Lake Wales Forest

The Lake Wales Forest Mitigation and Net Ecosystem Benefit Site (LWF) is a 398.5 acre wetland and upland restoration site located in southern Polk County which represents a portion of the required mitigation resulting from unavoidable impacts associated with the installation of a 325 mile long natural gas pipeline by Gulfstream Natural Gas System.

Historically, this site supported a mixed hardwood/bay forested wetland basin surrounded by upland pine and scrub habitats. Agricultural activities had severely impacted this area over the past 60 years through activities such as wetland draining and clearing for cattle/citrus production. However, the most significant change occurred approximately 40 years ago when a large canal system was installed throughout the wetland breaching an isolating sandhill ridge. This activity ultimately drained the site into the Lake Arbuckle system and the property was subsequently cleared and converted to improved pasture for use by cattle.

KECE devised multiple restoration methodologies and subsequently received agency approval. Site hydrology was restored by strategically placing a series of water control structures to retain storm-water on-site. Once appropriate hydrology had been achieved, native habitats were restored through plantings/seeding of native vegetation and the control of exotic vegetation. In total, approximately 143 acres of wetland forests, 34 acres of marsh, and more than 220 acres of uplands (including approximately 170 acres of scrub habitat) have been restored or enhanced on this mitigation site since this project’s inception.

KECE has been the primary consultant on the project and conducts project management/maintenance activities including construction over-site, land management and hydrological/vegetative monitoring. The LWF site has met the Environmental Resource Permit  restoration success criteria, and was released by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the US Army Corps of Engineers in December 2010. Gulfstream plans to donate the restored property to a public agency or private conservation group to preserve the scrub and wetland habitat which is contiguous to the Arbuckle Tract of the Lake Wales State Forest.

Preservation of the LWF site will also benefit numerous plant and animal species that occupy the Lake Wales Scrub Ridge area. KECE ecologists have documented 97 bird species, 18 mammal species, 33 reptile species, and 18 amphibian species utilizing the restored and enhanced habitats. Florida scrub-jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens) were found less than a quarter mile to the southeast in the Arbuckle Tract of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest in October 2003 and are expected to immigrate to the site as the restored scrub habitat matures and corridors are established.

Species Already Documented on the Property


  • Florida Sandhill Crane (nesting)
  • Audubon’s Crested Caracara
  • Bald Eagle
  • Little Blue Heron
  • White Ibis
  • Snowy Egret
  • Tricolored Heron
  • Southeastern American Kestrel


  • Florida Black Bear
  • Florida Mouse
  • Sherman’s Fox Squirrel


  • American Alligator
  • Eastern Indigo Snake
  • Gopher Tortoise
  • Sand Skink


  • Curtiss Milkweed
  • Many Flowered Pink Grass
  • Pygmy Fringetree
  • Pigeon-winged Butterfly-pea
  • Garberia
  • Highlands Scrub St. John’s Wort
  • Nodding Pinweed
  • Scrub Blazing Star
  • Pine Lily
  • Scrub Beargrass
  • Cinnamon Fern
  • Royal Fern
  • Cutthroat Grass
  • Papery Whitlow-wort
  • Lewton’s Polygala
  • Giant Orchid
  • Scrub Plum
  • Hidden Stylisma
  • Cardinal Air Plant
  • Giant Wild Plum
  • Scrub Ziziphus

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