Florida Scrub-Jay Advocates Defend Restoration Plans in Brevard County

Restoration is a matter of survival for this area’s scrub-jays.

In Brevard County, a group of recreational mountain bikers opposed 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 early May.

Florida Scrub-Jays have evolved to live in Florida scrub habitat, which historically burned every few years as a result of lightning and people-ignited fires. This frequent fire renews the jays’ habitat, ensuring the open sandy patches they depend upon remain clear and canopy trees do not encroach upon the area, 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.

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 (EEL) program staff in their efforts to restore open habitat the jays need at the Sanctuary using both mechanical tree removal and prescribed fire. Space Coast Audubon and Audubon Florida members attended additional public meetings to speak and be a presence for the birds.

At a Town Council meeting in May, the groups reached a compromise: the EEL program will relocate the bike trails to the perimeter of the property where shade trees will remain, while the interior of the Sanctuary will be restored and managed for the jays.

Thank you to Vince Lamb and 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 soon. 

This article appeared in the Summer 2023 Naturalist. Read the full magazine here.

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