State News






 

FWC hosts Lake Okeechobee habitat and fisheries management meeting

The public is invited to a meeting with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to discuss various management programs for aquatic plants, fish and wildlife on Lake Okeechobee on Feb. 8. The meeting will take place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the South Florida Water Management District Service Center, 3800 NW 16th Blvd., Suite A, Okeechobee, FL 34972.

FWC habitat, fisheries and wildlife biologists will provide brief updates on management activities on Lake Okeechobee, and the public will have the opportunity to offer comments following the presentations. After the public comment period, biologists will be available to meet one-on-one with attendees during the open house period of the meeting.

The FWC is a member of the Lake Okeechobee Aquatic Plant Management Interagency Task Force, which includes staff members from the South Florida Water Management District, University of Florida, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Additonal staff from the Task Force will be present to answer questions.


Explore the outdoors! Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area celebrates 75 years of Florida WMAs

Photos available on the FWC’s Flickr site: http://bit.ly/2EUf8YL External Website

On Saturday, Jan. 27, the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area will host a day of fun and exploration celebrating Florida’s 75-year history of conserving native species and habitats on its wildlife management areas.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) invites the public to enjoy this free, family-friendly Tosohatchee WMA event, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event was rescheduled from a previously announced date.

Only about 20 minutes from downtown Orlando, Tosohatchee WMA has woodlands and waterways reminiscent of Florida in the 1940s, when the first wildlife management area was created in the state. Osceola wild turkey and white-tailed deer roam here. Purple gallinules External Website and roseate spoonbills External Website pick their way through marshes flowing into the St. Johns River. Bald eagles and swallow-tailed kites External Website can be spotted, as well as flocks of migratory birds, such as painted buntings, External Website making their winter stopovers.

“Tosohatchee is a spectacular piece of old Florida. We are a great getaway from urban areas,” said FWC wildlife biologist Tom Shupe.

Participants at the Tosohatchee event will have opportunities to go on hay rides with biologists, aim a bow during an archery activity, meet FWC law enforcement officers and their K-9 companions, admire the winners of the yearlong WMA photo contest, and learn about the science behind the comeback of the Osceola wild turkey, which only lives in Florida.

“The 75th anniversary of Florida’s wildlife management areas inspired us in 2017 to throw outdoors celebrations all year long, from bioblitzes and bird-watching tours to geocaching, a photo contest and volunteer work days,” said Jerrie Lindsey, who leads the FWC’s Public Access Services Office. “The Tosohatchee event tops off our quest to get more people out on WMAs enjoying both the wildlife and the recreational opportunities. We invite you to keep coming back to our WMAs year after year.”

“Wildlife management areas throughout the state give people of all ages and backgrounds a chance to experience beautiful areas that Florida is conserving for wildlife,” said David Johnson, head of the FWC’s Wildlife and Habitat Management Section that manages the WMAs. “There are a variety of outdoor activities at WMAs, ranging from hunting and fishing to wildlife-viewing, hiking, biking and primitive camping. There is also the simple pleasure of taking a leisurely drive through a WMA and stopping along the way for a picnic.”

What other fun activities can you expect at the Tosohatchee event?

You can check out a variety of hands-on activities for kids, join Florida Trail Association volunteers on short woodland walks and take tours on how to identify native plants.

More about the WMA system’s 75th anniversary and the experiences that WMAs offer to Floridians and visitors all yearlong is at MyFWC.com/WMA75.


FWC installs fish attractors on Lake Talquin

Fish Attractor Placement

FWC staff installing a fish attractor. FWC photo.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has installed a total of 100 fish attractors (artificial fish habitat) at four public fishing piers on Lake Talquin in order to enhance fishing opportunities for shore and bank anglers. 

Fish attractors provide refuge for organisms such as insects, crustaceans, minnows and other forage fish that sport fish depend upon for food. Fish are attracted to brush piles or other structures in search of forage and protection from predators. As a result, attractors concentrate fish where anglers can easily catch them.

