Imperiled Scrub Ecosystem

Scrub ecosystems are rapidly declining throughout its historic range in coastal Brevard County, Florida. Bergan (1994) found an estimated 68.8% loss in Atlantic Coastal Ridge scrub habitat from 1943 to 1991 in North Brevard County.[1] Brevard County scrub habitats are regionally significant in that they support some of the largest Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) populations remaining in the State of Florida, as well as other species of conservation concern.

In a grassroots effort to protect the ecosystems, natural communities and species that contribute to Brevard County's rich biological diversity, the Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) Program was established by Brevard County voters in a 1990 referendum and reaffirmed by a second referenda in 2004.

The Vision of the EELProgram is to acquire, protect, and maintain environmentally endangered lands guided by scientific principles for conservation and the best available practices for resources stewardship and ecosystem management. The EELProgram established the Brevard County Coastal Scrub Ecosystem Initiative (CSEI), one of three regional conservation projects designed and implemented by the EELProgram, to protect and manage scrub at a landscape scale. This presentation focuses on the acquisition and management strategies implemented by the EELProgram to protect and enhance the habitat quality of Brevard County's important scrub ecosystems.


The steep declines in both scrub habitat and Florida Scrub-Jay populations can be directly correlated to the expansive growth of Brevard County's human population during the past 60 years( Figure 1 ).[2]

Brevard County experienced an estimated 2,786% increase in population between 1940 and 1999.[2] An estimated 70% reduction in scrub habitat and 87% decline in Florida Scrub-Jays occurred on the Brevard County mainland during the same time period (Table 1).[2] The primary cause of scrub habitat loss in Brevard County is the conversion of this high, dry land into agricultural, commercial and residential land uses.[3,4,5] The remaining scrub parcels are highly fragmented and generally provide poor quality habitat to dependent species due to long-term fire suppression.[6,7]

These trends, which are mirrored Statewide, threaten Florida's only endemic bird, the Florida Scrub-Jay, with extinction.[5,8] Recognizing the importance of scrub, Brevard County citizens initiated a local strategic planning effort to protect the remaining fragments of this globally rare[9] ecosystem.


The EEL Program - A Local Conservation Initiative

Understanding that protection and preservation of biological diversity is in the public's interest, Brevard County's voters supported a bond referendum authorizing the issuance of ad valorem tax bonds for up to $115 million for two 20-year periods to acquire, protect, and manage endangered lands and to make improvements as appropriate for provision of public access, passive recreation and environmental education. Approval of the first referendum in 1990 established Brevard County's Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) Program.

EEL Land Acquisition Program

  • EEL Land acquisition procedures were established by two citizen committees:
    • EEL Procedures Committee (PC) – This Committee developed the EEL Land Acquisition Manual, the primary source for procedural guidance relating to land acquisition activities.
    • EEL Selection & Management Committee (SMC)- This science-based committee is responsible for the selection of lands for acquisition and provides guidance on management planning of the EEL Program's Sanctuary Network.
  • To achieve the EEL Program's goal of protection of biodiversity, lands are objectively assessed under three primary scientific criteria established by the SMC: the value for species, the natural communities present, and the landscape context. These criteria are more fully described in the EEL Land Acquisition Manual.
  • The EEL Program acquires endangered lands from voluntary willing-sellers under procedures and scientific criteria established by the SMC. The EEL Program does not regulate or restrict private land rights. The Nature Conservancy provides professional land acquisition support as part of a contract with the EEL Program.
  • The EEL Program the State of Florida (Florida Forever Program) and the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) to acquire critical habitat areas.

EEL Sanctuary Management Program

  • The EEL Sanctuary Management Manual (SMM) developed by the EEL SMC and Staff directs conservation and land stewardship decisions implemented by the EEL Program. It details principles for conservation, public access and environmental education within the EEL Sanctuary Network.
  • Principles of Conservation-Ten Principles of Conservation established by the SMC serve as the foundation for balancing management and public use issues with the responsibility of resource conservation. These are detailed in the SMM.
  • Ecosystem Management-The EEL Program employs an integrative, flexible approach to land management. Due to the variability of scrub habitat types and conditions, management goals must be based on site-specific habitat conditions and arrangement.  Habitat management tools utilized by EEL Staff to restore/enhance scrub habitat quality include prescribed fire, mechanical cutting of tall scrub, tree thinning and removal of exotic invasive pest plants.

Results and Discussion

To secure protection of Brevard County's remaining scrub habitats and dependent rare species, particularly the threatened Florida Scrub-Jay, the EEL Program developed the Brevard Coastal Scrub Ecosystem Initiative (BCSEI) CARL Project in 1996. This project expanded the EEL Program's original scrub conservation initiative, the 9,600 acre Scrub Jay Refugia CARL Project established in 1992, to more than 26,000 acres identified for acquisition.

