Conservation parks and preserves are an essential component of every community. There are proven correlations between the presence of parks and preserves and enhanced environmental, economic, and social conditions. Hillsborough County is a leader in environmental conservation and a steward to more than 80,000 acres of protected lands. If you live next to or near one of these protected areas, or if you enjoy the recreational opportunities they offer, here’s how you can Be a Good Neighbor to Nature, and help the natural environment thrive.
Good Neighbor Tips
Fire Management Promotes Healthy Ecosystems
Prescribed fires are a safe way to apply a natural process, ensure ecosystem health, and reduce wildfire risk. Fire promotes healthy ecosystems by clearing out competing vegetation, cycling nutrients into the soil, stimulating growth and seed production of fire-dependent plants, and providing food for wildlife. Fire lanes are mowed paths in nature preserves that are used by staff for maintenance access, conducting prescribed fires, and responding to wildfires. These pathways provide a firebreak and are an important tool for protecting homes from fire.
- Become familiar with the use of prescribed fires in nature preserves. Visit HCFLGov.net/RxFire for more information and to sign up for notifications.
- The right landscaping techniques can make your home and property less vulnerable to wildfire. For more information, visit the National Fire Protection Association website
Beware of Invasive Exotic Plants
Invasive plants are commonly grown in gardens as ornamentals, but when they spread to nature preserves, they have no natural predators and easily grow out of control, choking out native plants needed by wildlife and upsetting Florida ecosystems. They can even increase wildfire risk.
- Use only native or non-invasive plants in your garden and landscaping. Visit FFL.ifas.ufl.edu for more information about Florida-Friendly landscaping
- Remove invasive species from your yard if you find any and educate your neighbors about removing them too
- Do not dump anything into conservation areas
- Never dump plants, animals, or clippings into conservation areas. They could be invasive species and harm native habitat
- Brazilian pepper, Australian pine, lantana, Mexican petunia, Japanese honeysuckle, coral ardisia, golden pothos vine, and camphor tree are examples of invasive plants.
Never Release Animals on a Nature Preserve, Even Ones That Seem Harmless
Many of Florida’s most invasive species started out as pets released into the wild, and some invasive animals have decimated our state’s delicate wildlife.
- Invasive feral hogs are a problem on many nature preserves. The County contracts with professionals to mitigate feral hog populations, but they move from place to place, making it impossible to eradicate them.
- The County does everything possible to maintain fences along preserve boundaries to help reduce the number of hogs moving in and out of nature preserves.
Avoid Dumping Anything into Conservation Areas
Yard waste provides fuel for wildfires and can block fire lanes. Never dump landscaping debris or garbage over the fence into park or preserve property.
- Properly bag yard waste and garbage and place it curbside on scheduled collection days.
- Never dump plants, animals, or clippings into conservation areas. They could be invasive species and harm native habitat.
Resist the Urge to Feed Wildlife
Feeding wild animals makes them lose their fear of humans. This can be dangerous for the wildlife and those who feed them. It can pose a danger to your pets as well since many wild animals can carry diseases like rabies, distemper, and parasites.
- Wildlife that becomes comfortable with humans is more likely to be hit by cars, poisoned, or shot by humans who don’t want wildlife near their homes.
- When predators like coyotes, bobcats, and raccoons have access to lots of food provided by humans, including garbage, it can cause an unsustainable population boom. This threatens populations of prey animals like squirrels, birds, and rabbits.
Enjoy Sustainable Recreation at Preserves
Nature preserves are for people, too! Visitors can enjoy unique Florida plants, wildlife, and natural areas. Sustainable recreation activities include hiking, birdwatching, picnicking, and – on some preserves – fishing, horseback riding, and bicycling.
- Check preserves signage or visit HCFLGov.net/Conservation before an outing to learn what types of recreation are permitted. Activities at some sites may be limited to prevent damage to trails and natural resources.
- Only approved access points should be used when entering a nature preserve. Keeping to marked public trails when visiting a preserve helps protect the plant and animal life.
- Respect signs and closures. Some areas are closed to the public for maintenance, restoration, prescribed fire, or to benefit threatened species. Respecting posted closures is important for the health of the conservation area and helps to keep you safe as well.
- Respect preserve boundaries along your property, and don’t encroach over the property line.
Protect Your Pets and Keep Them Leashed
Domestic pets like dogs and cats can harm native wildlife in nature preserves if they’re allowed to roam free. Preserves provide homes for some of Florida’s rarest and most delicate species, including some that are found nowhere else in the world. Dogs must be leashed while inside Hillsborough County nature preserves and parks. Yes, it’s the law, but it’s also a great way to show your pet that you care. Leashing your pet:
- Protects other visitors and their leashed dogs from potential altercations
- Protects your pooch from encounters with dangerous or disease-carrying wildlife such as alligators, snakes, or coyotes
- Protects your pet from poisonous or prickly plants
- Protects delicate wildlife and plants from accidental harm
Know Who to Contact for Issues at Your Neighborhood Preserve
The county takes illegal dumping, unauthorized access, and damage to preserves very seriously.
- Find your local preserve contact information.
- To report illegal dumping, off-trail walking or cycling, pets running off leash, or harassment of wildlife, please submit a violation report on the form provided. You can choose to remain anonymous.
Submit a Violation