Fish attractors were installed at Pat Thomas Park and High Bluff Campground in Gadsden County, and Ben Stoutamire Landing and Williams Landing in Leon County. Each site received 25 mini mossback fish attractors, measuring approximately 2.5 feet high and 4 feet wide. The attractors are in 7-8 feet of water and are weighed down with a 28-pound concrete block. They are marked with orange and white buoys to alert anglers to their presence.

Mossback fish attractors are made of synthetic brush and are more durable than the oak trees that have been previously used as attractors. Artificial and oak attractors perform equally, but the artificial attractors last almost indefinitely.

Lake Talquin is just west of Tallahassee and is nationally known for its high-quality black crappie (speckled perch) fishery. This 8,800-acre reservoir has an average depth of 15 feet and a maximum depth of 40 feet. There are seven public boat ramps and five public fishing piers on the Leon County side of the lake (Highway 20). On the Gadsden County side, there are five public boat ramps and two public fishing piers. Various fish camps and campgrounds surround the lake.

Anglers should keep in mind that the fishing regulations for Lake Talquin state that all crappie less than 10 inches in total length must be released immediately. For more information, visit  MyFWC.com/Fishing, click on “Freshwater Fishing,” “Sites & Forecasts,”  “Northwest Region” and then select “Lake Talquin.”

Anglers planning to take advantage of the enhanced fishing opportunities on Lake Talquin should remember not to anchor their vessels near fish attractors. This is to prevent direct damage to the attractor by an anchor, and to prevent brush or attractor panels from being dragged away from the main attractor site, reducing their effectiveness.


Bowhunting course offered in Miami-Dade County

Bowhunt

FWC photo by Tim Donovan.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is offering a free bowhunting course in Miami-Dade County.

All classroom materials are provided free of charge. Students should bring a pen or pencil, paper and all bowhunting equipment they have. An adult must accompany children younger than 16 at all times. 

Anyone born on or after June 1, 1975, must pass an approved hunter safety course and have a hunting license to hunt alone (unsupervised). The FWC course satisfies bowhunter safety training requirements for all other states and Canadian provinces.

Traditional Bowhunting Course 
Miami-Dade County
Feb. 24 (8 a.m. – 6 p.m.)

The specific location for this class will be given to those who register in advance. Those interested in attending a course can register online and obtain information about future hunter safety classes at MyFWC.com/HunterSafety or by calling the FWC’s regional office in West Palm Beach at 561-625-5122.


Hunter safety courses offered in 4 counties

Huntsafely

FWC photo by Tim Donovan.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is offering free hunter safety courses in four counties (List follows).

All firearms, ammunition and materials are provided free of charge. Students should bring a pen or pencil and paper. An adult must accompany children younger than 16 at all times.

Anyone born on or after June 1, 1975, must pass an approved hunter safety course and have a hunting license to hunt alone (unsupervised). The FWC course satisfies hunter-safety training requirements for all other states and Canadian provinces.

Internet-completion Course

Broward
Jan. 13 (8 a.m. – 4 p.m.)
Jan. 28 (8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.)
Feb. 10 (8 a.m. – 4 p.m.)
Feb. 25 (8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.)

Monroe
Jan. 28 (11 a.m. – 5 p.m.)

Palm Beach
Jan. 14 (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.)
Feb.11 (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.)

Traditional Course

Miami-Dade
Feb. 16 (6 – 10 p.m.), Feb. 17 (8 a.m. – 6 p.m.) & Feb. 18 (7:30 – 9:30 a.m.)

Palm Beach
Jan. 13 & 14 (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.)
Feb. 10 & 11 (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.)

The specific locations for these classes will be given to those who register in advance. Those interested in attending a course can register online and obtain information about future hunter safety classes at MyFWC.com/HunterSafety or by calling the FWC’s regional office in West Palm Beach at 561-625-5122.


