Volunteer Newsletter Winter 2022

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Winter - Spring 2022 • Newsletter Celebrating Volunteers

There are so many reasons to celebrate the month of April, from Earth Day events to the FWC’s second annual Florida WildQuest. Another reason to celebrate is you, our volunteers! April is Florida Volunteer Month and we are grateful you choose to volunteer with our programs that promote the conservation of the habitats and species of Florida. In honor of your efforts, please enjoy our 2021 Volunteer Annual Report. This report highlights your continued commitment to conservation, a touching tribute to an exceptional volunteer and news of an exciting change regarding how the FWC tracks and manages volunteer efforts! View our Annual Report on the FWC’s website and enjoy a look back at the variety of projects that benefitted from your service and support. You are valuable members of our FWC family!

As we move into spring, we encourage you to get outdoors, explore, and enjoy this edition of our winter - spring newsletter which shares encouraging volunteer-to-career stories as well as habitat restoration projects and volunteer highlights from around the state.

— the FWC's Volunteer Program Team

Vanessa Serrato

Featured on the cover of the 2021 volunteer annual report, FWC volunteer Vanessa Serrato is following her passion and has started her studies in wildlife biology. Vanessa helped maintain the butterfly habitat at Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area. Photo by FWC.

Volunteer to Career

Steven Nicholl

Steven Nicholl started as a volunteer at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center (SYCC) in Apollo Beach. As a local Hillsborough County Community College student, Steven saw the new sign after SYCC was constructed and stopped in to see if they could use any volunteers. He later applied and served as summer seasonal staff for three summers working as a chef on the side. During summer 2020 – ah, COVID – he had a chance to try some GIS mapping of marsh grasses at SYCC since there was no camp and learned he really liked it. After some networking with SYCC and GIS folks at FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Steven now works at FWRI where he recently moved into a new position working in the Oil Spill Planning and Emergency Response program. Steven is very excited to start on his new projects and to do some traveling for a few United States Coast Guard meetings in Alabama and Mississippi. He still volunteers at SYCC when permitted to do so. - by Kathy Guindon

Steven Nicholl

Steven and one of his campers at SYCC. Photo by FWC.

Meghan Sutton

I started volunteering with FWC’s Southwest Marine Mammal Field Lab in December 2018. During this time, I began my journey learning and developing skills such as trailering, photography and necropsy skills, as well as gaining live animal rescue, restraint and transport experience. As part of my graduate studies, I turned this opportunity into a 6-month internship. After completing the internship, I continued to volunteer alongside other career development opportunities both within and outside of FWC. I truly feel fortunate that this overall experience has equipped me with both the technical skillsets and confidence necessary to be successful in marine mammal strandings and research. Through the years, I have worked alongside several teams that make up FWC, including marine mammal field labs in other regions, research teams in the marine mammal section, FWC Law Enforcement and even the Charlotte Harbor Fisheries Independent Monitoring (FIM) and Fisheries Dependent Monitoring (FDM) teams. I continue to enjoy every interaction, appreciate how encouraging and supportive the FWC family is, and trust that extends to many other personnel than just myself. I am grateful to say I have returned to FWC’s Southwest Marine Mammal Field Lab as a staff member and truly feel I have returned home. - by Meghan Sutton

Meghan Sutton

FWC marine mammal biologist, Meghan Sutton, assisted with the transport of a rescued manatee. Activities were conducted under USFWS permit #MA770191. Photo by FWC.

Upcoming Events

Earth Day at Three Lakes

Celebrate Earth Day by working with FWC staff to complete a land stewardship project at Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area! This event will take place on April 22 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. with optional picnic lunch (bring you own lunch) after. The stewardship project is to be determined, but will likely include invasive plant removal to help improve the health of native ecosystems or trail maintenance. 

The only things you will need to wear/bring are closed-toed shoes, long pants, water, snacks and a positive attitude. You can bring your lunch and a camp chair if you want to stay for lunch.

RSVP/register for this event on the FWC Calendar if you are joining so that we can plan to bring enough tools for everyone.

Jay Watch

Have you ever wanted to participate in wildlife research that will directly impact land management plans? You can do just that by participating in Jay Watch, a program that conducts annual state-wide assessments of the Florida scrub-jay populations. The Florida scrub-jay is endemic to Florida and one of the most endangered birds in North America due to loss of scrub habitat. Monitoring Florida scrub-jay populations throughout the state each year allows land managers to track changes in scrub-jay population and adjust their land management plan to benefit scrub-jays. Volunteers participate in surveys that count the number of adult and juvenile scrub-jays on designated sites throughout the state. Coordinated by Florida Audubon, Jay Watch takes place throughout Florida with additional opportunities for you to get involved. For additional information on training and survey opportunities, please visit Florida Audubon.


Scrub-jay. Photo by FWC.

