L to R: Indian River Community Foundation CEO, Jeffrey Pickering and St. Sebastian River Preserve Park Manager, Dylan Gavagni.

The Florida State Parks Foundation is delighted to announce a $25,000 grant from the Indian River Community Foundation to help save the endangered Red-cockaded woodpecker at St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers, once common in the longleaf pine forests that once grew across Florida, are now found in only about 10 locations in the state, one of which is St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park in Fellsmere.

“The survival of this rare woodpecker is now dependent on human intervention to ensure they have food, shelter and suitable nesting sites,” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward. “The preservation of their existing habitat in Indian River County is crucial, and the Florida Park Service is well-positioned to fulfill this need thanks to their experience with land management and their understanding of species conservation.”

The grant will help support the purchase of a Bobcat 5600 Toolcat, a vital piece of equipment needed by park staff to increase and then maintain the birds’ habitat.  It will also be able to manage sensitive areas that larger equipment cannot reach.

“Given the enormity of the problems that philanthropy is often called on to address, this grant represents something very specific that our Community Foundation can do to make a meaningful difference in our local environment,” said Indian River Community Foundation President and CEO Jeff Pickering.  “Extinction is forever, and our support of this project is something that we are proud to provide to give these special birds a fighting chance at long-term survival.”

Florida scrub-jays, another federally threatened species, as well as Florida’s only endemic bird species, are also found in this park. Both birds are considered “keystone” species, meaning that many other animals and plants are dependent on their presence for survival. If the habitat is managed for the well-being of these two species, it will increase the biodiversity of the entire local ecosystem. 

St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park is also an important part of the nature-based rural tourism economy of Fellsmere and surrounding areas. It receives about 57,000 visitors per year and contributes almost $6 million to the local economy. It will continue to grow as a birding destination if these two species continue to thrive. 

The Foundation, founded in 1993 as Friends of Florida State Parks and renamed in 2018, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation whose mission is to support and help sustain the Florida Park Service, its 175 award-winning parks and trails, local Friends groups and more than 20,000 park volunteers.  

It does this through programs that preserve and protect state parks, educate visitors about the value of state parks, encourage community engagement and active use of state parks, and advocacy.

The volunteer Board of Directors represent private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

About the Author: Foundation Staff