Author: Ian Stone – Forestry Extension Agent Walton County
Selecting a consulting forester is often a major decision for small to large private landowners engaged in forest management and enterprises. Consulting foresters provide technical forestry assistance in all aspects of forest management. These professionals can assist landowners by identifying goals and needs and then apply forestry expertise to meet these needs and goals. Consulting foresters are professionals who provide their services for a fee; much like lawyers or engineers. Consulting foresters provide multiple services with various fee structures which can be provided on an hourly, per acre, one-time, or percentage. For example, a herbicide treatment would often be on a per acre basis, while a timber sale would often be done on a percentage. A landowner should always have a consultant provide a scope of work along with the fee structure and estimate. It is advisable that a landowner consult several foresters or firms to compare services and fees before making a selection.
Streamside Management Zone (SMZ) marked prior to harvest so it is clear to the landowner and logger. This service is often performed by a consulting forester as part of timber sale preparation. (Photo Credit: David Stevens, Bugwood.org Image# 5443305)
Consulting foresters are highly skilled professionals with extensive knowledge in many areas. Examples of required areas of knowledge are timber volume estimation and appraisal, forest management, tree planting and reforestation, prescribed fire, wildlife and habitat management, taxation, estate planning, forest treatment such as mechanical, herbicide, fertilization, and many more. Most consultants are well versed in all aspects of the forestry profession, but often have one or two areas of specialization. A landowner should discuss the services and credentials a forestry consultant or firm provides and select on that best fits their unique needs.
Many states require consulting foresters to become registered or certified through a professional certification board. Florida, however, is an exception to this which means landowners in Florida should thoroughly examine the forester’s professional credentials. Landowners should select a forester with the skills and credentials they require. The two largest professional organizations that set professional expectations for foresters are the Society of American Foresters (SAF) and the Association of Consulting Foresters (ACF) Examples of what to look for in credentialing are as follows:
A 4-year bachelor’s degree in forestry or a related field; especially form an SAF accredited university forestry program
Registration or certification in another state or nationally through the SAF Certified Forester
Membership in professional forestry organizations such as ACF or SAF, along with similar
organizations such as Tree Farm, Florida Forestry Association, or Forest Landowners Association
The ability to clearly communicate with the client and others. Ask for samples of contracts, a
written quote, an in-person meeting, and references from other landowners
Professional integrity, honesty, and a commitment to ethical practice
Landowners can find listings of Consulting Foresters and firms in their area through multiple sources.
Landowners can find lists of registered foresters through the Alabama and Georgia boards of forestry. Most consultants close to state boundaries practice in multiple states. In addition, SAF and ACF maintain online listings of consulting foresters and members at large.
Additional Helpful Websites for Locating a Consulting Forester in the Panhandle-
It has been a few months since we have posted an article on the changing wildlife over the course of a year on our barrier islands. I took the month of June off and just could not schedule a hike in July. But it is now August, and we DID get out this week.
This is no surprise… it is hot and humid. I think everyone has noticed this. We are also in the rainy season. Based on the NOAA site I track, we are currently at 45.73” for the year. This is an average of 6.53 inches a month which would lead us to an annual amount of 78” if we keep that pace. This would be another wet year.
This rainfall does a lot to cover up tracks I am looking for. It will spook some creatures into hiding waiting out the weather, but there are plenty of others who enjoy the rain and are more on the move.
Today I took my grandson with me on the hike. He loves the outdoors and reptiles and amphibians especially. We began, as we always do, walking a section of the Gulf beach to see what we could see.
We immediately encountered a sea turtle nest. I understand that it has been a good year for sea turtles in our neck of the woods. The turtle patrol had roped this one off, but I did see human footprints inside the roped section. We encourage people NOT to do this. Compacting the sand can be a problem and if they hatch and detect vibrations they may not emerge. It is cool to see one, but do not go past the roped section.
We always search the wrack line for cool things and today we ran into a few. First, there were hundreds of small dead anchovies washed ashore. I am not 100% sure what happened but I am guessing a strong storm came and washed them in. Anchovies are a great source of food for many marine fish and these dead ones will certainly feed the numerous birds and ghost crabs that live along the shores. Anchovies play an important role in the ecosystem and, even though these were dead, it is nice to see them.