Hunter safety internet-completion courses offered in February

Huntsafely

FWC photo by Tim Donovan.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is offering free hunter safety internet-completion courses in three counties in February (list follows).

Students who have taken the online course and wish to complete the classroom portion must bring the online-completion report with them.

All firearms, ammunition and materials are provided free of charge. Students should bring a pen or pencil and paper. An adult must accompany children younger than 16 at all times.

Anyone born on or after June 1, 1975, must pass an approved hunter safety course and have a hunting license to hunt alone (unsupervised). The FWC course satisfies hunter-safety training requirements for all other states and Canadian provinces.

The dates and times are:

Baker
Feb. 17 (8 a.m. to noon) Macclenny and (1 p.m. until complete) Lake City

Columbia
Feb. 1 (6-9 p.m.) and Feb. 3 (8:30 a.m. until complete)
Lake City 

Duval
Feb. 15 (6-9 p.m.) and Feb. 17 (8:30 a.m. until noon)
Jacksonville

The specific locations for these classes will be given to those who register in advance. Those interested in attending a course can register online and obtain information about future hunter safety classes at MyFWC.com/HunterSafety or by calling the FWC’s regional office in Lake City at 386-758-0525.


Take a bowhunter education course in February

Bowhunt

FWC Photo by Tim Donovan.

Florida bowhunters will have an opportunity to attend a National Bowhunter Education Foundation certified bowhunter education course in Alachua County in February.

The course will be conducted using the online, distance-learning format. A bowhunting enthusiast can access the program on the NBEF website by entering through the Florida portal and completing the online classroom topics, before attending a shortened, interactive field day. The Florida course is at Bowhunter-ed.com/Florida. External Website

The class being held in February is:

Alachua
Feb. 17 (8 a.m. until complete)
Newberry

The course is offered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) Hunter Safety Section and the Florida Bowhunters Council.

While these courses do not satisfy the hunter education requirements for Florida, they are educational, informative and well worth taking, according to FWC officials.

Participants can expect to learn all aspects of bowhunting including:

  • History of bowhunting.

  • Safe and responsible bowhunting.

  • Know your bow and arrow.

  • Preparing for the hunt.

  • Shot placement and game recovery.

  • Use of elevated stands and other techniques.

  • Outdoor preparedness.

    Participants must bring their own equipment, including bow and field-tipped arrows. Students should register for the course they choose by calling the FWC's North Central Regional Office at 386-754-1654 or by visiting MyFWC.com/Bowhunt. Students of all ages may participate.

 


Family Saltwater Fishing Clinic Jan. 20 in Jupiter

The Fisheries for Veterans Project will be hosting a day-long saltwater fishing clinic for adults and their family members 13 years and older on Jan. 20 at Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area, 500 Captain Armour’s Way.

This clinic is sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and will be of a similar format to the FWC’s saltwater fishing clinics.

The free clinic is from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Advance registration is required.To register or learn more, External Website visit http://f4v.ketrick.org/, External Websitescroll over “Events” at the top and click on “Family Fishing Clinic on Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse ONA.

Participants will take home a lifelong hobby and leave with a new appreciation for the marine environment. They will learn the basics of conservation stewardship, fishing ethics, angling skills, safety and the vulnerability of Florida’s marine ecosystems, all in a fun, laid-back atmosphere.

Lessons include knot tying, cast netting, rod and reel rigging, how to be a responsible marine resource steward, marine fish and habitat identification, catch-and-release techniques and more.

If conditions allow, participants will have the opportunity to practice their newly learned skills by fishing from the shore of the Loxahatchee River. This event is a catch-and-release activity. All participants must have a valid recreational saltwater fishing license unless exempt. Saltwater fishing licenses can be purchased at your local tackle shop or online. Learn more by visiting MyFWC.com/License.

Fishing equipment and bait are provided during the clinic but participants are encouraged to bring their own gear.

