Friday, September 14, 2018

Florida's Wildlife Legacy Initiative Newsletter Summer 2018

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Summer 2018

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In this issue:


Conservation Tribalism

Brian Branciforte

Florida's Wildlife Legacy Initiative Staff
I’m a big advocate of having a work team. I enjoy feeling connected through a common purpose and having others involved with similar goals. My team is within an office, within a division, within an agency, and so on and so on. This hierarchical organization is a product of where I work and has benefits to offer. The structure has a clear delineation of authority, roles and process, which provides a sense of order and security for all employees. The need of belonging to a like-minded group traces back to our ancestors and the concept referred to as tribalism. It’s not just at work of course. We identify ourselves as members of families, neighborhoods, social organizations, a geography and sports teams, as a few examples.
There’s a negative byproduct that can occur because of work unit organization as well. We often refer to it as creating silos or stovepiping, and it’s when a unit operates in isolation, competition or without regard to others. In conservation, you many recognize different general silos being field biologists, office administrators, researchers, managers, accounting, etc. Next time you are in a large meeting, look around and see if you can identify any potential tribes. Within any organization there is a balance to be found of creating the right structure to divvy the work, but also to instill practices that will prevent silos from forming.  
This is an example of the importance of Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative. We strive to combat the silo effect through the practice of collaborate conservation and engagement through multi-faceted partnerships. All stakeholders working in conservation can find common ground and purpose in the field toward the end goal of conserving wildlife and habitats. As conservation wades through tough issues, we must remember the benefits of working together rather than through our silos.

Introducing Florida's Wildlife Legacy Initiative's new Implementation Goals

Andrea Alden

Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative sets goals and measurable objectives for implementing the State Wildlife Action Plan. The Implementation Goals direct the use of FWC resources, including State Wildlife Grants, and provide opportunities for partners to align conservation priorities to conserve Florida's fish and wildlife. Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative revises the State Wildlife Action Plan along with the Implementation Goals approximately every five years. The most recent update to Implementation Goals occurred in early 2018 and is now included in the Program Guidelines document referenced in Grant Rule 68-1.003.
Regular updates to the State Wildlife Action Plan and Implementation Goals allow for integration of new information, evaluation of priorities and opportunity to engage with partners. The following Implementation Goals and objectives will be achieved through five State Wildlife Grant funding cycles, with the first set of projects beginning in July, 2019. Implementation Goals target high-priority needs that have a significant impact on the state’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need.
For more information regarding our Implementation Goals, please contact your local Wildlife Legacy Biologist.  
Implementation Goals
Pineland
TERRESTRIAL HABITAT INTEGRITY
Goal: Improve and maintain the quality of upland habitats for the benefit of Species of Greatest Conservation Need.
Objective: Apply fire-related management on at least 150,000 acres of priority upland habitat.
Priority habitats: Sandhill, scrub, pine flatwoods, dry prairie, pine rockland and associated wetlands.
River
AQUATIC HABITAT RESILIENCY
Goal: Improve aquatic ecosystem habitat quality and connectivity for the benefit ofSpecies of Greatest Conservation Need.
Objective: Improve physical habitats in aquatic systems by restoring and enhancing at least 3,000 feet of stream habitat and 1,000 acres of wetlands utilized by Species of Greatest Conservation Need.
Priority habitats: Forested and non-forested wetlands, rivers and streams.
Estuarine Habitat
MARINE & ESTUARINE HABITAT ENHANCEMENT
Goal: Improve marine and estuarine ecosystem habitat quality for the benefit of Species of Greatest Conservation Need.
Objective 1: Complete at least four acres of high priority coastal habitat improvement by creating or restoring habitat in each of oyster reef, mangrove, salt marsh and upland buffer.
Objective 2: Increase coral cover by at least 25 percent on no fewer than 60 reefs through the repeated outplanting of no less than 60,000 colonies of reef-building elkhorn, brain, boulder and star corals, and monitor outplant success for at least a five-year period.
Priority habitats: Saltmarsh, mangrove, oyster reef, seagrass, coral reef.
Habitat Monitoring
RESEARCH & MONITORING
Goal: Produce research and monitoring results that will improve management of Species of Greatest Conservation Need and their habitats.
Objective 1: Acquire information necessary to improve the management of at least five Species of Greatest Conservation Need or their habitats.
Objective 2: Address climate change vulnerability of at least two Species of Greatest Conservation Need by identifying or implementing adaptation strategies.
Objective 3: Maintain and use species and habitat status assessment tools to evaluate the effectiveness of conservation actions.