We did find several catfish heads. Saltwater catfish are not prized by Gulf fishermen. Many prefer to cut their heads off and leave them on the beach. The thing is that this does little to deter the population of this unpopular fish and the spines can be dangerous for beach combers walking barefoot. But the ghost crabs usually collect and feed on them.
We also found a few comb jellies. These are members of a different phylum (Ctenophora) than the classic jellyfish (Cnidaria). They lack stinging cells and move using their rows of ctenes (cilia) that resemble the bristles of a comb as you run your finger over it. This is where it gets its common name. They do produce blue colored bioluminescence in the evening and are beautiful to watch.
As we crossed the road and enter the dunes, I explained to my grandson how the foredune is dominated by grasses. These plants can tolerate the strong winds off the Gulf and the salt spray as well. On the other side of the road, you enter in the secondary dune field. This region is a mix of grasses and small shrubs, which can grow due to the primary dunes blocking some of the strong Gulf winds.
Today we saw several species of flowers in bloom. Different plants bloom at different times of the year and it is neat to see who is blooming at different times. The low swale areas were full of growing plants and flowers. There were plenty of sundews and ground pine. Some standing water but much was dry. We did find a plant in one of the wet swales I did not know. I am listing it here as redroot but I am not confident in that identification and would love if someone who knows it will share its name.
There were numerous tracks of armadillos but little else from the animal world. Again, the rains wash them away. The milkweed was still blooming awaiting for the now listed monarch butterflies. And the beach side rosemary was releasing its characteristic odor that says “Pensacola Beach” to me. The plants looked great and seem to enjoy the rain. FYI – we did get rained on during the hike, but not too bad. We had seen the parasitic dodder earlier in the year and the vine was still evident in August.
In the tertiary, or back dunes, is where I always hope to find tracks or animals of some kind. Today there was little evidence of any. There were raccoon tracks moving along the edge of tallest dunes and along the trails leading to Santa Rosa Sound. But not much else. The pines were bearing their cones and the sweet bay magnolias had their young blossoms forming.
One species my grandson did not enjoy were the numerous devils’ joints. This branching cactus has very sharp spines and were all over the back dunes. We had to stop and remove them several times. He definitely wanted to find a different way back!
We did reach the Sound and walked along its edge towards the old fish hatchery. He saw TONS of fish (as he put it) and the grass looked thick and healthy. We did get to explore and talk about the old fish hatchery. And then headed back towards the Gulf and our truck.
I think we got started a bit late to see a lot of the wildlife. This time of year, they will be hunkered down somewhere early in the morning to prepare for another hot day. With the overhead clouds I was hoping to see some movement, but we did not. We will try earlier in the day in September.
I hope you get out and explore our barrier islands. They are fascinating places. But plan to get into the water this time of year. We did. It was hot. We went snorkeling and saw numerous pinfish, a flounder, and snapper, and a nice sheepshead. This is a good way to spend the hot parts of the day. Let’s see what September may bring.
Mangroves in the northern Gulf of Mexico are a relatively new thing for most coastal counties. Some residents are aware they are arriving and are not concerned. Some are aware and are actually excited about it. Some are aware and are concerned. Some are not aware. And others have no idea what a mangrove is. Let’s start with that group.
Black mangroves growing near St. George Island in Franklin County. Photo: Joshua Hodson.
Mangroves are salt tolerant trees that are found all around the globe within the tropics. They grow along the shorelines in areas where they are protected from ocean wind and waves – they like estuaries. There are several species and their location along the shore depends on how long they can be submerged in water. There is a definite zonation of these trees.
The red mangrove with their distinct prop roots. Photo: University of Florida
The red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) is found closest to the waters edge. They can be identified by their prop roots which are designed to keep it standing when the water is moving and shifting the sediment below it. These prop roots also useful during tropical storms when the wave energy increases. The have distinct looking propagules, which are elongated floating seeds which allows the plant to disperse their offspring using the currents and tides. The propagules often wash ashore on northern Gulf beaches but usually in locations not conducive to growth, or they do not survive the winters. These plants can tolerate temperatures in the 30sF for a night or two, but when it drops into the 20sF, and certainly into the 10sF, they will not survive. Despite not being cold tolerant, they have been found growing in the northern Gulf of Mexico. All the mangroves found in the Pensacola area have been of this species.
