A substantial portion of the Three Lakes Wildlife
Management Area south of Hwy. 523 is part of the central peninsular
Florida dry prairie ecosystem. The landscape is a mosaic of dry and
wet prairie, ephemeral depression ponds and marshes, mesic (moist)
flatwoods, hammocks, and cypress ponds and sloughs. Diversity-both
in plant and animal life-distinguishes Florida's dry prairies from
the vast grasslands of the Great Plains of North America and the
steppes of Asia.
North of Hwy. 523 the majority of land is pine
flatwoods, interspersed with ephemeral depression ponds and marshes
and cypress ponds and sloughs. Patches of scrub are found on higher
land between the Florida Turnpike and Hwy. 441.
Fire is a critical tool for managing the dry
prairie and the mesic flatwoods on Three Lakes. The plants and
animals of the prairie are adapted to and sustained by fire.
Florida grasshopper sparrow
The Florida grasshopper sparrow, a federal and
state listed endangered subspecies, rarely nests in areas that have
not been recently burned (within 2.5 years). The sparrow is usually
found in areas that have been burned within 1.5 years. Wiregrass, a
common dry prairie ground cover, won't flower and seed unless it
burns during spring or summer.
Historically, fires were most frequent in the
spring and early summer at the onset of the lightning season. The
managers of Three Lakes burn the prairie between January and August
with a goal of maintaining the prairie in a low, grassy condition
by controlling the encroachment of palmettos, myrtles, oaks, and
other hardwoods. The prairie is divided into small burn units that
are burned at different frequencies, although all are burned at
least once very 3 years.
Nonnative invasive plants such as cogongrass,
Brazilian pepper, Japanese climbing fern and Old-world climbing
fern are removed using environmentally-safe chemicals.