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.
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:
World Wildlife Day was celebrated on March 3, 2022. This year’s theme is “Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration.” We celebrate this day to bring attention and awareness to many of the plants and animals that are considered threatened and endangered species and highlight efforts to conserve them. It is estimated that over a million species are currently threatened with extinction.
Turkey Creek Niceville, FL (credit E. Zambello)
Florida is considered a very biodiverse state having a great variety ecosystems and unique plants and animals that inhabit these areas. This makes Florida an attractive place to live but can result in increased pollution and land use changes that can be threats to this biodiversity. One local species that experienced this type of pressure is the Okaloosa darter. This tiny 1 to 2 inch fish dwindled to as few as 1,500 individuals surviving when it was declared endangered in 1973. Factors such as its small range, competition from other species, and historical land use practices including artificial impoundments, erosion, and siltation, contributed to its demise.
The Okaloosa darter prefers to live in small, clear, lightly vegetated streams fed by ground water seepage from sand hill areas. This highly specialized habitat is found in only six streams in Okaloosa and Walton Counties and almost exclusively within Eglin Air Force Base’s boundaries. Environmental managers from Eglin Air Force Base partnered with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies and worked diligently to reduce land use impacts and rehab the impaired streams over the past several decades. They reclaimed clay pits near stream headwaters, improved road crossings to reduce sedimentation and enhanced the habitat for the darter.
Okaloosa darter photo credit: FWS.gov
Due to these efforts, the population of Okaloosa Darters has increased to more than 600,000 and the species has now been down listed from endangered to threatened. In fact, the projects have been so successful that the darter is now being considered for delisting as a threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. This is something to celebrate on this World Wildlife Day as an example of how we can recover key species for ecosystem restoration. The best news is that Eglin Air Force Base’s Jackson Guard Unit is continuing to make on-base conservation a priority, not only for the Okaloosa Darter, but for other plants and animals under their purview.
Old Live Oak Picture from National Wildlife Foundation
The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is Arbor Day. Florida recognizes the event on the third Friday in January, but planting any time before spring will establish a tree quickly.
Arbor Day is an annual observance that celebrates the role of trees in our lives and promotes tree planting and care. As a formal holiday, it was first observed on April 10, 1872 in the state of Nebraska. Today, every state and many countries join in the recognition of trees impact on people and the environment.
Trees are the longest living organisms on the planet and one of the earth’s greatest natural resources. They keep our air supply clean, reduce noise pollution, improve water quality, help prevent erosion, provide food and building materials, create shade, and help make our landscapes look beautiful. A single tree produces approximately 260 pounds of oxygen per year. That means two mature trees can supply enough oxygen annually to support a family of four.
The idea for Arbor Day in the U.S. began with Julius Sterling Morton. In 1854 he moved from Detroit to the area that is now the state of Nebraska. J. Sterling Morton was a journalist and nature lover who noticed that there were virtually no trees in Nebraska. He wrote and spoke about environmental stewardship and encouraged everyone to plant trees. Morton emphasized that trees were needed to act as windbreaks, to stabilize the soil, to provide shade, as well as fuel and building materials for the early pioneers to prosper in the developing state.
In 1872, The State Board of Agriculture accepted a resolution by J. Sterling Morton “to set aside one day to plant trees, both forest and fruit.” On April 10, 1872 one million trees were planted in Nebraska in honor of the first Arbor Day. Shortly after the 1872 observance, several other states passed legislation to observe Arbor Day. By 1920, 45 states and territories celebrated Arbor Day. Richard Nixon proclaimed the last Friday in April as National Arbor Day during his presidency in 1970.
Today, all 50 states in the U.S. have official Arbor Day, usually at a time of year that has the correct climatological conditions for planting trees. For Florida, the ideal tree planting time is January, so Florida’s Arbor Day is celebrated on the third Friday of the month. Similar events are observed throughout the world. In Israel it is the Tu B Shevat (New Year for Trees). Germany has Tag des Baumes. Japan and Korea celebrate an entire week in April. Even Iceland, one of the most treeless countries in the world observes Student’s Afforestation Day.