Anna Deyle joins the team as a Wildlife Legacy Biologist

Kevin Kemp

Anna Deyle
Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative has a new team member! Anna Deyle was recently hired as the new Wildlife Legacy Biologist in the Northeast Region. Based in the FWC’s Ocala office, Anna is the new lead for the Terrestrial Goal Team, which focuses on improving and maintaining upland habitats for the benefit of Species of Greatest Conservation Need. 
While new to FWLI, Anna is not new to the FWC, having worked for the agency since 2013. In her previous role she served as the Northeast Assistant Species Conservation Biologist, working with various Species of Greatest Conservation Need and their habitats throughout the FWC’s Northeast Region. 
Anna received her master’s degree in biology with a concentration in ecology and evolution from the University of South Florida, where she studied the population genetics of two-toed amphiuma and greater siren salamanders in the freshwater wetlands of Florida. Prior to that, she received her B.S. in environmental biology from Beloit College. 
In addition to her duties as the Terrestrial Goal Team lead, Anna is also conducting a study on coastal dunes crowned snakes. Anna is hoping to identify where this species occurs on public lands in three counties on the Atlantic coast. Anna can be reached at Anna.Deyle@MyFWC.com

It takes a village to revise a State Wildlife Action Plan

Allie McCue

State Wildlife Action Plan
In December 2014, I was hired as the new State Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator. Joining Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative, I knew that my primary task would be leading our team and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission through the second Action Plan revision. Little did I know that FWLI already had been discussing and preparing for the revision even prior to me coming onboard. Also, what I quickly learned was that the expectation was a complete overhaul of the nearly 700-page document, which is far from the “revision” challenge I thought we were facing. Nearly four years have passed since then, and we can finally say with confidence the finish line is in sight. The 2018 version of the Action Plan will be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval in the coming weeks!
The road to get to this point was filled with meandering dead ends, rough terrain and a lot of stopping and asking for directions. But through this less than perfect process, the Action Plan took shape and ultimately became the best version yet. This success is not only due to the hard work and dedication that FWLI staff have contributed, but also to the numerous partners and subject matter experts who tediously reviewed draft after draft.
The review process was long and labor intensive. Each chapter draft was distributed multiple times for review to FWLI staff, a small revision team, targeted experts, all FWC staff and finally externally to partners and the public. Each of these steps taking weeks if not months to provide ample time for a thorough review of each document, and for the comments and edits to be discussed and addressed.
Now that final review process is over, and more than 600 individual comments have been incorporated just from the public review, it becomes even more obvious what an incredible team effort this has been. From the initial brainstorming phase, to working on draft 1 through 20, the final product is a true reflection of the collaboration and coordination that it took to get here.
We are excited to enter the next phase and looking forward to continued coordination and partnership development as we work together to implement the Action Plan for the benefit of Florida’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need. A notification will be sent when the Action Plan is available for download, pending U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approval.
For more information on Florida’s State Wildlife Action Plan contact: Allie McCue, Allie.McCue@MyFWC.com

Florida's State Wildlife Grants - New projects announced!

Andrea Alden

Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative is excited to announce projects recently selected to receive State Wildlife Grant funding! During the past year, FWLI Goal Teams have worked with numerous external and internal partners in developing project scopes of work, drafting and posting announcements, and reviewing submissions. The proposed awards, listed below, total $1.62 million and will help FWLI achieve its 2012 to 2018 goals by implementing the State Wildlife Action Plan. All projects began this summer.
SWG Project Table
FWLI thanks the FWC staff from many sections and the external partners without whom the latest State Wildlife Grants cycle would not have been successful. FWLI also thanks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Florida field offices and the Region 4 office in Atlanta for assistance and providing the funding that makes these projects possible.
If you are interested in State Wildlife Grant funding, contact Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative

Freshwater goal to restore aquatic wildlife and habitat - Mission accomplished!