Black mangroves with their pneumatophores. Photo: University of Florida
The black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) is found higher in the intertidal zone. It lacks the prop roots of the red but rather has what are called pneumatophores, which resemble the knees of the cypress trees. These pneumatophores have structures that help increase the oxygen uptake for the plant, being that the sediments they live in are quite hypoxic. The seeds of the black mangrove are not elongated but rather resemble a bean. These trees are more tolerant of cold weather than the red mangrove and it is they that have led the march north. There are large stands of these trees in the Apalachicola area as well as barrier islands in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. We have not found a black mangrove growing in Pensacola as of yet.
The larger white mangrove. Photo: University of Florida
White mangroves (Laguncularia racemosa) grow more inland than the other two. This species can grow into a large tree (up to 40 feet). Their leaves can excrete salt allowing them to live in saltier conditions. There are no records of this tree in the northern Gulf of Mexico to my knowledge.
Why would anyone be concerned about mangroves dispersing into the northern Gulf?
Those who are concerned are aware that is a shoreline tree that will grow and possibly block their view of the water. They also are aware that this tree is protected by the state, and they are not allowed to remove or trim the tree without a permit. In south Florida trimming mangroves is allowed in some counties during certain times of the year and only by certified arborist. Those concerned are not excited about potentially loosing their water view.
A red mangrove growing near the pass of Pensacola Bay. Photo: Whitney Scheffel.
Why would anyone be excited about mangroves dispersing into the northern Gulf?
Folks who are excited about the possible coming of the mangroves are so because they have spent time snorkeling and fishing in and around them in more southern locations. The prop roots of the red mangrove create an underwater wonderland of marine life. Small fish, crabs, anemones, starfish, mollusk and more find the large openings formed by the roots as great habitat. These in turn attract larger fish like snook, tarpon, rays, and flounder. Many species of larger fish are popular targets for anglers. Manatees are often found in mangrove swamps grazing on the algae and seagrasses growing nearby and enjoying the relatively calm water. Those who have experienced this in south Florida are excited they may have it here in the north.
How many mangroves, and which species, have dispersed into the northern Gulf is still being studied. Florida Sea Grant has partnered with Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant and three of the National Estuarine Research Preserves to survey for mangroves in our panhandle counties and along coastal Mississippi and Alabama. Ten transects have identified in each that are surveyed once a year by volunteers using paddle craft. The presence of a mangrove is documented, measured, photographed and shared with the team, which is overseen by Whitney Scheffel of the Pensacola-Perdido Bay Estuary Program. If you are interested in participating in a survey, contact your county Sea Grant Extension Agent.
Morrison Springs in Walton County is a natural spring ideal for paddling, snorkeling, and diving. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extensio
There is just SO much water in Florida. Besides the tremendous amount of rain and 1,350 miles of coastline and beachfront, there are endless bays, bayous, creeks, rivers, and streams. In this state, it is extraordinarily difficult to live more than a few miles from a body of water. Among the the coolest (literally) types of water bodies in Florida, though, are our springs. Like brilliant gemstones, the state’s 700+ springs dot the Florida landscape like a strand of sapphires.
While we have springs bubbling up all over northwest Florida in areas where the underground water table meets the surface, larger springs are more common as you move east and south. Some parts of north Florida and most of the peninsula are built on a limestone platform, known by the geological term “karst.” Limestone is composed of calcium carbonate, which has a porous and easily degradable chemical structure. When this barrier is breached, it allows the cold groundwater an opening directly to the surface water—hence a spring. (Fun fact—there are surface water streams that actually disappear into a spring—these are called swallets, operating as the reverse version of a spring!)
The striking blue-green water in Three Sisters Spring is only accessible by kayak or swimming. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
A few of the largest springs in northwest Florida are Vortex, Ponce de Leon, and Morrison Springs, found in Holmes and Walton County. Vortex is a privately operated water park and scuba diving/training facility. It is where the red and white “diver down” flag was invented and has a complex underwater cavern system. Ponce de Leon and Morrison Springs are state and county-run parks with a more natural feel, surrounded by woods and basic infrastructure for access. Morrison will especially wow visitors with its tremendous turquoise coloring.
