A New Camera Trap Monitoring Program for Private Landowners

A New Camera Trap Monitoring Program for Private Landowners

A deer darting across a path, a bobwhite calling at sunrise, or the tracks of a coyote in the mud are all fascinating examples of how we enjoy our natural areas. Have you ever wished you could watch wildlife all day to understand the intricate relationships they have with one another? What if you could learn more about their behavior? And their habitat and daily activities?

Deer captured on a digital game camera. Image: Dr. Carolina Barzzui.

Dr. Carolina Baruzzi at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center and Dr. Corey Callaghan at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center are launching “ConservationCam”, a new extension program to help you monitor wildlife on your property using camera traps.

Camera traps are a valuable tool for wildlife monitoring. When an animal moves in front of a camera, they trigger a motion sensor to take a picture or video. Camera traps can be set up in multiple ways to target a species or habitat of interest, such as a forest opening or a wildlife burrow. Thanks to their versatility and relative low cost, camera traps are being used in a variety of contexts, for example, understanding the effects of wildlife or habitat management on target species.

Images of turkeys captured on a digital game cam. Image: Dr. Carolina Barzzui.

The primary goal of ConservationCam is to provide private landowners with access to camera traps, and expert guidance about monitoring wildlife and managing natural resources for biodiversity based on camera trap observations. Armed with this knowledge, landowners can make informed decisions about land management practices that positively impact biodiversity on their property. If you live in the Florida Panhandle, and are interested in using camera traps to monitor wildlife on your property, while learning how to answer different ecological questions, we are gathering expressions of interest through this online form.

Rabbit near a burrow on a digital game came. Image: Dr. Carolina Barzzui.
Two Upcoming Forestry Educational Events in September

Two Upcoming Forestry Educational Events in September

Walton County Extension will be hosting two forestry events in September. These events are available to all in the Panhandle interested in forestry and forestry-related topics. The events have been planned to cover requested information from landowners and extension clients. The events offer excellent opportunities to receive information and see forest practices in the field. Here is the information you need to know to attend these events.

Sandhill pine forest at Blackwater River State Park

September 14-Forestry Toolbox: First Steps in Forestry

On September 14th a Forestry Toolbox series will be hosted at the Walton County office. This is a new series created by Ian Stone to help landowners understand forest management tools and techniques and add them to their “Forestry Toolbox”. The last in this series was in May focusing on vegetation management and cost shares for forestry practices. This next installment will be First Steps in Forestry and is designed for landowners that may be new to forestry or forest management or for landowners that need a good refresher on the core concepts. To help reach a broad audience this program is being offered in a hybrid format with an in-person option at the extension office and an online attendance option through Zoom. Mark your calendars for Thursday September 14th from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. Central Time and sign up on Eventbrite through https://www.eventbrite.com/e/forestry-toolbox-first-steps-in-forestry-tickets-703588832137?aff=ebdssbdestsearch .

September 21-Florida Land Steward Tour-Little Creek Woods Property of Bob Reid and Betsy Clark

The second event will be a Florida Land Steward Field Tour on September 21st  hosted through the Florida Land Steward Program at UF. This program is a joint funded extension program focused on forest stewardship around the state. Without the generosity of Walton County Landowners Bob Reid and Betsy Clark, we would not have access to their amazing Little Creek Woods property. Bob Reid is a landowner that is a long-range thinker and driven conservationist, who is passionate about longleaf pine and restoring the native longleaf pine ecosystem on his property over the next 300 years to what it might have been like when early explorers arrived. This will be an excellent opportunity to see the hard work, planning, and monetary input it takes to manage longleaf properly for ecological restoration. The Tour and Program are a joint project between Walton Forestry Agent Ian Stone and Florida Land Steward Coordinator Chris Demers. The tour will be at the property in the morning from 9-11:30 a.m. Lunch will be offered at the extension office following the program and an open forestry discussion forum and networking session will follow until 2:30 at the Walton Extension office. Find more information on the Florida Land Steward Website Events Calendar – Florida Land Steward – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences – UF/IFAS (ufl.edu)  or sign up through Eventbrite at Florida Land Steward Tour at Bob Reid and Betsy Clark’s Little Creek Woods Tickets, Thu, Sep 21, 2023 at 9:00 AM | Eventbrite .