Thomas Kuhn

Since 2012, Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative has been working through its Freshwater Goal to improve freshwater habitats and overall water conditions to benefit Florida’s aquatic wildlife. Partnerships with other agencies and nongovernmental organizations have been critical to meeting the objectives of this goal. These objectives include:
  • Enhancing aquatic conditions and restoring 90 acres of wetlands.
  • Assessing threats and identifying key sites in need of restoration on one river.
  • Stabilizing at least 200 feet of stream bank to reduce erosion and provide desirable habitat for Species of Greatest Conservation Need.
FWLI is pleased to report the freshwater objectives for 2012-2018 will be met, once currently ongoing projects are completed. These objectives were challenging, but projects have been conducted all over the state to accomplish them. One central Florida project restored 56 acres of dried lake bottom in the western half of Lake Gwyn in Polk County into wetland habitat supporting a wide variety of species, including the endangered snail kite. This summer, another Lake Gwyn project was launched to convert the eastern 50 acres of dried lake bottom into wetland habitat as well. In northwest Florida, through the efforts of the Longleaf Alliance’s Wetland Ecosystem Support Team, wetlands and river corridors that are critical habitat for bog frogs, flatwood salamanders and other Species of Greatest Conservation Need are being restored by prescribed fire and invasive plant removal.
Yet another project seeks to better understand the threats facing two of Florida’s peninsular rivers, the Peace and Withlacoochee. Threat assessments were conducted, providing information that is guiding future restoration efforts in those systems. In north Florida too, along the Chipola River, 200 feet of particularly degraded shoreline were restored and an additional 2.3 miles naturally restored themselves once cattle fencing was installed, all of which conserved and enhanced vital spawning grounds for shoal bass. In addition to these efforts, other projects studied stream habitats throughout Florida with side-scan sonar systems, calibrated the Field Assessment of Erosion Potential (Bank Erosion Hazzard Index) for use in northwest Florida and are currently examining the extent to which the connectivity of Florida’s waterways has been compromised. Much has been accomplished over the last six years. A new freshwater goal looks ahead through 2025, challenging the FWLI and its partners to accomplish even more in the future.
Freshwater Projects Map

Crossing the finish line! Highlights from several completed State Wildlife Grant projects

We don't always take enough time to celebrate hard work and amazing accomplishments. Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative is recognizing a few of the following principal investigators who finished their State Wildlife Grant-funded projects since the last newsletter publication. These projects demonstrate the wide variety of conservation efforts taking place in Florida – from research and on-the-ground restoration to 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! 

Living Shorelines: Naturally Adapting to Climate Change

Principal Investigators: Annie Roddenberry, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Chad Truxall, Marine Discovery Center 
While seawalls and other shoreline armoring methods provide important protection from flooding and erosion, they can also fragment wildlife habitat. Living shorelines offer an alternative way to protect coastlines while creating habitat for animals such as the 100 plus Species of Greatest Conservation Need that occur in the vibrant salt marsh and bivalve reef habitats where this project was based. As dynamic systems, living shorelines can even offer additional protection from sea level rise by adapting to keep pace with rising seas. For instance, recycled oyster shells can be used to construct living shorelines that provide oyster reef habitat, which can naturally build up sediment as sea levels rise over time.
Living Shorelines
Left: Volunteers installing native plants at Mosquito Lagoon Marine Enhancement Center near the shoreline in New Smyrna Beach, FL.
Recycled oyster shells were a key material used in this project, which involved construction of a .68 acre living shoreline made with recycled shells at Mosquito Lagoon Marine Enhancement Center (MLMEC) in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. The project addressed the Climate Adaptation Objective of the State Wildlife Action Plan Monitoring and Adaptation Goal (2012-2018) through construction of the MLMEC shoreline as well as an additional living shoreline on nearby “Discovery Island,” intended to serve as an outreach and educational destination for visitors and to enhance a demonstration site already present at MLMEC. Outreach was crucial not only to the objectives of this project but also to its success – the project team relied heavily on the efforts of volunteers for construction of both shorelines. Sediment buildup has occurred in areas in need of stabilization since the project was completed, and visitors of all ages can enjoy touring the site and enjoy viewing the diverse array of wildlife making use of the newly restored habitat.  

Fire line Preparation and Fuel Reduction at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

