The Blackwater River State Forest is in the U.S. state of Florida. The 189,848 acre (768 km²) forest is located in the panhandle, northeast of Pensacola. Blackwater River State Forest is one of the largest state forests in Florida, and is named for the Blackwater River, which begins to the north in Alabama and meanders approximately 30 miles (48 km) southwestward through the forest into Blackwater Bay, near Milton, Florida. The Blackwater River is one of the few shifting sand bottom streams which remains in its natural state for nearly its entire length. The topography of the forest is gently rolling and contains various natural communities. Blackwater River State Forest is known for its longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem, which, in combination with the Conecuh National Forest to the north and Eglin Air Force Base to the south, is the largest contiguous ecological community of this type in the world.
This system once covered over 60 million acres (240,000 km2) in the southeastern United States coastal plain area. Less than 3 million of the original acreage now remains. Longleaf pine communities are rich in plant and animal life, including many classified as endangered, threatened, or species of special concern. The forest lies on the southern tip of sandy, red clay soil deposited over west Florida. Erosion shaped the land's surface into low rolling hills separated by meandering water courses and broad flood plains. Elevations within the forest range from 10 feet (3.0 m) to 290 feet (88 m) above sea level. The changes in soil composition and the varying degree of moisture present in the forest support at least five principal types of plant communities: longleaf pine-scrub oak, slash pine, swamp hardwood, loblolly pine-hardwood, and Atlantic white cedar.
One of the many outstanding features on Blackwater River State Forest is the many beautiful streams that meander throughout the forest. The most notable of these waterways are Blackwater River, Juniper Creek, Coldwater Creek and Sweetwater Creek. Canoeing on these waterways is a popular activity.Throughout the northern ranges of the forest where soil types retain more moisture, you will find vegetative species such as: longleaf pine, southern red oak, water oak and dogwood. In the southern ranges of the forest where soil types are coarse with little capacity to hold water you will find vegetative species such as: longleaf pine, turkey oak, post oak, bluejack oak and persimmon. Wiregrass, gallberry, yaupon, wax myrtle and blueberry are common understory species. Bottomlands support such species as water oak, sweetbay, redbay, titi, American holly, Atlantic white cedar and southern magnolia.
Within the forest, pitcher plant bogs are unique areas containing a diversity of carnivorous plants which lure, trap and then digest insects. The carnivorous plants of the forest include glistening sundews, butterworts, bladderworts, and four species of pitcher plants. Pitcher plants trap insects in their erect trumpet- shaped leaves with an array of downward pointing hairs and a slippery wall, which lead down to a deadly bath of rainwater and digestive enzymes.Through sound multiple-use management practices, the Florida Division of Forestry maintains a proper balance between resource utilization and resource protection. These practices include management of timber production and harvesting, watershed protection, management and enhancement of wildlife habitat, a management program for plants and animals that are endangered, threatened, or species of special concern, and recreation resource management.
Longleaf /pine wiregrass management is dependent upon an active prescribed fire program. The use of fire during the growing season is an effective tool in controlling hardwoods and promoting wiregrass flowering. Fire also helps to control brown spot needle blight on young longleaf pine seedlings, to improve wildlife habitat and control hardwood encroachment in sensitive areas such as pitcher plant bogs or red-cockaded woodpecker clusters. It also contributes to the restoration and maintenance of biological communities, and reduces the hazard of wildfire.
The prescribed burn program on Blackwater River State Forest enhances the habitat of native fauna and flora by controlling the hardwoods and underbrush that can replace the variety of fragile species living on the forest. Control burning allows for the maintenance of the largest remaining fragment of longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem in the world.
Timber management practices on Blackwater River State Forest are important in the restoration and maintenance of forest ecosystems and provide a variety of socioeconomic benefits to Floridians. Thousands of acres of slash pine plantations are being converted back to longleaf pine which historically dominated Blackwater River State Forest's sandy soils. Harvesting activities follow Silviculture Best Management Practices (BMPs).
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