Florida's Wildlife Legacy Initiative Newsletter - Winter 2016


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Winter 2016

In this issue:

Florida's Desired Future Condition

Brian Branciforte, Florida's Wildlife Legacy Initiative Leader

Think big! Bigger. Now double that. In Florida, there is an immense amount of conservation work accomplished and occurring around the state. Federal, local and state governments, academia, nonprofits and non-governmental organizations, tribes, private landowners, businesses and individuals are all contributing. All of this conservation capital adds up to something. But what? How do we as a conservation community clearly articulate, define and measure that something?

Picture of the Box-R Wildlife Management Areas located west of downtown Apalachicola, Photo Courtesy of FWC

Left: The Box-R Wildlife Management Area, which is located just west of downtown Apalachicola, FWC Photo.

Conservation is hard. Totaling it is harder. Our community creates strategies, plans and visions. We talk about corridors, connectivity and landscape scale conservation. There may or may not be targets, metrics, results chains, outputs or effectiveness measures, and don’t get me wrong … this is all good. The conservation community is doing amazing things. But are we as coordinated as we should be? And are we working toward the same ultimate conservation goal? The Wildlife Legacy Initiative has tried to answer this rallying call with the Cooperative Conservation Blueprint, and in many ways spawned the growth of the widely acclaimed Critical Lands and Waters Identification Project. It’s time for the next step, and perhaps more dialogue. I think we can do more and better through working together.

I challenge you to take a moment to define what conservation success in Florida looks like to you. Below is a statement that resonates with me:

“A comprehensive network of conservation and recreation lands that sustains viable fish and wildlife populations, benefits communities, and enhances Florida’s economy. This network contributes to the conservation of biological diversity through large connected natural areas and sustains ecological processes and services. It is managed in collaboration with a broad network of actively engaged partners and supportive stakeholders and results in satisfied users. The system is recognized, valued, and supported by Florida’s demographically diverse residents and visitors.”

(Adapted from the Wildlife Management Area visioning process)

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Goal Post: Lake Gwyn Wetland Re-Hydration Project Completed & Open to the Public!

Kevin Kemp, Wildlife Legacy Biologist

This past September, a major restoration effort in the headwaters of the Peace River, one of the largest rivers in southwest Florida, was completed. The Peace River is a critical component of the area’s ecological landscape and is therefore identified as a priority freshwater basin in the State Wildlife Action Plan. Staff from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission teamed up with Polk County Parks and Natural Resources Division, Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to rehydrate the western portion of Lake Gwyn, which had been drained by the Wahneta Farms Canal.  

The purpose of this project was twofold. First, the project converted 56 acres of drained lake bottom into herbaceous marsh, thereby creating much needed fish and wildlife habitat in the area. Instead of a straight, box-cut channel that conveyed water quickly, the shallow marsh with deep pools provides an excellent space for wading birds to forage. Many species of reptiles can be seen basking on the banks of the wetland on warm days, and biologists have also seen otters frequenting the new wetland.

Aerial view of Lake Gwyn under construction, Photo courtesy of Polk County Natural Resources

Aerial view of Lake Gwyn while under construction, Photo courtesy of Polk County Parks and Natural Resources Division.

Secondly, the project was designed to improve the water quality of the Wahneta Farms Canal before the water enters the Peace River and ultimately the Charlotte Harbor estuary. In an area verified as impaired for fecal coliforms, the natural filtration created by the wetland will have beneficial impacts for miles downstream. The wetland was designed to function during periods of both high and low water flow, with safety features built in so that no flooding of upstream neighbors can occur. During high flow events, the water will sheet-flow across the wetland, while during low flows, the water will flow through a series of pools (indicated by the red and yellow arrows in the aerial picture above), continuing to provide wildlife habitat and water quality benefits.

Second aerial view of Lake Gwyn showing the completed project, Photo courtesy of Polk County Natural Resources

Aerial view of Lake Gwyn after the project was completed, Photo courtesy of Polk County Parks and Natural Resources Division.

Signage at the Lake Gwyn site, providing guidelines to visitors

Polk County maintains a 99-year lease on the project site from the Division of State Lands, and the completed project is now open to the public, complete with a pier that juts into the deep pool (indicated above by the yellow arrow) at the south end of the site. There is even a walking path a little over a mile in length that encircles the project. We hope you visit this beautifully restored site soon!

