INTRODUCTION: St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The refuge was acquired in 1968 from a private land owner and occupies all of St. Vincent Island, a barrier island located off the southern coast of the Florida Panhandle near Apalachicola (fig. 1). The island, which covers 12,358 acres, is about 9 miles long and 4 miles across at its widest point. Eighty miles of unpaved roads that grid the island are presently used for refuge management, law enforcement, and visitor hiking trails.
Prior to becoming a refuge, the natural flow of surface water on the island was altered by road and ditch construction that enabled timbering of pine. Restoring the natural flow of surface water on the island to its historical state is one of the USFWS goals for ecosystem restoration.
During past road construction activities, fill was placed in the creeks to create raised roadbeds. This activity changed the natural flow of surface water by (1) acting as an earthen dam that impounded creeks; (2) restricting flow, thus increasing the depth of water in the channels of creeks; or (3) blocking the natural movement of saltwater in the creeks in coastal areas, thus altering water salinity. Along some sections of road, grading substantially lowered land-surface elevations. Along these sections of roads, adjacent creeks commonly flowed into one another during high-water conditions, thus allowing the transfer of water from one drainage basin to another. In some areas on the island, ditches were dug to manipulate the movement of surface water.