 


Exotic Pet Amnesty Day set for Jan. 13 in Naples

 

Photos available on the FWC’s Flickr site: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjxR9XZX External Website

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens are holding an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day event on Saturday, Jan. 13 in Naples. People may surrender their exotic pets at the event, whether they are being kept legally or illegally, without penalty or cost. The Exotic Pet Amnesty Program offers a legal alternative to releasing exotic pets that owners can no longer keep and helps to reduce the number of nonnative species being introduced into the wild.   

This free event is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Naples Zoo, 1590 Goodlette-Frank Road, Naples, FL 34102. Admission to the zoo is not included and is not required to attend the event. Live animals will be on display and experts from the FWC will be on-site with information about caring for exotic pets, responsible pet ownership and potential ecological impacts of invasive species in Florida.

Surrendered exotic pets will be accepted between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and given a health exam by a veterinarian before being made available for adoption that same day to pre-registered, experienced individuals who can care for them. Animals that will be accepted for surrender include nonnative species of reptiles, amphibians, mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates. Domestic animals, such as cats, dogs, guinea pigs and rabbits, will not be accepted.

Animals will be made available for adoption after 2 p.m. Exotic pet adopters need to be experienced and must have already applied and been approved by the FWC. Potential adopters should bring their acceptance letters and any necessary permits with them. Becoming an adopter is free, but you are required to register a minimum of four days prior to the event to adopt an animal. Adopter applications may be found at MyFWC.com/Nonnatives by clicking on “How to become an FWC exotic pet adopter.”

Exotic Pet Amnesty events are held around the state throughout the year. For additional information about Exotic Pet Amnesty Day, visit MyFWC.com/Nonnatives or call the FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline at 888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681). Exotic pet owners who cannot attend this event may call this number year-round for assistance in finding a new home for their animal.

For more information about adopting exotic pets, visit MyFWC.com/Nonnatives and click on “Exotic Pet Amnesty Program.”

For more information about the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, visit NaplesZoo.org. External Website

 


FWC requests assistance in identifying person who injured a hunter on Chipola River WMA

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is asking for the public’s help in identifying the person responsible for shooting a hunter in the leg on the Chipola River Wildlife Management Area.

On the morning of Dec. 29, 2017, an incident occurred on the Chipola River WMA near Waddell Mill Creek and Bump Nose Road in Jackson County, which resulted in Brendan Dew (DOB 10/1/1996), of Marianna, being struck in the leg by a single projectile.

Dew was transported to the hospital where he was treated and released the same day.

“We’re asking that if you or someone you know was on Chipola River WMA that morning, to please give us a call,” said FWC Capt. Mark Clements. “It’s important that we investigate this incident fully to determine what happened.”

At this time the FWC is unaware of who is responsible for injuring Dew and is seeking assistance from anyone who was on Chipola River WMA that morning and may have information regarding this incident.

If you have information, you can remain anonymous by contacting the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com.

 


St. Johns River blue crab trap closure starts Jan. 16

Recreational and commercial blue crab traps in all waters of the St. Johns River system must be removed from the water before Jan. 16, the first day of a 10-day trap closure. This closure will give groups authorized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) the opportunity to identify and retrieve lost and abandoned blue crab traps from the water.

The closure includes all waters of the St. Johns River system and its associated lakes and tributaries from west of the St. Johns River’s intersection with the Intracoastal Canal, through and including Lake Hellen Blazes in Brevard County.

Traps may be placed back in the water in this area starting Jan. 26, although closures may be reduced in duration if it is determined that the number of lost and abandoned traps in the region will take less time to remove. Until the trap season reopens, blue crabs may be harvested with other gear, such as dip nets and fold-up traps. Blue crab harvesters may also use standard blue crab traps during the closure if the traps are attached to a dock or other private property.

