The Florida Master Naturalist Program

The Florida Master Naturalist Program

Kayaking over seagrass beds and stingrays, hiking among pitcher plants, boating past diving ospreys, and meeting hundreds of fascinating, like-minded people—these are just some of the great experiences I’ve had while teaching the Florida Master Naturalist Program. More than 20 years since its inception, the Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) has inspired the creation of dozens of similar courses in other states and proven itself to be one of the most popular outreach programs to come out of UF IFAS Extension.

Kayaking Santa Rosa Sound in Navarre is one of the highlights of our Coastal Systems FMNP class. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

The mission of the FMNP is simple—to promote awareness, understanding, and respect of Florida’s natural world among Florida’s citizens and visitors. I have always felt strongly that if you want people to care about something, they need to understand it. And to really understand something, you need to experience it. I know my own passion for science and ecology was ignited early on by teachers who took us outside and helped us encounter the many wondrous surprises in the natural world. With the FMNP, we seek to do just that.

Master Naturalist students conduct field work in small groups. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Over a span of 40 hours in 6-7 weeks, we spend about half our time with classroom presentations and the other half in the field, seeing the plants, animals, and ecosystems we discuss in class. In addition to classes and field trips, students produce a final project and present it to the class. These can range from labeled collections and slide presentations to building bird houses and new trails. The program is composed of three 40-hour core courses; Coastal, Upland, and Freshwater Systems. Seven “short courses” with 24 hours of class/field time include the Land Steward series (Conservation Science, Habitat Evaluation, Wildlife Monitoring, and Environmental Interpretation) and the Restoration courses (Coastal Restoration, Marine Habitat Restoration, and Invasive Plants). Locally, we try to rotate the core modules every couple of years and incorporate the short courses periodically. Registration includes a detailed course manual and, upon completion, FMNP patch, certificate, and pin denoting area of expertise. There are a handful of scholarships available for those interested in applying to offset costs.

Master Naturalist students walk “The Way” boardwalk in Perdido Key. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson

The classes do not count towards university credit but are an excellent certification and professional development opportunity that many will list on a resume. While we’ve had ecotour operators, park rangers, environmental consultants, teachers, and archaeologists participate, most of our FMNP students are not professionals in the field. They come from every background imaginable but share an interest in the outdoors. Because we meet weekly, class members often form long-lasting friendships during the courses.

Information on upcoming classes in northwest Florida and all around the state is available online. Classes range from fully in-person to hybrid and online options. FMNP classes are restricted to adults 18 and over, but a new “Florida Youth Naturalist” curriculum has been designed through our 4-H program for young people. For more information on that, check out their website.

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 .

The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament 2023: Combating an Invasive Species Through Sport

The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament 2023: Combating an Invasive Species Through Sport

The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament May 20-21, 2023, at HarborWalk Village in Destin, FL, is gearing up to tackle a pressing ecological challenge while showcasing the power of sport to make a positive impact. This unique tournament, held along the picturesque shores of the Emerald Coast, focuses on combating the invasive lionfish population in the region’s waters.

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, have become a significant threat to the delicate balance of marine ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. With their voracious appetite and rapid reproduction, these invasive species pose a grave danger to native marine life. The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament aims to address this issue by encouraging divers and fishermen to actively hunt and remove lionfish from the waters.

Participants in the tournament will compete to catch the most lionfish, utilizing their skills in underwater navigation, spearfishing, and conservation. Sponsors provide cash and prizes for multiple categories including most caught, largest and smallest lionfish. The event provides an exciting platform for experienced divers and newcomers alike to contribute to the preservation of the marine environment.

Beyond the ecological significance, the tournament also offers a thrilling experience for both participants and spectators. Divers equipped with their spears dive into the depths, searching for lionfish while showcasing their prowess and bravery. The tournament fosters a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose among the participants, creating a community dedicated to the cause of protecting marine ecosystems.

In addition to the competitive aspect, the Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament promotes education and awareness about the invasive species. Participants and attendees have the opportunity to learn about the impact of lionfish on local marine life and explore sustainable solutions to combat the issue at the free Lionfish Awareness Festival from 10:00-5:00 each day. Sign up to volunteer at the event if you want to join the fun. The week prior to the tournament is dedicated to Lionfish restaurant week where local restaurants practice the “eat ‘um to beat ‘um” philosophy and cook up the tasty fish using a variety of innovative recipes. 

The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament 2023 represents a unique fusion of sport, environmental conservation, and community engagement. By bringing together individuals passionate about marine conservation, this event serves as a powerful catalyst for change and a shining example of how sport can contribute to the preservation of our natural world.  Learn more at https://emeraldcoastopen.com.

A Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day festival volunteer sorts lionfish for weighing. (L. Tiu)

Written with assistance from ChatGPT

Florida Master Naturalist Program Offers Opportunity to Understand Local Ecosystems up Close

Florida Master Naturalist Program Offers Opportunity to Understand Local Ecosystems up Close

Kayaking through a crystal blue spring, hiking among longleaf pines and discovering gopher tortoise burrows, gliding past alligators by boat in Mobile Bay, private tours of the EPA lab on Pensacola Beach, and meeting hundreds of fascinating, like-minded people—these are just a handful of fond memories from my experiences teaching the Florida Master Naturalist Program. Having recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, the Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) has inspired the creation of dozens of similar courses in other states and proven itself to be one of the most popular outreach programs to come out of UF IFAS Extension.

Kayaking Santa Rosa Sound in Navarre is one of the highlights of our Coastal Systems FMNP class. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

The mission of the FMNP is simple—to promote awareness, understanding, and respect of Florida’s natural world among Florida’s citizens and visitors. I have always felt strongly that if you want people to care about something, they need to understand it. And to really understand something, you need to experience it. I know my own passion for science and ecology was ignited early on by teachers who took us outside and helped us encounter the many wondrous surprises in the natural world. With FMNP, we seek to do just that.

Over a span of 40 hours in 7-8 weeks, we spend about half our time with classroom presentations and the other half in the field, seeing the plants, animals, and ecosystems we discuss in class. In addition to classes and field trips, students produce a final project and present it to the class. These can range from labeled collections and slide presentations to building bird houses and new trails. The program is composed of three 40-hour core courses; Coastal, Upland, and Freshwater Systems. Seven “short courses” with 24 hours of class/field time include the Land Steward series (Conservation Science, Habitat Evaluation, Wildlife Monitoring, and Environmental Interpretation) and the Restoration courses (Coastal Restoration, Marine Habitat Restoration, and Invasive Plants). Locally, we try to rotate the core modules every couple of years and incorporate the short courses periodically. The registration fee per core module is $250 – $300 and includes a detailed course manual and, upon completion, FMNP patch, certificate, and pin denoting area of expertise. There are a handful of scholarships available for those interested in applying to offset costs.

This trail and boardwalk in Perdido Key were part of a multi-stage FMNP final project highlighting multiple ecosystem types. Photo credit: Jerry Patee, Master Naturalist

The classes do not count towards university credit, but are an excellent certification and professional development opportunity that look great on a resume. While we’ve had ecotour operators, park rangers, environmental consultants, teachers, and archaeologists (and many seeking employment in the environmental field), most of our FMNP students are not professionals in the field. They come from every background imaginable, but share an interest in the outdoors. Because we meet weekly, class members often bond and create long-lasting friendships during the courses.

Extension Agents in northwest Florida are offering two Master Naturalist courses, starting in the next few weeks. In Escambia and Santa Rosa County, we will have an in-person daytime Coastal Systems class starting March 28 and running through May 16. Walton County is teaming up with Miami-Dade to offer an evening hybrid (online class sessions, in-person field trips) Freshwater Systems course from February 18 to April 13. FMNP classes are restricted to adults 18 and over, but a new “Florida Youth Naturalist” curriculum has been designed through our 4-H program for young people. For more information on that, check out their website.

Master Naturalist students conduct field work in small groups. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
World Wetlands Day

World Wetlands Day

World Wetlands Day is celebrated each year on February 2nd to raise awareness about wetlands. Nearly 90% of the world’s wetlands have been degraded since the 1700s, with 35% degraded or lost since 1970, and we are losing wetlands three times faster than forests. Yet, wetlands are critically important ecosystems that contribute to biodiversity, water filtration, climate mitigation and adaptation, freshwater availability, world economies and more.

A wetland is a land area that is saturated or flooded with water either permanently or seasonally. Inland wetlands include marshes, peatlands, lakes, rivers, floodplains, and swamps. Coastal wetlands include saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangroves, lagoons and even coral reefs. Fish ponds, rice paddies and salt pans are human-made wetlands.

It is urgent that we raise national and global awareness about wetlands to reverse their rapid loss and encourage actions to conserve and restore them. World Wetlands Day is the ideal time to increase people’s understanding of these critically important ecosystems by enhancing public awareness of how much wetlands do for humanity and the planet, and to promote actions that will lead to their conservation, wise use, and restoration.

Citation: https://www.worldwetlandsday.org

Panhandle Outdoors Live! at St. Joseph Bay Rescheduled for September 28th

Panhandle Outdoors Live! at St. Joseph Bay Rescheduled for September 28th

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.

Details:

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.

Tentative schedule:

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: 

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/panhandle-outdoors-live-at-st-joseph-bay-tickets-404236802157

For more information please contact Ray Bodrey at 850-639-3200 or rbodrey@ufl.edu