Total cost of the project was over $1.2 million with Florida's State Wildlife Grants Program providing a $150,000 grant through the Freshwater Goal. 

Left: The Lake Gwyn site is open for visitors, FWC Photo by Kevin Kemp.

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State Wildlife Action Plans Turn the Big 1-0, Now What?

Allie Perryman, State Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator

State Wildlife Action Plans across the country turned 10 years old in 2015, and for most states, this benchmark signified completion of the first revision of their Action Plans.  Plan revisions are required every 10 years to remain eligible for State Wildlife Grant funding. Florida, along with a handful of other states, chose to revise every five years (or as needed) to ensure a flexible, living document that could be updated as data gaps for species, habitats and mapping were filled; tracking methods were developed and enhanced; new information arose; and stakeholder and public input was received. Florida’s first revised Action Plan was approved in 2012, so unlike in most states, 2015 marked the beginning of our second revision. 

Cover of the 2012 State Wildlife Action Plan, FWC

Right: Cover of the 2012 State Wildlife Action Plan.

During the last 12 months, the Wildlife Legacy Initiative led difficult conversations focused on what the next Action Plan should be, how it should function and ultimately how it should be used.  These are not easy topics and the answers are not always clear, but the more input and feedback we receive, the better we will be able to develop a plan that meets the needs of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and our partners.

From the efforts so far, it can be gleaned that this revision will bring a more focused approach, narrowing in on the highest priority conservation needs for Florida habitats and species. This approach will help to create a user-friendly plan that can be successfully implemented, and the impact of the plan’s implementation will be measurable. With 10 years and one revision already under our belt, now is the time to show Florida’s conservation successes over the years and set the bar high for the future. 

The second revision is scheduled for completion in 2017, and so we enter 2016 knowing there is a long way to go. We are confident, however, in the direction we are taking on the Action Plan and as a program. This year will bring exciting new changes, and we look forward to sharing them with you along the way. 

For more information on the current Action Plan revision, please contact Allie Perryman

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Goal Post: Update on the Northeast Florida Ecosystem Restoration Team

Matthew Brady, Northeast Florida Ecosystem Restoration Team

  Leader, Wildland Restoration International 

Bob Bale, President, Wildland Restoration International

Florida contains large amounts of sandhill, scrub, natural pineland and dry prairie habitats in both public and private ownership. According to the 2012 State Wildlife Action Plan (Action Plan), inappropriate fire regimes are critical sources of stress to these habitats. Increasing the amount of both ecologically appropriate fires and upland restoration activities is paramount to long-term habitat health and species viability. Fire leaders and land managers in Florida frequently cite the lack of full-time dedicated “fire strike teams” with mobile equipment that can take advantage of appropriate weather conditions, which is a common obstacle to increasing the amount and frequency of acreage burned within critical upland habitats. The need for landscape-scale, coordinated land management has long been acknowledged, and support and development of prescribed fire strike teams is a conservation action specifically called for in the Action Plan. Florida’s State Wildlife Grant Program, through the Terrestrial Goal, has supported or established five strike teams throughout the state. 

The Northeast Florida Ecosystem Restoration Team (NEFL ERT) was part of the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (Florida TNC) from 2009 through 2014. Starting in 2015, the team began operating under Wildland Restoration International (WRI), a non-profit fire management conservation organization. For the first six months in 2015, WRI’s NEFL ERT continued to be funded by Florida TNC; the team is now funded by a Florida State Wildlife Grant and Gopher Tortoise Mitigation Funds through the FWC. The NEFL ERT is the only WRI crew in Florida, though we hope to expand into other areas of the state.

Prescribed fire conducted in the Ocala National Forest with assistance by the team to improve habitat for Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Ryan Kennelly, NEFL ERT’s Squad Leader, protects the red-cockaded woodpecker tree (the tree with the white band around the trunk, foreground, second from the right) on a burn in the Ocala National Forest, Photo courtesy of Wildland Restoration International. 

There has been some exciting growth and development during the team’s first year in Florida. Thus far, WRI has assisted in the burning of over 12,500 acres, treated almost 200 acres of exotic invasives and thinned nearly 100 acres of hardwood intrusion. There are now three full-time staff members (as well as some per diem staff) based out of our Gainesville headquarters. Additionally, WRI is excited to be bringing “fire-lighter” personnel from partner organizations in the Northeast to detail with the NEFL ERT, giving folks from outside the southern area a chance to learn about burning in Florida as well as increasing crew capacity. The NEFL ERT operates with a Type 6 engine, a Polaris UTV outfitted for fire, and two ATVs equipped with a water tank and ATV drip torch. 