The scientific foundation of the BCSEI project was heavily based on data collected in support of the Brevard County Scrub Conservation and Development Plan (SCDP), a Habitat Conservation Plan designed, but not implemented, to ensure long-term survival of the Florida Scrub-Jay.[11]

  • The SCDP was guided by a Scientific Advisory Group (SAG), composed of local and nationally-recognized experts in scrub ecology, scrub-jay biology, and population biology. The process served to identify the "core" scrub habitat areas considered essential to maintaining a viable population of Florida Scrub-Jays in Brevard County. It documented the wide-spread degradation of scrub habitat quality due to fire suppression emphasizing the need for implementation of immediate habitat management actions on publicly-owned lands. It also stressed the importance of maintaining suitable landscape buffers and linkages. This conservation planning process resulted in the development of scientifically defensible reserve design based on general statewide guidelines developed by Fitzpatrick et al.[5] The reserve design comprised 10,286 acres of scrub habitat.
  • The BCSEI integrated core habitat areas identified through the SCDP and expanded the project to include essential matrix habitat properties to buffer and enhance connectivity of focal scrub habitat patches. The BCSEI project is presently comprised of 26,000 acres (proposed and acquired).

A recent Florida Scrub Jay population analysis revealed that it is critically important to manage all existing scrub habitat within the program’s management inventory in an optimal condition in order to prevent the extinction of the Florida Scrub Jay in the near future.


The Brevard Coastal Scrub Ecosystem Initiative CARL Project is a local conservation initiative that protects one of the most unique and endangered upland communities in North America.

The foundation of the conservation project design is based on scientifically defensible data complied in support of the Brevard County SCDP. The EEL Program expanded the SCDP project area at the directive of the EEL SMC to include surrounding mesic matrix habitat types that are essential for protection of the focal scrub habitats and habitat linkages. The primary goal of this project is to protect the remaining best fragments of the scrub ecosystem to enhance the survival potential of the Florida Scrub-Jay and associated rare flora and fauna in the rapidly growing Brevard County.

With its partners, the EEL Program has been successful in acquiring more than 10,000 acres of scrub and surrounding matrix habitat identified in the CARL project area. There remains an additional 16,000 acres.

The EEL Program is committed to both acquisition and management of scrub properties comprising this project due to the global significance of this acquisition project to the long-term survival of the Florida Scrub-Jay. The Brevard County Coastal Scrub Ecosystem Initiative CARL Project complements State and Federal land conservation efforts that, with aggressive and immediate management to improve habitat quality, have the potential to recover and maintain the fourth largest Scrub-Jay population in the State of Florida.[8]

The accomplishments of this program would not be possible without the scientific foundation, dedicated partnerships and most important, the continued support of Brevard County's citizens.

Literature Cited

  • Bergen, S. 1994.
    Characterization of fragmentation in Florida scrub communities. M.S. thesis. Dept. Bio. Sci., Florida Institute of Tech., Melbourne, FL.
  • Toland, B.R. 1999.
    Current Status and Conservation Recommendations for the Florida Scrub-Jay in Brevard County. Report to the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners. unpubl. tech. rep. 39pp.
  • Fernald, R.T. 1989. Coastal xeric scrub communities of the Treasure Coast Region, Florida: A summary of their distribution and ecology, with guidelines for their preservation and management. Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Comm. Nongame Wildlife Pgm. Tech. Rep. No. 6. Tallahassee, FL. 113 pp.
  • Fitzpatrick, J.W., G.E. Woolfenden, and M.T. Kopeny. 1991.Ecology and development-related habitat requirements of the Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens coerulescens). Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Comm. Nongame Wildlife Program Tech. Rep. No. 8. Tallahassee, FL.
  • Fitzpatrick, J.W., R. Bowman, D.R. Breininger, M.A. O'Connell, Brad Stith, J. Thaxton, B.R. Toland, and G.E. Woolfenden. 1994a.Habitat conservation plans for the Florida scrub-jay: A biological framework. Archbold Biological Research Station unpubl. tech. rep. 175pp.
  • Breininger D.R., V.L. Larson, B.W. Duncan, R.B. Smith. 1998. Linking habitat suitability to demographic success in Florida scrub-jays. Wildlife Society Bulletin 26:118-128.
  • Breininger, D.R. and D.M. Oddy. 1998.Biological criteria for the recovery of Florida scrub-jay populations on public lands in Brevard County. Final rep. to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Jacksonville Field Office. 54pp.
  • Breininger, D.R., D.M. Oddy, M.L. Legare, and B.W. Duncun. 1999. Developing Biological Criteria for the Recovery of Florida Scrub-Jay Populations on Public Lands in Brevard County: Patterns of Fire History, Habitat Fragmentation, Habitat Use and Demography. Final Report to the Endangered Species Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jacksonville, FL. 117 pp.
  • Florida Natural Areas Inventory, Department of Natural Resources. 1990. Guide to the Natural Communities of Florida. Publication. 11pp. Tallahassee, FL.
  • Chambliss K., D.D. Hott, and M.H. Slotkin. 1998. Public Goods, Biodiversity, and Municipal Land Acquisition: Reflections of the Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) Program in Brevard County, Florida. Presented at 23rd Annual Conference Association of Private Enterprise Education, Dallas, Texas 11 pp.
  • Swain, H., P. A. Schamlzer, D. R. Breininger, K. Root, S. Boyle, S. Bergen, S. MacCaffree. 1995. Appendix B Biological Consultant's Report. Brevard County Scrub Conservation and Development Plan. Dept. Bio. Sci., Florida Institute of Technology., Melbourne, FL.


Robinson, Tami L., and Lisa H. Smith

Former Staff Members of

Brevard County Parks and Recreation Department
Environmentally Endangered Lands Program
91 East Drive, Melbourne, FL 32904