20 Jan 2012

Dawn of Expedition Day 1

This post was written by Carlton Ward Jr

The sun rises over Florida Bay in Everglades National Park.

A fisherman looks out over Florida Bay at the edge of the Flamingo campground.

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition

A glimpse of the wildlife at the Flamingo campground in Everglades National Park at the dawn of expedition day one.

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition Preparations

This post was written by Carlton Ward Jr

Carlton and Joe begin to unload the kayaks from the expedition trailer.

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition

The expedition support trailer sits at the edge of Florida Bay.

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition

Carlton does some last minute wiring of equipment at the Flamingo campground on Monday night.

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition

27 Nov 2011

Ocala to Okefenokee

This post was written by Joseph Guthrie

This week marked a step closer to the beginning of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition. Now less than two months from the start, we are feeling the pressure mount. So we embraced the opportunity to engage with our route in a more tangible way, after months of strategizing, meeting, planning. And while flying the Florida Wildlife Corridor from 1000 ft at 170 mph isn’t exactly putting boots on the ground, it was much more engaging than sending emails and staring at satellite images for hours. With the help of LightHawk, a volunteer-based environmental aviation organization that donates flight time to conservation groups that seek an aerial perspective, we flew the route from State Route 192 in Osceola County to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, which overlaps the Florida/Georgia border north of Lake City, Florida. This represents the northern half of our planned route (see route map), including a 100 mile stretch of the St. Johns River.

The planned route of the Florida Wildlife Corridor (red line), from the Everglades to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia.

Our flights began on Monday near Silver Springs, Florida, west of the Ocala National Forest. We met our pilot where he lived, in an airpark, which we found fascinating as a living arrangement. Named Leeward Air Ranch, this was a community populated entirely by pilots and their families. Every home had a hangar, inside of which were assorted aircraft from helicopters to float planes and glider craft, to the Cessna 210 we flew. The signage around the neighborhood was amusing, alternating between the frightening – transient aircraft? – and the absurd “Give way to aircraft by pulling off the road.” Neighbors walking their dogs stepped aside and waved as we taxied past their driveways. No landscaping was within 30 feet of a road, to avoid interfering with taxi-ing aircraft. The foot tall stop signs were, as Carlton sometimes says, only suggestions.


We flew on three consecutive days. Tuesday morning we got aloft before the sun broke over the eastern horizon, and I snapped pictures of Carlton from the backseat of our plane. The fog was heavy in places, low to the ground. The sun came up, sending a blaze of light through the cabin of the plane. When a nice scene presented itself we threw open the window, sending a shuttering blast of air into the cabin. We held our cameras out the open window, taking bursts of photographs shot straight down at the tree-tops, or “spray and pray,” another phrase you hear around Carlton.

Carlton scans the landscape south of Lake George at sunrise.

The trees sent long shadows across the blanket of fog, giving the land a nice cross-hatching pattern. In places the cypress domes protruded from the fog, islands of green, red and brown. The plane carried four of us, including the pilot and his wife, herself a pilot. As we flew we talked about the land, noticing things we’d have never seen from Google Earth. Here and there we found flooded sections of timber. In other places we saw where the forests are narrowed by roads, or a housing development, or lakes. We saw what the understory of industrial pinelands looks like.

We marveled at the size of Ocala National Forest and Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, a place so immense and remote that for 10 or 15 minutes on Tuesday afternoon we were unsure where we were as we flew above it. There were no roads or logging trails for miles, almost nothing identifiable as a landmark across vast expanses of swamp and forest. Even from the perspective of our plane it was an intimidating landscape, as a wilderness is supposed to be.

In the next month we will do this again for the Everglades watershed portion of our route. The LightHawk pilot was excellent, demonstrating his patience as we had him fly multiple orbits around our landmarks and points of interest. I can only hope the next one will be as easy and as safe to work with.

21 Oct 2011

Meeting the Secretary

This post was written by Joseph Guthrie

Yesterday Carlton, Elam and I spent about 20 minutes meeting with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge on near Vero Beach in Florida. Generally speaking I’m not the most starstruck person, but I was floored by Mr. Salazar. He answered Elam’s questions regarding the Northern Everglades National Wildlife Refuge in a way that demonstrated his interest in seeing the project go through. Mr. Salazar is a rancher himself, and so seems to identify with the concerns of the multi-generational ranchers living in the Kissimmee River Basin. He spoke at length about the National Wildlife Refuge system, of which Pelican Island was the first installment, and the responsibility he feels to hunters and anglers who use public conservation land, powering a $1 billion/year industry.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is interviewed by filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus while visiting Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

Afterwards he was warm and receptive as Carlton and I presented him with our map for the the Florida Wildlife Corridor. He actually made us all calm down as we were feeling rushed by his ever-present aides and security personnel, saying at one point “No, no, it’s fine, let’s take our time, it will be fine.” Then he made us interview Dan Ashe, the recently appointed head the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I showed both Secretary Salazar and Director Ashe maps of the Florida Ecological Greenways Network and the M34 data that the bear team from the University of Kentucky collected in 2010.