Late Spring is Time to Go Cogongrass Hunting

Late Spring is Time to Go Cogongrass Hunting

Donn Shilling and Eldridge Wynn look over a research field of cogongrass, which has become a problem for cattle ranchers.

Cogongrass is one of our larger invasive species here in the Panhandle, and spring is a good time to detect and treat it. If you know or suspect your property may have cogongrass, spring is the best time to hunt it down and locate the spots and infested areas. It is also a great time to patrol your property boundaries as well to see if you have any that may be coming onto your property from a neighbor or right of way. Cogongrass seems to love fencerows and right of ways as it spreads easily on equipment through its tough rhizomes. One of the best ways to prevent large infestations from taking over portions of your property and creating a significant control cost is to catch it early. The key to this is to identify and mark small spots before they expand; and then follow up with herbicide treatment once to twice a year. Spring is an excellent time to go and scout for cogongrass and get a jump on this invasive for several reasons.

A relatively new patch of cogongrass recently found in Washington County. Photo Credit: Mark Mauldin

One feature of cogongrass that is very distinctive is the seed head. In spring cogongrass flowers and puts up a cottony white seed head. These seed heads look like an elongated fluffy white tuft on a tall stalk. Once you have seen them for the first time you will instantly recognize this invasive grass. If cogongrass has been mowed, it can sometimes be hard to spot especially in a pasture. In spring the seed heads will quickly draw your attention to an area infested with this grass. It is very distinctive, and you do not see other grasses with this type of seed head the same time of year.

Other distinguishing features of cogongrass include a bright green color sometimes with red edges. In the spring the new growth of cogongrass is very prominent and stands out due to its bright color and usually faster growth compared to other grasses. The midrib of the grass blade is also usually offset to one side, another identifying feature. If you have a shovel handy you can dig up a small amount and you will notice thick rhizomes with sharp pointed tips. Once you learn to identify cogongrass and know what you are looking for; you can go out on your spring cogongrass patrol to identify any areas of infestation.

Cogongrass shown here with seedheads – more typically seen in the spring. If you suspect you have cogongrass in or around your food plots please consult your UF/IFAS Extension Agent how control options. Photo credit: Mark Mauldin

Once you have identified an infestation you need to do three things: mark the impacted area with a flag or other noticeable method, record the location (by description or GPS), and develop a treatment plan. Marking and recording the location of cogongrass infestations, especially a small spot that is new, is critical to the success of control efforts. Cogongrass is tough and requires multiple treatments with herbicide to effectively control it and hopefully eliminate the infestation. This means you need to know where a patch is, be able to relocate and monitor it, and consistently treat the same spot to ensure you achieved complete control. Cogongrass control is easier when the spot is small and has not become well established. With small spots it can be difficult to locate the spot again the next year, especially after a round of herbicide treatment, so good marking combined with a GPS location or description is essential. Once you have gone back to a spot several years and the spot has not come back after treatment; you can consider the spot controlled. If you stop treatment and monitoring before cogongrass has been controlled for several years, the infestation will return from remaining rhizomes and spread all over again.

Consistent treatment with effective herbicides is the best way to ensure cogongrass is controlled on your property. If you locate some while scouting this spring be prepared to start a treatment program. Cogongrass responds to herbicides with the active ingredients glyphosate or imazapyr. These can be used alone or in combination. The spring and fall are the two treatment windows that are most effective. If you treat in the early spring when new growth is vulnerable you can sometimes prevent seed heads from maturing. You can also get some control that can help prevent heavy growth over the summer, which can be an advantage if you have to mow or maintain the area. Spring treatment is usually best accomplished with glyphosate alone, imazapyr alone or a mixture of both can be used.