Lost and abandoned blue crab traps are a problem in the blue crab fishery because they can continue to trap crabs and fish when left in the water. They can also be unsightly in the marine environment, damage sensitive habitats and pose navigational hazards to boaters on the water.

The closure is one of three regional, 10-day blue crab trap closures in 2018 on the Atlantic coast of Florida. There are six regional closures total: three in odd-numbered years on the west coast and three in even-numbered years on the east coast. 

For more information regarding the FWC’s trap-retrieval program, blue crab trap closure dates, and regulations and cleanup events, go online to MyFWC.com/Fishing.

Blue-Crab-Zones-Even-east coast.jpg

 


FWC uses prescribed fire as best management tool for maintaining wildlife habitat

By Tony Young

Forest fires caused by lightning once played a major role in forming and maintaining much of Florida’s palmetto-pine flatwoods, sandhills, scrub, prairies and wetlands ecosystems. Many species of wildlife benefit greatly from fire. Historically, Native Americans, farmers and ranchers practiced controlled burning to clear land and initiate new plant growth for wildlife and livestock. But over time, as more people moved into Florida, development began to take over and fragment many natural areas. As the “concrete jungle” spreads, it has become more difficult to perform prescribed burning.

Prescribed fire is the best and most cost-effective tool the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) wildlife managers have for managing wildlife habitat, especially large tracts. Safely-controlled prescribed fire techniques to improve and maintain habitats for deer, quail, turkey and many other wildlife species, have been used on lands within the wildlife management area system since the establishment of Florida’s first wildlife management area – Babcock/Webb – 75 years ago.

Prescribed Fire

Prescribed burns are conducted by highly-trained and professional staff when weather conditions are just right, and they benefit many game and imperiled wildlife species. FWC photo. 

How fire helps

Some people worry that animals are harmed by prescribed fire. However, the slow-moving flames of carefully planned burns allow animals time to find shelter or move away from the approaching fire. Fire enables habitats to produce enough of the right kinds of food for wildlife by promoting nutritious, tender new growth of plants as well as increasing the production of seeds and fruit. This new growth attracts many insect species, which are great sources of protein for birds such as turkeys and quail.

Another benefit of conducting periodic controlled burns is that it reduces the danger of devastating wildfires developing because the buildup of underbrush on the forest floor has been removed. Prescribed fire is the best way to eliminate such flammable debris, which helps lower the risks of wildfires forming and reduces their intensity if they do occur. Burning also allows animals to be able to move through areas that would otherwise be impassable and unusable to wildlife.

Controlled burns release and recycle nutrients back into the soil and allow more sunlight to reach the ground. This stimulates seeds to sprout, which produces tender, low-growing vegetation that provides food and appropriate shelter for wildlife. Prescribed fire also reduces the number of parasites and pests such as ticks and mites.

What is involved in doing a burn?

Rigorous training and mandatory safety gear ensure that safety is the top priority for burn crew staff and the public on every prescribed burn the FWC conducts. Controlled burns are planned months in advance by skilled teams of experienced wildlife biologists and land managers who identify and prioritize areas that need it the most. Each burn unit has a specific plan, or “prescription,” that describes the area to be burned, optimal weather conditions, humidity levels and wind direction, personnel and equipment needed, and specifics necessary to conduct a safe and effective burn. When weather conditions are appropriate, the FWC obtains a burn authorization External Website from the Florida Forest Service External Website and notifies people living nearby before starting a burn.

The fire is contained within the area to be burned by plowing fire lines and using natural firebreaks such as rivers and swamps. This helps prevent the fire from getting away and burning unintended areas. Different techniques are used depending on the location and size of the area. A burn on a small area can be conducted using drip torches. ATVs and truck-mounted torches are used on larger areas. In wetter areas, they are commonly mounted onto swamp buggies and airboats to get the job done. On very large-acreage tracts, aerial controlled burning is done using helicopters.