Principal Investigator: Jennifer Benson-Hughes, Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Florida Grasshopper Sparrow
This project contributed to Florida’s State Wildlife Action Plan 2012-2018 Terrestrial Implementation Goal to, “increase the use of fire management to improve upland habitat conservation to benefit Florida’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN).”
Right: Florida Grasshopper Sparrow
It allowed Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park to hire a staff member to assist with maintaining fire line breaks and conducting prescribed burns in dry prairie habitat. Dry prairie supports 50 SGCN species, including the Bachman’s sparrow, Sherman’s fox squirrel, federally endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow, and state threatened Florida burrowing owl. The Preserve was established to protect the largest remaining amount of Florida’s dry prairie habitat. Dry prairie requires a short fire return interval of 1-2 years of growing season fire to be maintained. Before the State acquired the Preserve, it was managed for over 50 years with a fire rotation of 3+ years of dormant season fires. This project allowed the Preserve to restore appropriate fire to properly manage and maintain dry prairie habitat. Preserve staff burned 34 out of 38 management zones at the park totaling 49,510 acres out of the park’s total 53,763 acres. Some zones were burned more than once during the project, bringing the total number of acres burned to 83,674. This resulted in an average of 24,704 acres burned per year, doubling their 2010-2013 average of 12,000 acres burned per year. Over 120 miles of fire line breaks were maintained around the 38 management zones year-round. Woody encroachment was greatly reduced to maintain dry prairie habitat for the SGCN at the preserve that depend on it and all critical dry prairie nesting habitat for the Florida grasshopper sparrow was burned.

Assessing the Genetic Structure of the Statewide Florida Mouse Population for More Effective Conservation and Management

Principal Investigator: Terry Doonan, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Florida Mouse
The Florida mouse (Podomys floridanus) is endemic to Florida and is most commonly associated with sand-pine and coastal scrub, as well as sandhill habitat that occur mostly on the geologic ridges throughout peninsular Florida.
 Left: Two Florida mice.  Photo taken by James Austin
 These are some of Florida’s most threatened habitats. This project was initiated to determine whether genetic differences exist locally or regionally among populations across the range of the Florida mouse. The conclusion of this project resulted in the first comprehensive genetic assessment of the Florida mouse, filling data gaps and providing information essential to management recommendations, increasing the knowledge level for this species by 1-2 steps and moving us toward achievement of the Action Plan’s Data Gaps Goal.
The findings of this study support the conclusion that genetic differences within and between Florida mouse populations are closely associated with major ridge and xeric (dry) habitats, reflecting limited, if any, breeding between ridge systems. Within ridges, interactions between breeding populations were likely common prior to modification of the scrub and sandhill habitat mosaic (i.e. fragmentation and habitat conversion). Results from the genetic analysis suggest that natural re-colonization of ridges by the Florida mouse will be limited, thus as their populations go extinct, population reestablishment is unlikely.  Some clear management implications from this study included careful consideration of Florida mouse translocations between habitat types, and the importance of habitat management particularly within areas where genetically isolated populations likely persist in small numbers. 

Long-term Monitoring to Determine Turtlegrass Recolonization Rates in Restored Vessel Injuries

Principal Investigator: Penny Hall, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Restoring physical damage to seagrasses caused by boat propellers, anchors or groundings was identified as a conservation action in the 2012 State Wildlife Action Plan and the draft 2018 plan. Seagrass beds support a variety of Species of Greatest Conservation Need, including manatees, sea turtles, shorebirds (foraging grounds), and sharks, and provide ecological services, including nutrient cycling and fisheries production. Groundings and boat propellers can excavate grasses and sediment, resulting in blowholes (depressions) or trenches, and restoration is often necessary to recover or accelerate recovery of the seagrasses.
Turtlegrass Monitoring
Left: Many seagrass beds show the crisscross scars of vessels that have run aground and left holes empty of seagrass. Without the dense mat created by seagrass roots, high wind and waves carry away the fine sediment of the ocean floor, eroding and deepening the scars (also called “blowholes” by researchers).
In 2008, researchers received State Wildlife Grant funding to evaluate techniques to restore severe boat damage to seagrass beds (Project ID 6330, FWC and NOAA). The long-term goal being the recolonization of the slow-growing climax (or late successional) species, turtlegrass (Thalassia testudinum), which can take 5-10 years or more. In 2015, researchers received a follow-up State Wildlife Grant to return to the restored sites to measure if restoration success was achieved. Despite finding successful re-grading and positive seagrass growth trajectories at 2-3 years post-restoration, recruitment of turtlegrass was still incomplete 7 years post-planting; of the 8 sites, only 3 were fully recovered with respect to Thalassia in October 2015. Long-term monitoring (either continuous or sporadic) of restored sites is critical for determining the effectiveness of restoration techniques, and the findings of this project demonstrate the necessity for future monitoring at these sties to determine the time required for turtlegrass to regain seagrass community dominance.