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The Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America's Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources - Update & FWLI's Involvement

In the Winter 2015 issue of the FWLI Newsletter, the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America's Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources, established by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), was highlighted. Over the past year, the Panel has met three times to discuss a new 21st century model of funding conservation that bridges the funding gap between game and nongame species and secures a future for diverse fish and wildlife and the economy. The Panel also hosted two listening sessions to hear from conservation and business leaders about their ideas on sustainable fish and wildlife conservation funding. The Panel’s recommendations will be unveiled at the Teaming With Wildlife Fly-In event on March 2nd in Washington, D.C. Although finished with their 1-year commitment, the Panelists are dedicated to the implementation of their recommendations.

Blue Ribbon Panelists at Big Cedar Lodge in September

Blue Ribbon Panelists traveled to Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Missouri in September for their second meeting.

FWC provides assistance to the Panel: Back in August, AFWA reached out to state fish and wildlife agencies for assistance with the Panel. The FWC, along with five other state fish and wildlife agencies, agreed to temporarily assign a wildlife biologist to AFWA’s efforts in Washington, DC. Each “state detail” would shift his/her focus to the Blue Ribbon Panel for a maximum of 2 months each. The FWC re-assigned Wildlife Legacy Biologist Caroline Gorga to AFWA, where she spent 7 weeks in Washington, D.C. assisting with meeting material preparations, outreach and execution of the 2nd Panel meeting in September 2015.                           

“The experience was one of a kind,” said Caroline. “The Panelists are passionate about fish and wildlife conservation and dedicated to the mission of the Blue Ribbon Panel.”

“If the Panel is successful, Florida could eventually receive a significant increase in funding for conservation efforts identified in the State Wildlife Action Plan,” said Brian Branciforte, Program Leader of Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative. “Currently, the FWC receives, on average, an annual apportionment of $2.5 million from the State & Tribal Wildlife Grants Program to implement the State Wildlife Action Plan, but this allocation, although impactful, can only implement a fraction of what is called for in the Action Plan.”

Keep an eye out for the Summer 2016 Newsletter to learn about the Panel's recommendations!

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Coalition on a Mission: Teaming With Wildlife 2016 Fly-In Dates Announced!

The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies will host the annual Teaming With Wildlife Fly-In event on March 1st and 2nd in Washington, D.C. The purpose of this event is to demonstrate the wide-ranging support of the State & Tribal Wildlife Grants Program and other wildlife conservation legislation by conservation agencies, non-governmental organizations and businesses around the nation to our elected officials. Florida’s State Wildlife Grants Program supports projects ranging from fire strike teams to coral reef and freshwater restoration to filling species information and monitoring needs. From wildlife biologists, hunters, anglers, birdwatchers and hikers to businesses and organizations, the Teaming with Wildlife Coalition sends a strong message to our elected officials that wildlife conservation is a critical issue and needs additional, dedicated funding to keep species from becoming endangered.

The cover of Florida's Teaming With Wildlife Brochure, Florida Scrub-Jay

Over 50 individuals from more than 20 states, including Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director, Nick Wiley, attended the 2015 Fly-In. This year’s event will include the unveiling of the Blue Ribbon Panel's recommendations for a new 21st century model of funding fish and wildlife conservation.

Florida’s Teaming With Wildlife Coalition (TWW) currently numbers more than 270 members!  In 2015, over 40 new members signed on to be a part of the coalition. Among them are builders of custom fishing rods, metal fabricators, construction companies, artists, clothiers, a battery company, an eye clinic, bicycle shops and many other businesses and organizations that want continued funding for wildlife conservation.

You can join our efforts and those of the Blue Ribbon Panel to help secure long-term dedicated funding for Florida wildlife conservation and related education and recreation: Sign up and learn more about Florida’s Team With Wildlife Coalition! Every participant makes a difference!

