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MarshBunny Notes
The St. Johns River The Intracoastal and Beyond
Mosquito Island, The Death of the Pines

Some people also know Mosquito Island by the name of "Christmas Tree", but the Australian pines that gave it that name are totally dead now, so that name just doesn't work anymore.

Mosquito Island
A few short months made quite a difference.
Mosquito Island across Little Sawgrass lake.

We ran into a bunch of hunters on the island one day, and someone said that they had heard that the Water Management had sprayed them intentionally. That seemed rather strange, as the trees had been there forever and were a familiar stopping place to everyone. Most trees on the marsh are low, bushy things like Myrtle and Willow, so the tall Pine trees were one of the few landmarks that could be seen for a long ways.

Well, inquiring minds want to know, so I wrote to the St. Johns River Water Management District and asked. I got a very prompt and friendly response telling me the trees were indeed sprayed by them. Believe it or not, Australian Pines are considered a "category 1 invasive pest plant". Category 1 are those plants that "pose the greatest threat to the natural environment". Who knew!?

Public land managers are required to control "exotic invasive plants" and maintain the environment in its natural state. Apparently their job performance is graded on how well they perform this duty, therefore the spraying of the Australian Pines.

Dead Trees on Mosquito IslandI was told that they could "ask staff to pursue the possibility" of planting trees to replace the Pines, but in my experience of government language this means that nothing will happen until the wild plants just take over the place on their own. (Nothing against the Water Management people - they seem like a great bunch of people who are doing a good job, but government wheels do turn slowly.)

I felt the need to ask another question...the pines have been there as long as I remember; in what way were they a threat to the environment?

Again, a prompt and informative response. Australian Pines spread easily and form closed stands which exclude native vegetation. Most definitely true - except for a couple of Cabbage Palms there was not so much as a weed growing in the stand of pines.

Also, they have shallow roots and will blow over easily in a storm. This is also true, as I know from personal experience (one almost fell on my garage one time - only missed it by 2 or 3 feet). The Water Management people said that isn't a great problem in the marsh, but I have taken shelter from a storm on the island in the past and I remember being very concerned about a tree landing on my head.

Camp on Mosquito Island
Oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss make a lacy pattern against the sky

For now the tip of the island with the carpet of dead pine needles is a fire hazard - especially with the drought we are in. A flash of lightning or a stray spark from a campfire will turn the deadwood into a bonfire. One more good reason to pray for rain!

Campers now are carefull to build their fires far away from the pines, and people in search of a place to take a bathroom break have to find a spot with a little more cover.

I miss the pines, but the Oak trees are still healthy and beautiful and *something* will eventually grow to fill in the place where the pines once were.


Mosquito Island Panoramic
A panoramic of the island on a busy day. (Click the image to see a larger version.)
Dead Trees on Mosquito Island
The dead end of the island. It used to be cool and shady.
Camp on Mosquito Island
A camp on the other end...far from flamable pine needles.

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