Low-Cost or Volunteer Labor Used to Restore Two District Properties in Manatee County

This summer the District coordinated restoration efforts on two tracts of District-owned land in Manatee County — the Little Manatee River Southfork Tract and the Edward W. Chance Reserve’s Gilley Creek Tract.

Inmates Assist With Restoration Efforts at Gilley Creek Tract

Staff and workers help with restoration. Will VanGelder, District senior land manager, and Greg Taylor, District senior heavy equipment operator, supervised and assisted the inmates who worked on the restoration project.

The District took advantage of low-cost labor from the Manatee County Jail to assist with restoration efforts at the Edward W. Chance Reserve’s Gilley Creek Tract. Much of this former cattle ranch was ditched and converted to pasture and row crops. The District is in the process of restoring the native scrub habitat traditionally found in the area.

“This site is becoming an island because most of the surrounding area is agriculture,” said Will VanGelder, senior land manager. “We’re re-creating habitat for scrub species, such as the scrub-jay, gopher tortoise, gopher frog and others.”

Two road gang crews, under the supervision of Manatee County deputies and District staff, sweated in the July sun as they unloaded thousands of oaks and palmettos and planted them across the 46-acre restoration site.

“If we didn’t use inmate labor, we would have had to hire someone else to do it,” said VanGelder. “Using inmate labor on this project saved the District $23,000 this year and will save at least $35,000 next year.”

In Manatee County, road gang crews do a variety of manual labor tasks for the county and other agencies that hire them. Inmates in the road gang crews have been sentenced for mostly misdemeanor charges and are serving one week to a year in the county jail.

“Some of these guys haven’t had a real job,” said John Smith, Manatee County deputy. “Being on the road gang teaches them skills that may help them get a job in construction or lawn work when they are released.”

Smith and fellow deputy Eric Stroup have been supervising road gang crews for about three years. Both said they enjoy working with the inmates.

“It’s a productive unit. I am proud of it and so are some of the inmates,” said Stroup. “Some of the guys will bring their family out to a completed project to show them what they did.”

Next year VanGelder plans to use the inmates to plant oaks and palmettos on another 77 acres.

In addition to planting trees and shrubs, the District is also planning to fill in some of the ditches and regrade the land to restore the site’s natural flow.

Volunteers Plant Florida Golden Asters at Little Manatee River Southfork Tract

Ann Marie Lauritsen planting golden asters. Ann Marie Lauritsen, a USFWS wildlife biologist, volunteered her time to help plant Florida golden aster at the District’s Little Manatee River Southfork Tract.

This June a group of 30 volunteers representing several groups and agencies planted just over 1,000 Florida golden asters at the District’s Little Manatee River Southfork Tract.

The Florida golden aster is native to west-central Florida and is currently only found in scrub communities in Hardee, Hillsborough and Manatee counties. While this federal and state endangered species used to be common in Pinellas County, only two introduced populations remain. According to a 2006 survey completed by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory, only 7,900 plants were found at 26 sites.

With the 90-degree heat as a motivator, the volunteers planted all of the plants within two hours. The newly planted golden asters joined an additional 414 plants installed last summer.

This volunteer planting was a cooperative effort with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Bok Tower Garden’s Rare Plant Conservation Program. The goal is to create a self-sustaining and genetically diverse population of this endangered species in Manatee County.

Researchers will continue to harvest wild seed from the newly planted golden asters to collect more information about the population dynamics and microhabitat requirements for this species.

The USFWS and Bok Tower Gardens plan to continue this multiyear project through 2011 and plan to reintroduce more golden asters in Pinellas County