Conserving the Aucilla River Watershed
The Aucilla River watershed stretches from Thomasville, Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico and contains unique natural and cultural resources found nowhere else. In 2019, Tall Timbers formed the Aucilla River Watershed Coalition (ARWC), a network of partners all working toward the goal of conserving this incredible landscape.
Why the Aucilla?
There is no river like the Aucilla River. Along its 90-mile length, the river disappears into impenetrable swamps, passes cliffs of limestone, tumbles over rapids, vanishes underground over 30 times, and is fed by a spring-fed river just before it reaches the Gulf of Mexico.
The river passes through high-quality forests and wetlands that contain black bears, bobcats, swallow-tailed kites, gopher tortoises, and hundreds of other animal and plant species. Evidence of species no longer with us tells us that everything from mastodons and ground sloths to ivory-billed woodpeckers and Bachman’s warblers once lived along the river.
Cut marks on mastodon tusks highlight that humans have been a part of this watershed for a long time as well; 14,500 years to be exact. In short, this mysterious river provides both a glimpse into the past and a vision for the future of landscape-scale conservation.
What are the Threats?
While the Aucilla River watershed is one of the more underpopulated regions of Georgia and Florida, that does not make it immune to the impacts of humans. Past timber harvesting greatly reduced the extent of longleaf pine and bald cypress, impacting many wildlife species that depended upon them.
The watershed faces numerous water quality threats as well, mostly from fertilizers and manure. Invasive hydrilla and other plants choke tributaries like the Wacissa River, while invasive animals like feral pigs and fire ants continue to impact the terrestrial portions of the watershed.
Finally, development continues to fragment the remaining natural habitats within the watershed. The proposed Suncoast Connector Toll Road, approved by the Florida legislature in 2019, has the potential to bisect and exacerbate development within the watershed, leading to potentially negative long-term impacts.
What is Tall Timbers Doing?
Across the watershed, state agencies and private landowners have worked together to permanently protect land. Over 68,000 acres are in public ownership and over 46,000 acres of private land have been protected with conservation easements. Even with these successes, there is more work to do to fill in the conservation gaps and protect more resources associated with the river.
In 2019, Tall Timbers formed the Aucilla River Watershed Coalition, a group of diverse partners focused on conserving the Aucilla, as part of its goal to permanently conserve 100% of Aucilla River frontage and 50% of the watershed. This will be accomplished through conservation easements with private landowners and strategic public land acquisitions.
Tall Timbers has received grants to improve habitat management in the watershed, control invasive species, and enhance the connection between local residents and their watershed. As a leader in prescribed fire research and implementation, Tall Timbers actively works with landowners and agencies in the region to restore habitats with the natural process of fire. Tall Timbers is actively opposing the Suncoast Connector Toll Road passing through the watershed as well.