Volunteer Kudos

Some key volunteers have helped ease the transition of our new Volunteer Program Biologists into their roles. We want to show our appreciation for these amazing volunteers. In the Northeast Region, Brinda Curran and Virginia Hall have spent many years volunteering with the FWC, but have taken on more responsibility in the past year from organizing volunteers for Jay Watch last summer to leading bluebird box monitoring training. Another pair of dedicated volunteers are Preston and Jason Ballard. Preston and Jason have monitored kestrel boxes in Marion County for several years and have been essential to the monitoring program to continue smoothly this season. Additionally, a huge thank you to Josie Muncy who has taken on the role of leading kestrel box monitoring in Ocala parks. Josie is not only conducting checks of kestrel boxes but training additional volunteers. Finally, an appreciation to Carey and Scott LaRosa who have taken on the role of monitoring bluebird boxes in Ross Prairie State Forest bi-weekly. The motivation, positive attitudes, and willingness of these volunteers to share their knowledge and experiences have helped the volunteer program continue smoothly during a time of transition.

Marine Fisheries Management Internship is Back!

The FWC’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management (DMF) brought back their internship program after a hiatus. This spring semester, interns Leah Bolitho, Will Barnwell and Derrick Evans assisted DMF with many marine projects. Intern tasks included creating social media posts, evaluating media outreach, compiling biological data to assist with rule making, and assisting with legislative session review. During their internship Derrick, Will and Leah conducted local outreach with Regional Biologist Gina Alvarez, pictured below at the Carrabelle Field Office.


DMF interns Derrick, Will, and Leah with FWC Regional Biologist Gina Alvarez. Photo by FWC.

FTA Partnership

If you’ve ever taken a hike on the Florida Trail in one of the FWC’s Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) and noticed how well maintained it is, you can thank Florida Trail Association (FTA) volunteers! The FTA has partnered with the FWC in four separate trail maintenance events within the past year, including trail maintenance at Herky Huffman/Bull Creek, Triple N Ranch, Three Lakes, and Tosohatchee WMAs and Forever Florida. FTA volunteers maintained trails through lopping, mowing and blazing, and some experienced volunteers utilized ATVs and chainsaws after completing trainings.

Not only have FTA volunteers maintained the Florida Trail on these properties, but they have also gone above and beyond by completing maintenance on other trails within our WMAs, maintaining campgrounds used by hikers, and removing invasive Caesar weed at several sites. Overall, the FTA has maintained over 85 miles of trail on FWC-managed lands in the last year! A huge thank you to all the dedicated FTA volunteers who help to manage FWC public lands!

SYCC - Berm Restoration Project

The Suncoast Youth Conservation Center (SYCC) received grant funding from Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission to elevate the onsite berm between the saltwater pond and saltmarsh at the Apollo Beach Site. Before earthwork could begin, SYCC had the help of 34 hardworking volunteers, as well as 6 on-site FWC and partner staff members. Over the course of two days and 140 hours of service, they harvested Saltmeadow Cordgrass and Seashore Paspalum. The plants were placed in an area of the marsh that would get flooded by high tide to keep them healthy until they could be replanted.

After contractors completed 11 days of earthwork, 59 dedicated volunteers replanted those marsh grasses in two days. About 109 hours later, those grasses are in place to help prevent soil erosion and to keep the berm in place. Volunteers then helped place a living shoreline display “from gray to green” to educate and encourage the public visitors to consider alternatives to poured seawalls in their own back yards, thus creating a more natural and healthy coastal community landscape. Job well done!

Volunteer 1

A volunteer harvested marsh grasses. Photo by FWC.

Youth Volunteers

Youth volunteers transported grasses for planting. Photo by FWC.

Volunteer 2

Partners from TECO helped carry reef domes to place. Photo by FWC.

Ridge Rangers Recognized!

On March 30, 2022, the Ridge Ranger volunteers received an award for being an Outstanding Team, recognizing their Exceptional Accomplishment for Resource Management. Staff from Highlands Hammock State Park presented the group with the award in appreciation of their decade-long contributions to habitat improvements in Lake June-in-Winter Preserve and Highland Hammock state parks.

Volunteers have spent hundreds of hours removing sand pines to improve Florida scrub-jay habitat, as well as removing coral ardisia, a nonnative plant. Staff from the HHSP provided refreshments and their appreciation to the hard work of the Ridge Ranger volunteers. Congratulations to all involved. Receiving the award were Ridge Ranger volunteers attending a recent coral ardisia removal workday, Ridge Ranger Volunteer Coordinator Jamie Henry, and Bill Parken, former Ridge Ranger Coordinator.

Ridge Rangers

Jamie Henry, the Ridge Ranger Volunteer Coordinator, and Bill Parken, former Ridge Ranger Coordinator, accepted the award from Park Manager Morgan Tyrone and staff, alongside Ridge Ranger volunteers. Photo contributed by FWC.

Regional Connection

Regional Volunteer Program Biologists are specialists who bring their biological and citizen science expertise to recruit, train and manage volunteers for research, habitat enhancement and stewardship projects throughout Florida. Click here to locate your region to identify your regional program biologist.

Brendan O'Connor - Southwest Region Volunteer Program Biologist

Graysen Boehning - South Region Volunteer Program Biologist

Amy Compare - Northeast Region Volunteer Program Biologist


In addition to your generously donated time and talent, we welcome tax-deductible monetary contributions to the FWC Volunteer Program. Visit the Wildlife Foundation at https://wildlifeflorida.org/volunteer-with-fwc/ to make a donation. Your support will help us expand volunteer opportunities as we work to foster a statewide network of conservation volunteers. Thank you for supporting Florida's fish and wildlife resources!