Crystal clear water in Morrison Springs. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
Before a meeting in Crystal River last week, I paddled and snorkeled through the famous Three Sisters Spring. As part of Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, it is a popular but highly protected area. Three Sisters is well-known as a manatee gathering place, especially in winter, but during my visit was mostly unoccupied. The color was striking, though. Why do so many of these springs have such brilliant blue and turquoise coloring? The phenomenon is essentially the same as the blue-green Gulf waters in the Panhandle. The reflection of the sky on a sunny day with the backdrop of that pure white sand causes the water to reflect a color that inspired the nickname “The Emerald Coast.” In springs, the white calcium carbonate in limestone breaks down into tiny crystals, mixing with the water and reflecting the vivid shades of blue.
Alexander Springs Creek in Ocala National Forest is overrun with algae. Photo credit: Matt Cohen, UF IFAS
Besides their beauty, clarity, recreational, and wildlife value, springs pump 8 billion gallons of fresh water a day of into Florida ecosystems. Seagrass meadows in many of these springs are lush. Because they are literal windows into the underground aquifer, they are extremely vulnerable to pollution. While many springs have been protected for decades, others were seen as places to dump trash and make it “disappear.” Many have been affected by urban stormwater and agricultural pollution, losing their clarity, reducing dissolved oxygen levels, and prompting massive cleanup and buffer protection zones.
On one of these hot summer days in Florida, take the time to visit our incredible springs. While it may not be the literal “Fountain of Youth,” swimming in a spring is a unique and invigorating experience, and a beautiful way to get off the beaten path. A comprehensive guide to Florida springs, research, and statewide protection initiatives can be found at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s springs website.
The University of Florida/IFAS Extension faculty are reintroducing their acclaimed “Panhandle Outdoors LIVE!” series. Conservation lands and aquatic systems have vulnerabilities and face future threats to their ecological integrity. Come learn about the important role of these ecosystems.
The St. Joseph Bay and Buffer Preserve Ecosystems are home to some of the one richest concentrations of flora and fauna along the Northern Gulf Coast. This area supports an amazing diversity of fish, aquatic invertebrates, turtles, salt marshes and pine flatwoods uplands.
This one-day educational adventure is based at the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve near the coastal town of Port. St. Joe, Florida. It includes field tours of the unique coastal uplands and shoreline as well as presentations by area Extension Agents.
Registration fee is $45.
Meals: breakfast, lunch, drinks & snacks provided (you may bring your own)
Attire: outdoor wear, water shoes, bug spray and sun screen
*if afternoon rain is in forecast, outdoor activities may be switched to the morning schedule
Space is limited! Register now! See below.
All Times Eastern
8:00 – 8:30 am Welcome! Breakfast & Overview with Ray Bodrey, Gulf County Extension
8:30 – 9:35 am Diamondback Terrapin Ecology, with Rick O’Connor, Escambia County Extension
9:35 – 9:45 am Q&A
9:45- 10:20 am The Bay Scallop & Habitat, with Ray Bodrey, Gulf County Extension
10:20 – 10:30 am Q&A
10:30 – 10:45 am Break
10:45 – 11:20 am The Hard Structures: Artificial Reefs & Marine Debris, with Scott Jackson, Bay County Extension
11:20 – 11:30 am Q&A
11:30 – 12:05 am The Apalachicola Oyster, Then, Now and What’s Next, with Erik Lovestrand, Franklin County Extension
12:05 – 12:15 pm Q&A
12:15 – 1:00 pm Lunch
1:00 – 2:30 pm Tram Tour of the Buffer Preserve (St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve Staff)
2:30 – 2:40 pm Break
2:40 – 3:20 pm A Walk Among the Black Mangroves (All Extension Agents)
3:20 – 3:30 pm Wrap Up
To attend, you must register for the event at this site:
This fish is a classic example of why scientists use scientific names. There are numerous common names for this species and multiple ones even in the Gulf region. Ling, Cabio, Lemonfish, Cubby Yew, Black kingfish, Black salmon, Crabeater, and Sergeant fish to name a few. The Cajun name for the fish is Limon – possibly where the name Lemonfish came from. Based on the references, Cobia seems to be the most accepted name, but Ling is often used here along the Florida panhandle. Again, this is a great example of why scientists use scientific names when writing or speaking about species. There is less chance for confusion. I say less because at times the scientific names change as well, and some confusion can still occur.