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Florida's Imperiled Species Management Plan to be Finalized in Spring 2016

Claire Sunquist Blunden, Imperiled Species Management Plan Coordinator

Photo of a Worthington's marsh wren

The draft of Florida's Imperiled Species Management Plan (ISMP), an innovative, integrated and comprehensive approach to conserving multiple imperiled species, was presented at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) November meeting. The ISMP combines managing the specific needs of 57 imperiled species with a new, larger-scale strategy addressing how to help multiple fish and wildlife species thrive and survive in the habitats they share. The plan was open for public comment through January 20th and is scheduled to go before the Commission for final approval in April 2016.

Above: Worthington's marsh wren. Research is currently underway in northeastern Florida to learn more about this species. The project received a State Wildlife Grant and addresses actions identified in the Species Action Plan, FWC Photo by Roxan Chicalo.

The ISMP and the State Wildlife Action Plan (Action Plan) are similar in that both plans include a list of species in need of research and management actions. All of Florida’s state threatened species are listed as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in the Action Plan. In addition to the 57 ISMP species, 979 other species, mostly invertebrates, are included on Florida’s SGCN list. The revised Action Plan will build off of the ISMP's actions and strategies, and work complementary by continuing a habitat-based approach to SGCN conservation.

The ISMP’s key objectives include working on filling data gaps and identifying more systematic, coordinated approaches to imperiled species management. The FWC designed the ISMP to make more efficient use of its resources in order to achieve measureable goals on important conservation priorities.

This is an exciting and groundbreaking strategy with science working the way it should,” said Julie Wraithmell, Director of Conservation for Audubon Florida. “We are excited to see a tailor-made plan that will fit each species like a glove.”

Stakeholder involvement throughout this process has been very important to the FWC. “Working closely with stakeholders, we are blazing the trail with this innovative process,” said FWC Chairman Brian S. Yablonski. “Some species are going on the list and some are coming off but all 57 are winners in this process.”

The FWC first approved this new conservation model in 2010, and creating the plan has been a continuing collaborative effort. Recently, the public and stakeholders submitted more than 500 comments on improving earlier drafts of the plan. “Once the plan is approved in 2016, the FWC will need many partners, both individuals and organizations, to help make this plan a living, working approach to conserve these imperiled species for future generations,” said Dr. Brad Gruver, the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation section leader for Species Conservation Planning.

Photo of brown pelican chicks

When brown pelican chicks first hatch, they don’t look anything like the adults, but in a few short months, they will be the same size as their parents and have all of their feathers! FWC Photo.

Important things to know about Florida's Imperiled Species Management Plan:

Find out more about the Imperiled Species Management Plan at MyFWC.com/Imperiled. 

Photo of a peninsula ribbon snake, one of the species coming off the imperiled species list

Peninsula ribbon snake. This is the only striped snake in the Keys! FWC Photo by Kevin Enge.

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Crossing the Finish Line! A List of Recently Completed State Wildlife Grants Projects


We don’t always take enough time to celebrate hard work and amazing accomplishments. Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative would like to recognize the following principal investigators who finished their State Wildlife Grant-funded projects in the past six months. The projects below demonstrate the wide variety of conservation efforts taking place in Florida – research, on-the-ground restoration and management, mapping and monitoring. For more information on the following projects, please contact Andrea.Alden@MyFWC.com or Robyn.McDole@MyFWC.com

Congratulations to all on work well done!

1. Conservation of Florida's Fox Squirrels - Robert McCleery, University of Florida

Funded through the Data Gaps Goal, the goal of this project was to address data gaps related to the distribution, genetic differentiation and response to habitat management actions of Florida’s three fox squirrel species: Big Cypress fox squirrel (state Threatened species), Sherman’s fox squirrel (Species of Special Concern), and Southeastern fox squirrel. This project developed a new statewide fox squirrel monitoring protocol that uses remote cameras to identify individual fox squirrels as an alternative to labor-intensive live-trapping efforts. (View the abstract)

Photo of a Sherman's fox squirrel

Sherman's fox squirrel, FWC Photo by Patrick Delaney.

2. Multi-Species of Greatest Conservation Need: Fish Population, Presence and Location Validation - Micheal Allen, University of Florida

Funded through the Data Gaps Goal, the goal of this project was to address data gaps for the black-banded sunfish and the bluenose shiner, a state Threatened species, by estimating the detection probability and habitat occupancy of both Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). Habitat occupancy modeling is a promising conservation tool which uses presence-absence data and can be used to overcome some of the limitations inherent in the sampling of cryptic and/or rare species. 

