In Brevard County, a group of recreational mountain bikers have been opposing the much needed ecological restoration of Malabar Scrub Sanctuary. Restoration is a matter of survival for this area’s scrub-jays, and Brevard County Jay Watcher and Space Coast Audubon member Vince Lamb rallied advocates to lend jays their voices at the Brevard County Commission meeting in January.
Florida Scrub-Jays have evolved to live in Florida scrub habitat which historically burned every few years as a result of lightning-ignited fires. This frequent fire is renewing for the jays’ habitat, ensuring the open sandy patches they depend upon remain clear and canopy trees do not encroach upon the habitat, making it inviable for the jays. With the development of Florida, roads and other converted areas interrupted the ability of fire to sweep across the landscape. Where fire does ignite naturally, humans quickly extinguish it for the safety of our communities. Dr. David Breininger and Dr. Robert Lacy have produced a population viability assessment showing how these populations are at risk.
Many of the remaining scrub tracts have become overgrown, resulting in a cruel irony: Even if they are protected from development as parks or preserves, the jays cannot thrive on them. Without proper maintenance, the abundance of fuel makes these areas a greater wildfire risk to human neighbors and also puts the birds at risk of predation by hawks.
Audubon Florida and Space Coast Audubon submitted a letter in support of Brevard County’s Environmentally Endangered Lands program staff in their efforts to restore open habitat the jays need at the Sanctuary using both mechanical tree removal and prescribed fire. At the meeting, after listening to the jay advocates, the commissioners withdrew a motion to have the town manage the Sanctuary and further voted to support restoration.
Thank you to those who acted in defense of this vulnerable species. With the continued advocacy of Vince and his fellow Brevard County Jay Watchers, we are hopeful the sanctuary’s restoration will begin this year.
Article first appeared in the Jay Watch Report. Click here to read full report.