The scientific name for this fish is Rachycentron canadum. The genus name refers to the sharp spines of the first dorsal fin, which are sharp. The species name may refer to Canada. It is a common practice to give a species the name of the area/location in which it was first described. But it seems that Carlos Linnaeus, the biologist who first described it, used a specimen from the Carolinas to do so. So, not sure why the name was given4. It is the only North American fish in the family Rachycentridae and its closest relative are the remoras of the shark sucker family.
Some state that cobia have only one dorsal fin, but in fact they have two. The first is a series of 7-9 spines spaced with no membrane connecting. They are small, sharp, and somewhat embedded into the body. This is very similar to how the remoras and shark suckers first dorsal spines work, albeit remora’s first dorsal is softer. Cobia have a low depressed head that gives them the appearance of a shark when viewed from the side. It is often confused with sharks because they can get quite large – an average of five feet in length and up to 100 pounds in weight. The small juveniles resemble remora quite a bit. They are darker in color with pronounced lighter colored lateral stripes and their caudal fin (tail) is more lancelet and less lunate than the adults.
Biogeographically they are listed as worldwide, albeit tropical to subtropical – they do not like cold water. In the United States they are found all along the east and Gulf coast, but are absent from the west coast – again, a dislike for cold water. The literature states that there are two population stocks of cobia here. The Atlantic group and the Gulf of Mexico group all head south towards the Florida Keys for winter. However, breeding appears to take place in the northern parts of their range and so no genetics are exchanged while the two groups co-exist in the Keys. If this is the case, and it seems to be, there is a reproductive barrier, or behavioral barrier, that could, over time, isolate these two groups long enough that the gene pools could become different enough that attempts to breed between the groups would not produce viable offspring. If this were the case then they could be listed as subspecies, possibly the Atlantic and Gulf Cobia. But this has not happened. There are also studies that suggest in the Gulf there may be isolated groups. One comment is that there are cobia along Florida’s Gulf coast that migrate inshore and offshore but do not make the run to the Keys and back4. There are also studies that show a similar behavior with a group over near Texas. Obviously, there is a lot of work to be done on the movement and genetics of these possible subgroups to completely understand the biogeography of this animal. And don’t forget, there are cobia along the European/African coast of the Atlantic as well as the Indian and western Pacific.
But migrate they do. The “Ling Run”, as it known in the Pensacola area, is something many anglers wait for early in the year. We even have some local bait and tackle shops monitoring water temperature to announce when the run will begin. When water temperatures warm to 67°F it is time. Local anglers flock the Gulf side piers and head out on their boats with high ling towers to search for them. At the beginning of the ling run I have seen the inshore Gulf of Mexico littered with hundreds of boats covering the surface like small dots as far as you can see. One boat I remember was about 20 feet long and had precariously placed a large step ladder in the center as a “ling tower”. The angler was perched at the top of the ladder, holding on in the chop, searching the waters for his target.
Cobia will travel alone or in groups of up to 100 and are often attracted to objects in the water. Flotsam like Sargassum weed, or marine debris are places that anglers focus on. They are known to shadow sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles. I know anglers when they see a sea turtle begin throwing bait in that direction in hopes that a cobia is nearby. To the west of us in Alabama they seem to visit the offshore gas rigs and are attracted to the fishing piers many communities have extending into the Gulf – hence the large crowds of non-boating anglers visiting them during the run. Many anglers are known to drop FADs (Fish Attracting Devices) into the water to attract cobia, though these are not allowed during cobia/ling tournaments – which also pop up across the panhandle during the run.
Despite this apparent heavy fishing pressure, it is considered a sustainable fishery. Cobia mature at an early age, 2 years for males and 3 for females – and they live for about 12 years. They mass spawn in the northern waters. A typical season will find females breeding 15-20 times and producing 400,000 – 2,000,000 per spawn event. There is no evidence that this fishery is overfished, and there is commercial fishery for them as well. Due to their quick growth rates, large size, and high-quality flesh, there is interest in offshore aquaculture of this species.
It is an amazing fish. One of the best fish sandwiches I have ever had was a fresh ling sandwich. It is also a very interesting species from a biographical point. Enjoy the next “Ling Run” along the panhandle – or “cobia run”, or “lemonfish run”, which ever you wish to call it.