3. Shorebird Research and Management at Florida Panhandle State Parks - Raya Pruner, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Park Service, District 1

Funded through the Data Gaps Goal, the goal of this project was to increase productivity and ultimately the size of Florida’s breeding population through an increase in shorebird monitoring and management at Florida State Parks and to increase the quality of beach habitat. The project addressed the following three threats to the protection of shorebirds and their habitat: human-related disturbance, nuisance and non-native predators and inadequate management of public lands. (View the abstract

Photo of an adult least tern in flight

An adult least tern in flight, FWC Photo by Carol Rizkalla.

4. Development of a Seagrass Monitoring Program for the Springs Coast - Paul Carlson, FWC

Funded through the 2006-2011 Habitat Conservation Goal, the goal of this project was to establish a seagrass monitoring program for the Springs Coast, which is the third largest contiguous seagrass bed in Florida. Seagrass provides vital habitat for many economically important fish and shellfish species as well as many SGCN. The Springs Coast seagrass was last monitored in 2007 (5 years prior to this project). In order to appropriately manage and protect this important resource, researchers must routinely monitor the health, status and trend of seagrass beds and identify potential impacts before the seagrass is affected. This project found the Springs Coast seagrass to be in generally good shape, but identified potential impacts that could affect the habitat in the future without management actions, such as prop scaring (especially in the Homosassa region) and anthropogenic nutrient loading from nearby coastal development. (View the abstract or explore FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute Seagrasses Web page)

5. Seagrass Monitoring in Florida Panhandle Estuaries - Laura Yarbro, FWC

Funded through the Species & Habitat Monitoring Objective, the goal of this project was to fill monitoring gaps identified for seagrass ecosystems in the Pensacola Bay system, St. Andrew Bay, Choctawhatchee Bay and St. Joseph Bay in the Florida Panhandle, where routine monitoring is lacking and where tropical storms and heavy rains in 2012 and 2013 negatively impacted the seagrasses. St. Andrew Bay and St. Joseph Bay were of special interest due to the important scallop habitat provided by the seagrass in both bays. Data gathered during this effort was compared to that taken in 2010 and 2011, and results will be used to update the information in the Seagrass Integrated Mapping and Monitoring Report. (View the abstract)

6. Investigation of a Previously Undescribed Octocoral Disease Affecting the Florida Reef Tract - Vanessa Brinkhuis, FWC

Funded through the Marine Goal, the goal of this project was to investigate and characterize a presently undescribed octocoral disease observed on coral reef habitats off southeast Florida, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Dry Tortugas National Park. From field observations of octocoral colonies infected with the disease, the colonies progressively turn a black or purple color (see picture below), and normal colony functions decreased as the color changed. Data obtained from this project are necessary to determine the locations of healthy communities to provide potential transplants and to determine where to focus restoration efforts to ensure that restoration of these octocoral-dominated communities be successful. (View the abstract or explore FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute Coral Reef Web page

Photo of healthy coral not impacted by the disease

Healthy Eunicea tourneforti, a species of octocoral, FWC Photo by Vanessa Brinkhuis.

Photo of diseased coral impacted by the disease that was studied during this project

Eunicea tourneforti infected by the previously undescribed disease. Colonies that are infected progressively turn a black or purple color. Compare this photo to the photo of above of healthy coral, FWC Photo by Vanessa Brinkhuis.

7. Genetic Differentiation among Florida Populations of Diadema antillarum - Eric Hoffman, University of Central Florida

Funded through the Marine Goal, this project used molecular genetic markers (microsatellites) to determine the extent of genetic diversity among populations of the long-spined, black sea urchin Diadema antillarum in Biscayne Bay, the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. This information is essential for promoting conservation of this species after a disease-induced bottleneck killed approximately 90% of individuals in the 1980s, as well as forwarding Mote Marine Laboratory’s and the FWC’s efforts for D. antillarum captive-breeding and release. This sea urchin’s role on coral reefs is to consume macroalgae, which can negatively impact the survival of coral reefs if allowed to flourish. (View the abstract)

8. Lake Gwyn Wetland Re-Hydration - Robert Kollinger, Polk County Parks and Natural Resources Division

See the article, “Lake Gwyn Wetland Re-Hydration Project Completed & Open to the Public!” in this issue of the FWLI Newsletter for more information. (View the abstract)

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