Once we progress into summer, treatments with herbicide will mostly top kill the grass and do not provide effective control. Treatment in the fall with imazapyr alone or in combination is the most effective treatment method. If you identify infestations in the spring you can mark them and come back in the fall to get the most bang for your buck with treatments. You can apply a spring and fall treatment in one year if you want to accomplish some control in the spring, but this method is not necessarily more effective than the fall treatment alone. When using imazapyr herbicide you should be aware that this is soil active and has the potential to damage surrounding vegetation and hardwood trees that are in and near the treatment area. Pines are tolerant of imazapyr but can be damaged if high rates are used, and longleaf pine is more sensitive than others. When treating cogongrass with imazapyr be aware that damage to other vegetation could occur. If the cogongrass is in an area with hardwood trees or other sensitive vegetation glyphosate alone is a good alternative herbicide treatment. When using any herbicide be sure to read and follow the label correctly, follow all label directions, and wear proper protective equipment. There are several IFAS EDIS publications on cogongrass control which provide more detailed information: for control in pasture areas follow this link SS-AGR-52/WG202: Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica) Biology, Ecology, and Management in Florida Grazing Lands (ufl.edu) and for control in forested areas follow this link FR342/FR411: Biology and Control of Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica) in Southern Forests (ufl.edu) . If you identify cogongrass on your property these publications will help you develop a treatment plan to control it. Early detection and treatment when infestations are small is key to getting this nasty invasive under control. Take advantage of this spring to identify, mark, and treat any cogongrass that may be getting a foothold on your property before it becomes a major infestation.

Pine Tree in What?

Pine Tree in What?

What do ice cream, make-up, paint, plastic, air freshener, laundry detergent, cellophane, and rayon fabric have in common?  They all have pine tree in them.  There are hundreds of products that contain the cellulose or sap from the pine tree species native to Florida’s panhandle, particularly Longleaf and Slash pines. 

Early foresters of the 1800’s discovered these pine species that grew tall and strong.  In fact, Longleaf pines were so overharvested that there is only about 3% of the original forests remaining today.  These trees not only provided a huge resource for lumber, they also supplied the fluids necessary to support the timber industry – turpentine.  By “cat-facing” (cutting downward angled slashes) the trunk of pine trees, the sap would flow into collection cups placed on the trunks. It was collected and heated.

Sap flowing from pine tree
Pine tree sap- turpentine

Turpentine is a fluid obtained by the distillation of resin harvested from pine trees.  As a solvent, it is used for thinning oil-based paint, for producing varnishes, and as a raw material for the chemical industry.  Add some beeswax and it becomes furniture wax.  In the early years, turpentine mixed with coal oil and kerosene was used as a topical wound dressing and lice treatment.  Add some animal fats to make primitive vapor rub. 

Terpene is the scientific term coined in 1866 to denote all hydrocarbons with the formula C10H16.  The word was a shortened form of “terpentine”, the obsolete spelling of “turpentine”.  Terpenes are major biosynthetic building blocks for the oils in plants.  For the plants, these oils play a critical role in defense against herbivory, build disease resistance, and aid in attracting pollinators. When the resin of pine trees (turpentine) is distilled, each of the terpenes can be separated. Based on there formulation, the terpenes are the base for fragrances and flavoring in numerous consumer products. With various heating treatments, many “fresh scented” cleaning products and antiseptics can be produced.  Others terpenes will add “taste” to ice cream, chewing gum, and even beer. The cellulose separated from the turpentine is used to provide “structure” to cosmetics, fabrics, impact-resistant plastics, and modern digital display screens.

Who knew that you could get so many uses from pine trees.  They are not just for making 2 x 4s anymore. In fact, the 1939 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to the scientist that sorted out the 55,000 terpene compounds from turpentine.  You may never look at a pine tree (or your beer) the same way again.

