “to preserve these working landscapes and the rural heritage of the Myakka region, while at the same time safeguarding critical habitat and connecting protected lands across Southwest Florida,” the release adds.

“If you want to learn more about options for your land, including funding resources available,” contact Debi Osborne, director of land protection, by calling 941-918-2100 or emailing debi@conservationfoundation.com.