Director of USFWS Dan Ashe walks with me as I show him a map of Florida’s wildlife corridors as identified by Tom Hoctor and others.



Later we went to lunch with the staff of Pelican Island NWR. Many of these folks I know from having cooperated with them while I was doing field work in Highlands County. Over lunch they seemed to be able to relax after a long couple of days preparing their refuge headquarters for the Secretary’s visit. Our discussions ranged all over the place, and it became one of those lunches that lasted 2+ hours. As we drove back to Miami I marveled at our good luck at having the opportunity to spend time and learn from both the people at the top of the food chain and from the good worker bees of Interior, those who are getting dirty doing conservation work on a daily basis.

L-R: Rick Smith, Elam Stoltzfus and Charlie Pelizza of USFWS talk at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Vero Beach, Florida.

13 Oct 2011

Thoughts on wolverine

This post was written by Joseph Guthrie

“The wolverine is a tremendous character…a personality of unmeasured force, courage, and achievement so enveloped in a mist of legend, superstition, idolatry, fear, and hatred, that one scarcely knows how to begin or what to accept as fact. Picture a weasel – and most of us can do that, for we have met the little demon of destruction, that small atom of insensate courage, that symbol of slaughter, sleeplessness, and tireless, incredible activity – picture that scrap of demoniac fury, multiply that mite by some fifty times, and you have the likeness of a wolverine.” – Ernest Thompson Seton from the Lives of Game Animals: Vol. II, 1925-1927

I lifted this quote from a book called “The Wolverine Way” by Doug Chadwick, a wildlife biologist and journalist. He uses this quote in the opening chapter of the book, and I think it’s fantastic. I just love the language that old naturalists seem to have the ability to tap. Pick any passage in A Sand County Almanac, for instance, and see how Leopold sweeps his gaze from the marshes of his home country over the entire Midwest, and then over the entire span of human industrial enterprise.

Chadwick is not that kind of writer, but he excels at telling the personal stories of the rough-hewn biologists and volunteers who track wolverines in Glacier National Park. The most compelling stories in his book, however, are those of the individual Gulos that populate northwest Montana. We get repeated encounters with several individual wolverines, the coolest of which is known as M3, a young male wolverine possessed by exactly the kind of “demoniac fury” that Seton’s quote suggests. I won’t spoil the story, but the data the team (based at the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula) collect from M3 reveal an animal with an other-worldly propensity for movement and aggression.

As a biologist who studies animal movement, I’ve experienced the thrill of opening a set of GPS data you’ve just received from an animal that is capable of moving long distances. Chadwick gets this, and articulates this fascinating part of the life of a biologist in language that is accessible to laypeople. There is something incredibly dramatic and engaging about the movements of big animals. They show those of us who want to know how the landscape appears to them. A craggy, winter shrouded mountain peak is inviting to a wolverine. A hardwood swamp anchors a black bear. A river basin leads a lone male Florida panther northward into uninhabited oak hammocks. A double strand of barbed wire blocks the annual migration of a herd of fifty pronghorn.

To endure over time, animals like the wolverine, the jaguar, the mountain lion (or panther), the lynx, the grizzly, the pronghorn, and even the ubiquitous black bear, are going to need wildland corridors that guarantee individuals the freedom to roam from one clutch of habitat to the next. As wide-ranging species struggle to adapt to changing weather and shifting habitats in the warmer years to come, linkage zones running north-south will prove especially vital. Yet before ecologists can identify the best routes – those wildlands that hold the most promise for keeping groups of animals connected – many more gaps in our knowledge about several of these species natural history will have to be filled in.

07 Oct 2011

Acknowledgement

This post was written by Joseph Guthrie

In the sciences we get hammered if we fail to acknowledge the work that others have done before. In the post I put up earlier this week I focused on the present efforts of a group of people, of which I am one, to promote the vision of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Something I’ve not yet done, and have been quickly reminded to do, is to acknowledge the work of many hundreds (probably thousands) of people to develop a system of connected conservation reserves for wildlife and for people. In our efforts to fund raise we have been careful to acknowledge these efforts.

The Florida Ecological Greenways Network Critical Linkages

The Florida Wildlife Corridor is directly the result of the work of people at the Conservation Trust for Florida. With their cooperation and their data, Carlton commissioned the Florida Wildlife Corridor map, which is simply a more artistic rendering of the Florida Ecological Greenways Network and Critical Linkages vision. People like Tom Hoctor of CTF and Reed Noss of the University of Central Florida have devoted their lives to the effort to connect Florida’s ecologically important lands, and to understanding the utility of corridors. Both of these two men worked under Larry Harris at the University of Florida, as did my eventual graduate school advisor, Dave Maehr. Dr. Harris, who I rather brashly claimed I’ve descended from in my previous post, was a huge influence on me and is directly responsible for my interest in the Florida Wildlife Corridor, despite the fact that I was never his student.