NISAW: Working Across Boundary Lines: Because Invasive Species Do Not Recognize Your Posted Sign

NISAW: Working Across Boundary Lines: Because Invasive Species Do Not Recognize Your Posted Sign

Ken Langeland, left, and Martha Monroe, University of Florida environmental educators, examine an invasive tallow tree on Paynes Prairie near Gainesville, Thursday 10-19. They’re part of a team of researchers from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and The Nature Conservancy training people how to manage environmentally sensitive lands. With more than 11-million acres of protected land, Florida needs more trained people to help protect those environmental jewels.

It is National Invasive Species Week, a time where everyone involved in natural resources, agriculture, and related fields works to raise awareness about this issue. It is an issue that costs huge sums of money to control and address, impacts economic sectors, and requires constant inspections at ports of entry to prevent new invasives from expanding the problem. Unfortunately for us, invasive species do not recognize international borders or state and local boarders for that matter. The same is true about property boundaries, which makes controlling them on the landscape difficult. They do not politely stop at the property line. So, what are we to do about the infestation when it crosses a boundary?

In Florida there is no law that requires someone to treat or remove an invasive species from the landscape. Laws do exist that prohibit the importation of species and that prohibit propagation and planting of know invasive species. Cost share programs, grants, and other efforts exist to assist private property owners and public land managers with invasive control programs and encourage the control and eradication of invasives across Florida’s landscape. Across Florida, organizations called Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMA’s) exist to help coordinate efforts and provide educational outreach. The CISMA that covers Walton and the surrounding counties is the Six Rivers CISMA, and this outstanding organization even crosses state boundaries to include adjoining Alabama counties. This cross-state collaboration is an outstanding example of working across boundaries to accomplish a common goal. You can learn about the Six River CISMA and it’s efforts to  invasive species through their website (LOCAL PRIVATE LANDS ASSISTANCE – Six Rivers Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (floridainvasives.org) ). Our outstanding University of Florida IFAS extension service provides research and education across the state to help inform control efforts and coordinate through a network of experts from research professionals to local county extension agents. All of these efforts are making great progress in the control and management of invasive species.

One issue still stands out as a major challenge in taking on invasives, and that is that the ability to do control stops at a property line. This is especially true for some of our worst invasives like cogongrass, Japanese climbing fern, Chinese privet, and tallow tree; just to name a few. While animals move and you can trap or remove them as they come across your property; plants stay in place and often spread in an area. If that area happens to be right along a boundary, something like a fence row, the infestation often spreads across the property line. Add to that the fact invasive species, because of the disturbance and vegetation changes, often thrive and colonize in areas like fence rows and you have a major issue. That plant doesn’t see that posted sign and the property owner must stop any treatment effort at that point. Legally a landowner cannot cross a property line, and is liable for doing so especially when mowing, burning, or spraying herbicides. Putting herbicide on a neighboring property, even if it was accidental drift, is a major no go and can land the two parties in court. At best in this situation a property owner has a good relationship with neighbors and can work something out to control the infestation. If not, the treatment must stop where the ownership stops.

Why is it a problem that a treatment stops at the property boundary? Well, cogongrass is a great example. Cogongrass is a major problem in Walton County, and across the Panhandle in general. The western panhandle and southern Alabama are considered the epicenter of this invasive, and in Walton County it is spreading like wildfire. That’s somewhat literal too as this invasive grass massively increases fire intensity and spreads. My fellow extension agent from Gulf County,  Ray Bodrey, just wrote a great article about this grass and the issues it is causing. I won’t duplicate his effort and expound on how to identify it. You can see his article here NISAW: A Spreading Menace in Gulf County, known as Cogongrass | Panhandle Outdoors (ufl.edu). Needless to say, if two county agents list it as one of the top issues, then we need to focus on it.

This grass spreads rapidly and easily, especially along roadsides, right of ways, and fencerows. You might wonder why that is? Well it happens to love to hitch a ride on equipment or move in contaminated fill dirt. Add to that it is tough to kill and takes multiple years of herbicide treatment to do the trick; and you have what has been identified as the Gulf Coast’s worst invasive. In fact, it is usually listed as one of the worst invasive species worldwide. Tack all that together and throw the fact that you cannot always work across a boundary and you’ve got quite the intractable issue. And that is just our top offender, we still haven’t touched tallow tree and the other of Six River CISMA’s “Dirty Dozen”.