Riverbank Restoration and Stabilization on the Chipola River (Baggett Farms Property)

Principal Investigators: Garry Warren, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Jessica Graham, Southeastern Aquatic Resources Partnership
Chipola River Restoration
The Chipola river basin is ranked as a high priority preservation basin in Florida’s 2012 State Wildlife Action Plan.
Right: Restored streambank at Baggett Farms
Preservation basins are relatively pristine and stable systems with high value to wildlife. Maintaining and improving these systems is essential to many of Florida’s species of greatest conservation need (SGCN.) A stretch of the Chipola was identified as a source of erosion which was degrading essential spawning habitat for shoal bass and 5 SGCN mussel species. Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative (FWLI) acted in partnership with USFWS, SARP, and Mr. Baggett, a private landowner, to protect and restore 2.3 miles of stream bank. Fencing was installed along 2.3 miles of riverbank to keep cattle out of the river and wells were installed to provide an alternative water source. A particularly degraded section of approximately 200 linear feet was graded, hardened, and planted. With the combination of selective active restoration, and the exclusion of cattle from the stream, vegetation was able to return to the system. The vegetated shoreline is less prone to erosion, and the presence of canopy coverage shades the river making it more desirable for shoal bass.
This project was a model and inspiration for additional projects between state, federal, and local entities collaborating with private landowners to restore and conserve aquatic habitats. A video with additional information on this and related projects is available on YouTube.

Coastal Habitat Integrated Mapping and Monitoring Program (CHIMMP)

Principal Investigators: Ryan Moyer and Kara Radabaugh, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Florida’s salt marshes and mangroves are critical coastal habitats that provide shoreline stabilization, filtration of surface water, and are nursery habitats for numerous ecologically and economically important species of fish and crustaceans, including over 100 Species of Greatest Conservation Need. However, these important habitats are vulnerable to habitat loss, alterations to surface water hydrology, climate change, sea-level rise, and invasive species.
Coastal Habitat Integrated Mapping and Monitoring Program
Left: FWC biologists conducting vegetation monitoring in Clam Bayou in Gulfport, FL.
The Coastal Habitat Integrated Mapping and Monitoring Program (CHIMMP) was established in 2013 to facilitate the integration of salt marsh and mangrove mapping and monitoring programs across Florida, as well as address the Species and Habitat Monitoring Objective of the State Wildlife Action Plan Monitoring and Adaptation Goal (2012-2018). The program was designed to build on the successes of the Seagrass Independent Mapping and Monitoring (SIMM) program, which coordinated the integration of seagrass mapping and monitoring in Florida. Three workshops were held to identify research and monitoring programs, leverage any duplicate efforts, and identify data gaps and needs in coastal wetland mapping and monitoring. The program produced a statewide technical report describing the unique ecosystems, threats, management priorities, and mapping and monitoring programs for 12 regions. Nearly 50 collaborators contributed to the writing and editing of this report. Additionally, the program conducted monitoring pilot studies, including a side-by-side comparison of common monitoring techniques that highlighted the rapid succession of restored salt marsh habitats to mangrove-dominated ecosystems. The mapping pilot studies created species-specific mangrove maps in the Tampa Bay and automated, high-resolution maps of forested wetlands in Tampa Bay with the use of a supercomputer and a novel processing method, reducing the processing time from four to five months using traditional methods to under 24 hours. 

The Population Genetic Structure of Dendrogyra cylindrus and Associated Symbiodinium

Principal Investigator: Iliana Baums, Penn State University
Pillar Coral
This project investigated the genetics of Pillar Corals in Florida and the genetics of their symbiotic zooxanthellae to contribute to the 2012-2018 Marine Implementation Goal: “To improve coral reef restoration and conserve SGCN through planning and research.”
Right: Pillar coral
Pillar Coral is very rare and declining in Florida and will require restoration outplantings to ensure the persistence of this species in our waters.  Restoration practitioners normally try to increase the survivorship of corals that they outplant by using corals that are genetically similar to those in the area, if genetic differences exist between populations. Differences in the organism’s genetics may be caused by adaptations to local conditions, so using corals adapted to the local area increases the chances of restoration success. This project found that there were no significant differences between Pillar Corals throughout their range in Florida, but that Florida Pillar Corals did differ from those in Curacao. Because corals harbor symbiotic zooxanthellae, the genetic composition of these symbiotic organisms also can impact restoration success. Two different variants of Pillar Coral zooxanthellae were found in samples from Florida but were not associated with location or water depth. These two variants may be adaptive to other smaller scale environmental conditions, which would require study to determine. Based on the contributions of this study, Pillar Corals can be transplanted to any location in Florida from any other location in Florida without concern about mixing population genetics or impacting the chances of restoration success.


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