Overhead

On large-acreage tracts of land, helicopters are used for prescribed burns. FWC photo.

Best times to burn

The FWC conducts prescribed burns at various times of the year to produce the best-desired results. Burning during the spring and summer months increases the growth of native grasses and cuts back on most young hardwoods. Burning during the winter is less damaging to shrubby plants such as palmetto and gallberry.

How often a burn is conducted differs depending on the type of habitat and desired outcome. The longer the time between burns, the thicker the hardwood vegetation will become, which over time crowds and shades out beneficial grasses and wildflowers. For this reason, most prescribed-burn professionals have the philosophy of “burn when you can.” And if you vary when you burn adjoining blocks of land, together, they will provide a greater mix of food and cover for wildlife.

What to expect during and after a burn

Prescribed burns, unlike wildfires, are short-lived. They generally are started in the late morning and are burned out and over by late afternoon. During a prescribed burn, you may see tall columns of smoke, as well as slow-moving flames in the distance below the tree tops. By contrast, wildfires often engulf and kill mature trees and produce walls of flame and dense smoke. When conducting a prescribed burn, the FWC makes every effort to minimize impacts to the public. You might see smoke plumes travelling high into the air, where they quickly dissipate. It is normal for the area around a burn to smell smoky for a day or two. There is also ash after a burn. It may get on your clothes, but it’s nothing to worry about and easily washes off.

Right after a prescribed burn, the area may appear charred and bare but will attract deer and turkey, which can often be found in a burned area the very next day. A few weeks to months following, the area will be lush with all kinds of thriving wildlife. By using prescribed fire as a management tool, the FWC can keep Florida’s wildlife populations and their habitats healthy.

Rightafterburn

Immediately after a burn (above) and three weeks after a burn (below). FWC photos.

3weeksPostburn

 


FWC monitoring sea turtles, manatees during cold weather

As Florida’s residents and visitors manage the current cold-weather conditions, the state’s unique and treasured fish and wildlife species may need some extra care as well. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is prepared and ready to prioritize this critical mission.

“We are committed to conserving our natural resources, and are staged and ready in strategic areas throughout the state,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton. “Our team of FWC staff, partners and volunteers are monitoring the status of marine species affected most by the cold, and are prepared in case rescues are needed.”

Sea turtles are one species that can be affected by cold weather. When the water temperatures drop, stunned sea turtles may float listlessly in the water on or near shore. Although these turtles may appear to be dead, they are often still alive. It is important to report these turtles to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline as soon as possible.

“Our staff, partners and permitted volunteers are already working to rescue sea turtles in northwest Florida. Nearly 100 turtles have been rescued so far. We are also monitoring the Mosquito Lagoon and other areas of the state to see if sea turtles are being impacted there,” said Kipp Frohlich, director of FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation.

The Florida manatee is another species that can be impacted by extreme cold weather. When water temperatures drop, manatees gather in warm-water habitats such as discharge canals at power plants and natural springs. The FWC asks that boaters be extra vigilant in watching for manatees in shallow waters near the coast, both inland and coastal, and obey all posted manatee speed zone signs.

“Boaters should avoid areas where large numbers of manatees are gathered,” said Gil McRae, head of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.  “Aggregated animals should not be disturbed, as this could cause them to leave the warm-water sites that help them cope with cold temperatures.” 

Sustaining adequate winter habitat for manatees remains a statewide conservation goal.           

To report a dead or distressed manatee, call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). 

Extended periods of unusually cold weather can kill fish outright by cold stress or make fish more susceptible to disease. Warm-water species, including the popular game fish snook, are particularly vulnerable to cold temperatures. Affected fish may appear lethargic and may be seen at the surface where the water may be warmer from the sun.

The FWC monitors fish disease and mortality events around the state. Report dead and dying fish to the FWC Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511.

All other distressed wildlife may be reported to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). 

For additional information on fish and wildlife research, visit MyFWC.com/Research.