What can be done then if invasives are such a herculean task that requires cross boundary management? We have several options, many of which I mentioned earlier in the article. Lots of work is being done right now by everyone from private landowners to local governments and even at the federal level. Here in Walton County the local public works has an active program to report and control cogongrass in the roadway and other county right of ways. They use in house and contract teams to report, track, and treat cogongrass infestations. This is a great effort and shows a great proactivity on the part of the county government. The program will go a long way in the congongrass control effort, but it still must stop at the right of way. If the infestation goes onto private property, it is then on the private property owner to have a control plan. Without some good communication the property owner may not even realize the problem is there.

Cogongrass is a good example of why it pays for a private landowner to treat an infestation too. This grass has no forage value and chokes out any other crops, lowering agricultural yields and values. It ruins yards, turf grass, and golf courses along with dulling and damaging mowing equipment. It contaminates fill dirt and borrow pits and then spreads to areas as development and construction occurs. If you are in the fill dirt business, clients that know usually reject soil that is contaminated or could be contaminated with cogongrass rhizomes. Forest landowners suffer major impacts from this invasive grass as it makes reforestation next to impossible, increases wildfire risk, makes using prescribed fire difficult at best, reduces timber yields, and ruins the habitat value for wildlife. An unchecked cogongrass infestation can ruin land values and it will do that as it spreads across onto other property.

 This loss of land value is not just conjecture either.  An article published in the Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics from research performed by scientists from the University of Florida and the University of New York found that cogongrass infestations in slash pine forests reduce the return on investment and the land value. The study (Alavalapati et al 2007) looked at the impact of cogongrass infestation on rates of return and land values in several situations: no threat of infestation, infestation uncertain with no management, infestation uncertain with treatment by one landowner, and infestation uncertain with treatment by all landowners. The study found that cogongrass negatively impacts rental rates and the land value. To assess the land value, they used a forestry measurement called the Land Expectancy Value, which is a formula that uses the expected productivity of the land, input costs, and expected timber value to determine how valuable timberland is. The study found that the land value can be decreased by up to 50% on timberland.  The study also found that the annual net returns per acre are decreased by between $17.00 and $25.00 depending on the infestation and management scenarios. Those are big economic and land value impacts, and that is just for forested lands. The big finding was that the scenario that resulted in the biggest loss of land value and returns was when only one landowner was treating. Alavalapati et al 2007 found that when control measures are undertaken by all landowners in an infestation zone the impacts are lowest and the most value is preserved. They suggest that the study results show the best outcomes will be when collaborative efforts are used. While the study only looked at cogongrass, the methodology and results are applicable to other invasive species. Working across that property line has real economic benefits as well as all the ecological and landscape benefits that come from invasive species control.

Donn Shilling and Eldridge Wynn look over a research field of cogongrass, which has become a problem for cattle ranchers.

Practical experience shows that this collaborative approach works as well. Since 2004 the Georgia Forestry Commission and the State of Georgia have implemented a cogongrass task force. Georgia recognized the severity of the issue early on, to some degree from seeing what was occurring in Florida and Alabama. They also recognized the state could not completely prevent cogongrass from entering the state but could be proactive at control and eradication. They launched a collaborative effort lead by the Georgia Forestry Commission, where landowners and others would report congongrass and the infestation would be identified and treated at no cost to the landowner. The program was structured where they could work with other landowners at an infestation site as well. The program also implemented a tracking and follow up program, which tracked the infestation until it was eradicated or became inactive. In 2007, 72 Georgia counties had detections, but as of 2021, 34 of those 72 have no active cogongrass and 85% of all known cogongrass spots in Georgia are inactive (2021-Dirty-Dozen-List.pdf (gatrees.org). That is a huge success and something that can be replicated in other states. This program took federal and state funding, state and local government involvement, coordinated tracking, and reporting and detection from landowners. It could not have happened without this collaborative effort that reached across boundaries.

