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Published on: News

Florida’s Natural Gems: Lake Wales Ridge

published on: February 19, 2020

Lake Wales Ridge is one of the most biodiverse areas in North America – and also one of the most threatened. Consisting of numerous sites, the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem project includes the best remaining tracts of natural scrub.

The Lake Wales Ridge Florida Forever project includes a total of 58,000 acres – with 22,000 acres yet to be conserved. This once expansive ecosystem is the remnant of Florida’s ancient sand dunes. Long ago, most of Florida’s peninsula was covered in water. The ridge was an isolated island-like oasis for many species of plant and wildlife, making it an incredibly unique ecosystem found nowhere else in the world.

While much of this Florida Forever project has been completed, precious lands in the Lake Wales Ridge system are at risk of being lost forever. Studies estimate that nearly 90% of crucial upland plant communities of the Lake Wales Ridge have been lost to development and agriculture. 

Florida scrub-jay are the only bird that lives exclusively in Florida. This bird lives in extended family groups. As their offspring grow, older young help bring up the next year’s brood. The family takes turns gathering food and watching out for hawks.

An amazing 75 rare plant and animal species are found in this dynamic scrub ecosystem. Federally endangered plant species that rely on this site include the pygmy fringe tree, perforate reindeer lichen, Garrett’s scrub balm, wedge-leaved button-snakeroot, Highlands scrub hypericum, scrub ziziphus, scrub lupine, and scrub mint. Many of these plants are endemic, meaning that the only place they occur on earth is on the Lake Wales Ridge. Species endemic to Florida include charming Florida scrub-jay, Auburndale scrub scarab beetle, sand skink, and blue calamintha bee.

The Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem is not yet complete. Without full Florida Forever funding, it is under constant threat of development. If we don’t conserve this land now, we stand to lose the plants and wildlife that inhabit it and lose this one-of-a-kind ecosystem forever.

Once completed, this project will serve as a vital connection between several smaller conservation lands along the Lake Wales Ridge. Its outstanding natural communities include scrub and sandhill, scrubby flatwood, bayhead, pine flatwood, and oak hammock. 

FCV’s Legislative Team is fighting for Lake Wales Ridge at the Capitol – but we need your help. To continue our advocacy work, we need your support. Our Gems Report is an essential educational tool for legislators. You can help us continue to hand these reports out at the Capitol by purchasing a copy of your own. 

Lake Wales Ridge, photo courtesy of Florida Natural Areas Inventory