There are many others who have connected Florida from north to south, both in a conceptual and a physical sense. One example is the Florida National Scenic Trail, which we plan to use heavily when we embark on our expedition. Local groups, like the scientists at Archbold Biological Station have synthesized their own data with that of the various agencies to design corridors for their counties, bringing together people with keen awareness of the issues of their landscapes.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor is simply an advocacy and outreach campaign that some of us have designed to bring attention to the issues of land use and connectivity to a slightly larger audience. Our hope is that by engaging in the physical act of traveling on foot, by boat, or by horseback from south Florida to south Georgia, we will engage a broader audience, helping to foster a better understanding among Floridians of their proximity to Florida’s natural treasures, which are all linked in some way to the great, long Story of Florida. Abler and far more experienced writers than I have told the tales of Florida’s history and built the science that allows us to understand the richness that is here.

03 Oct 2011

A report on the public hearing for the proposed Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge

This post was written by Joseph Guthrie

Carlton, Elam and I spent Friday hunched over maps we spread over the camp house table, slowly piecing together our route from Florida Bay to Okeefenokee. Late in the day some friends from the National Wildlife Refuge Association joined us for dinner. The NWRA is a small non-profit organization that advocates in D.C. for the protection and expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge system. They are intensely involved in the process of securing the proposed Northern Everglades National Wildlife Refuge for central Florida. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar traveled to Florida earlier in the year to announce the intentions of the federal government.

http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/Salazar-Announces-Initiative-to-Conserve-Working-Lands-and-Wildlife-Habitat-in-the-Everglades-Headwaters.cfm

http://www.fws.gov/southeast/greatereverglades/pdf/GEPIProjectProposal.pdf

The plan includes three regions of Florida, but their focus is on first securing the Everglades headwaters, which means they are focusing on the Kissimmee River Basin north of Lake Okeechobee. Saturday was the last public hearing and comment session the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which would be the agency responsible for overseeing the refuge, is holding for this phase of the project.

Most in attendance at the public hearing expressed support for the government’s Option C, which consists of the Feds working with ranchers and landowners to negotiate easements, buying up the development rights while allowing them to continue practicing their livelihoods. For all involved, this seems to be a win-win strategy. It will certainly improve the ability of the various agencies to improve water quality throughout central and south Florida, and will go a long way toward restoring the Everglades to their historic function.

It seems that all things are coming to a head, all leaning in favor of getting some good conservation land established in this critical part of the Everglades watershed; the by-most-accounts-unfortunate economic downturn that presents the opportunity to buy land for conservation, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, the proposed new refuge system, the state’s draft black bear management plan, which calls for connectivity among the bear populations, and even the contributions of M34, whose movements essentially defined the scale at which this landscape needs to be protected.

With these things in mind, I made a statement at the public hearing, speaking about the importance of private lands to the Highlands/Glades county population, and the conservation vision of my academic ancestors, Dr. Larry Harris and Dr. Dave Maehr. Afterwards I spoke with representatives of USFWS, the Nature Conservancy, Audubon of Florida, the Marshall Foundation, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Wildlife Federation, and the Florida Cattleman’s Association. Everyone is interested in the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, and expressed support for our efforts. It seems that just about everyone can get behind conservation, as long as you can still make it about the people. And so the Florida Wildlife Corridor has a pulse.

30 Sep 2011

Adams Ranch – Night One

This post was written by Joseph Guthrie

Tonight marks my first real step on the Florida

Wildlife corridor project, as Carlton Ward, Elam Stoltzfus and I are gathered in the hunting camp at the Adams Ranch near Yeehaw Junction. The old fans do little to move the air in this thick, heavy night, the mosquitoes whining at us through the riddled screens, cows lowing in the distance. One of the Highlands County black bears I fit with a GPS collar in 2009 slid past our door on a night like this last summer, on an extra-territorial sojourn that took him over 500 miles in the space of two months. Soon talk of our own journey turns to talk of M34, the bear whose travels helped galvanize our efforts.

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28 Sep 2011

Welcome

This post was written by Joseph Guthrie

This is my new blog! I will be updating daily on my comings and goings as I prepare to embark on a 100 day, 1000 mile trek through Florida as a co-leader of the Florida Wildlife Corridor team. I have worked in Florida for the past 6 years, spending most of my time pursuing the Florida black bear as part of a University of Kentucky research project. Like the black bear, I am something of an omnivore and generalist; my interests are all over the map. I have a background in writing, and so this blog will hopefully become a repository for my daily activities, with ruminations on everything from wildlife and landscape conservation to art and music, history and politics. I am excited about my work and I hope it will show through in my posts.

27 Apr 2011

Celi Voyage – Shark River

This post was written by Carlton Ward Jr