Could we see something like this in Walton County or across the Panhandle? Absolutely, we could definitely build a collaborative effort on one or more invasives. Cogongrass is a great place to start, and even though it is so difficult to eradicate we have evidence that a program can be successful. What it takes is reaching across boundaries and the “Think Global, Act Local” approach, or as the Florida Invasive Species Partnership puts it “Think Locally, Act Neighborly”. Florida does not have a statewide coordinated cogongrass control effort like Georgia, but the nature of the issue in Florida is very different. Given the size and scope, a Florida eradication program would likely look much different. But why wait for a statewide program like Georgia? It would be much easier to replicate a cooperative program on invasive species at the county level. It will take working across boundaries and communicating across communities and ownerships; but we know it works. The bottom line is that inaction will result in a growing and extending problem, spreading across more and more ownerships and areas. Invasives are not just an ecological or environmental problem either, they impact land values and our economy too. The information we have shows that when control efforts are sporadic and individual; economic impacts are actually higher because landowners controlling the invasive incur costs while infestations persist in an area. To keep our land base productive and valuable we have to work together and take community efforts. This is everything from identifying and tracking infestations to control and monitoring. If it can work with cogongrass, it will work with the other major invasives as well. Most of our greatest achievements as Americans, things like making it through the Great Depression, building the Transcontinental Railroad, or winning World War II, have been through collaborative efforts. Invasive species control is going to be the same thing, and research and results on cogongrass show reaching across boundaries works. Invasives move across boundary lines; so we need to work across them to be successful. A collaborative cogongrass effort would be a great start, and then we can expand.

References and Resources

Alavalapati, J. R. R., Jose, S., Stainback, G. A., Matta, J. R., & Carter, D. R. (2007). Economics of Cogongrass Control in Slash Pine Forests. Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics39(s1), 61–68. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1074070800028947

Georgia Forestry Commission: Invasive Plant Control Program https://gatrees.org/forest-management-conservation/invasive-plant-control-program/

Georgia Forestry Commission 2021 Dirty Dozen List 2021-Dirty-Dozen-List.pdf (gatrees.org)

Six Rivers CISMA Webpage Home – Six Rivers Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (floridainvasives.org) Florida Invasive Species Partnership Home – Florida Invasive Species Partnership

New Online Forest Landowner Academy Now Open for Enrollment                                                                                By Chris Demers and Dr. Michael Andreu, UF/IFAS School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences

New Online Forest Landowner Academy Now Open for Enrollment By Chris Demers and Dr. Michael Andreu, UF/IFAS School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences

The Forest Landowner Academy is the first of its kind offered by the UF School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences (SFFGS) on the UF/IFAS Extension Online Learning catalog. Forest Landowners, and others in need of forest management education, are encouraged to enroll to connect with SFFGS forest management experts and receive quality core educational content on forestry and multiple-use stewardship concepts!

The seven course modules cover a variety of topics including:

  • Understanding your forest resources
  • Developing your management plan
  • Timber management
  • Marketing forest products
  • Other forest enterprises such as pine straw and hunting leases
  • Wildlife management
  • Planning for the future

Each module include an assessment questionnaire where you can apply what you’ve learned to your land or situation and begin or continue planning and making contacts. In addition being better prepared and equipped to be good stewards of their forest resources, those completing the course will earn a University of Florida Certificate of Completion.

This course is relevant for Florida forest landowners and land managers, as well as those in the neighboring coastal plain regions of GA and AL. Participants will build on this course as they receive information and attend educational events offered by the Florida Land Steward Program and other partners in Florida and neighboring states.

Enroll in the Forest Landowner Academy on the Extension Online Learning Canvas Catalog: https://ifas-sfrc-for.catalog.instructure.com/courses/for-fla

For more information, contact:

Chris Demers at cdemers@ufl.edu, 352.846.2375 or

Dr. Michael Andreu, mandreu@ufl.edu