Habitat Restoration in the Peace River Watershed

  • Active construction at the Peace River Valley Ranch restoration site.

  • FWRI biologists conducting a cross sectional survey at a Peace River study site.

  • Degraded shoreline on the Peace River at King’s Ranch before restoration.

  • Active construction at King's Ranch restoration site on the Peace River.

  • Restored shoreline on the Peace River at King’s Ranch after project completion.

  • FWRI biologists with fish collected during an electrofishing survey following restoration at King's Ranch.

Habitat degradation is one of the primary factors contributing to the decline of diversity in aquatic systems in the southeastern United States. Human factors including poorly managed agricultural practices and construction can increase sedimentation and lead to channel instability in rivers and streams. This in turn can have severe biotic impacts on food chains, habitat complexity, spawning and rearing habitats, instream cover and water temperatures. The initial step to restore degraded streambeds is to identify those areas of impairment. Once impaired areas are identified, management must correct the problem through prevention, mitigation, stabilization or restoration.

The Peace River Watershed in southwest Florida was listed in the highest-ranking group of watersheds for habitat enhancement by The Florida Wildlife Legacy Initiative’s (FWLI) State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) due to its high potential for urban development, high number of threats and high number of Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). During a previous project from 2015-2019, 512 impaired sites with varying levels of severity were identified in the Peace River as potential candidates for restoration. Funding from State Wildlife Grants and FWC’s Aquatic Habitat Restoration and Enhancement subsection allowed for the formation of a restoration project to address two severely degraded sites: a 450-foot streambank on Peace River Valley Ranch near Zolfo Springs, and a 1000-foot streambank on King Ranch near Arcadia. Restoration of these streambanks would benefit a variety of SGCN inhabiting aquatic, semi-aquatic and terrestrial habitat by reducing sediment smothering, providing instream habitat and improving water quality and riparian habitat.

The restoration sites were characterized as highly eroding streambanks devoid of functioning riparian habitat. Restoration was completed using natural channel design where the eroded streambank was re-contoured using heavy machinery and the new streambank was stabilized using toe-wood structures. Toe wood structures were comprised of root wad logs cantilevered over foundation logs to reduce erosive flows and create an undercut bank for instream cover and fish refugia. Native vegetation planted along the streambank also served to stabilize the floodplain and create a natural habitat. Sampling was scheduled before and after construction to evaluate the effects of the restoration and will continue through June 2022. Electrofishing was conducted to monitor fish communities and a laser level and stadia rods were used to measure river cross sections and bank profiles. 

This project addresses goals and objectives of the FWLI’s SWAP by improving aquatic ecosystem habitat quality and connectivity for species of greatest conservation need. The restoration method used here, natural channel design, has been successfully used in other systems in north Florida (St. Mary's River) and the panhandle (Chipola River), but had not been used in peninsular Florida until now. FWRI’s monitoring is designed to document the effects of restoration on fish communities, bank stability and sedimentation/erosion rates. The data obtained in this study will provide support and justification for future work in the Peace River and beyond, as well as working toward meeting the FWLI objective to restore at least 3,000 feet of stream habitat by 2025.

The project is made possible through the exhaustive efforts of FWC scientists Craig Mallison, Jamie Richardson, Amanda Christiansen and Maggie Bass, as well as former FWC employee Greg Knothe.