The trees planted on Arbor Day show a concern for future generations. The simple act of planting a tree represents a belief that the tree will grow and someday provide wood products, wildlife habitat, erosion control, shelter from wind and sun, beauty, and inspiration for ourselves and our children.
“It is well that you should celebrate your Arbor Day thoughtfully, for within your lifetime the nation’s need of trees will become serious. We of an older generation can get along with what we have, though with growing hardship; but in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once so bountifully supplied and man so thoughtlessly destroyed; and because of that want you will reproach us, not for what we have used, but for what we have wasted.”
A family tradition of cutting a fresh tree is something Americans have done for generations.
There is something special about the traditions of a live Christmas tree. For many families the tradition of cutting and decorating the tree is the prefect start to the holidays. But after you are done decking the halls and hanging the tinsel most of the 13 million Americans who have a live Christmas tree all find themselves asking the questions of “what to do with it?”. There is the ever-popular bonfire, while exciting, it burns in seconds and the excitement is over, so why not allow your Christmas tree to continue to give back all year round?
Did you know that Christmas trees make great habitat for fishponds? By sinking the tree into the depths of your fishpond you can increase the complexity of the aquatic habitat. The woody debris provides a place for aquatic macroinvertebrates to live. In addition, increasing and improving the habitat availability of your fishpond will increase the health and diversity of it. Over time your tree will begin to host new vegetation which will attract small insects, snails, and crawfish. This is a buffet for bait fish and in turn will also attract larger predator species for you to catch. While the needles of the tree will likely be gone in about three months, some trees have been found up to ten years later.
Here are the steps for recycling your tree:
Remove all ornaments, tinsel, and other manmade products from the tree (do not use artificial trees).
Place a weight of some type of the trunk of the tree. This can be done by adding cement in a 5-gallon bucket or with other weighted items such as a cinder block. This should be attached with wire, as most ropes will deteriorate over time.
Ideally the tree is placed upright in an area of the pond that is deep enough to cover the entire tree, when upright. Keep in mind that water levels will change of the year, and you want to place the tree somewhere it will be submerged all year.
When picking your location remember that placing the tree in areas of the pond with limited bottom habitat will increase its effectiveness. If you have a fish finder, use it to determine the areas of your pond that are lacking bottom cover.
Ideally, over the years you will place trees in a clustered area. This tends to be more effective at attracting fish than a single tree.
For every avid fisherman, recycling your Christmas tree is truly a gift that will keep on giving. While the holidays seem to fly by, your sunken tree will continue to provide an improved habitat for the fish and in a short time will become a support structure for your aquatic food chain, and that’s something even ole’ Saint Nick would be excited about!
*IMPORTANT INFORMATION: this should only be done in privately owned ponds. Before adding anything to public waters you should contact your local Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer. For more information on fish attractants visit FWC website at: FWC Fish Attractors
Spring can be a busy time of year for those of us who are interested in improving wildlife habitat on the property we own/manage. Spring is when we start many efforts that will pay-off in the fall. If you are a weekend warrior land manager like me there is always more to do than there are available Saturdays to get it done. The following comments are simple reminders about some habitat management activities that should be moving to the top of your to-do list this time of year.
Aquatic Weed Management – If you had problematic weeds in you pond last summer, chances are you will have them again this summer. NOW (spring) is the time to start controlling aquatic weeds. The later into the summer you wait the worse the weeds will get and the more difficult they will be to control. The risk of a fish-kill associated with aquatic weed control also increases as water temperatures and the total biomass of the weeds go up. Springtime is “Just Right” for Using Aquatic Herbicides
Cogongrass Control – Spring is actually the second-best time of year to treat cogongrass, fall (late September until first frost) is the BEST time. That said, ideally cogongrass will be treated with herbicide every six months, making spring and fall important. When treating spring regrowth make sure that there are green leaves at least one foot long before spraying. Spring is also an excellent time of year to identify cogongrass patches – the cottony, white blooms are easy to spot. Identify Cogongrass Now – Look for the Seedheads; Cogongrass – Now is the Best Time to Start Control
Cogongrass seedheads are easily spotted this time of year. Photo credit: Mark Mauldin
Warm-Season Food Pots – There is a great deal of variation in when warm season food plots can be planted. Assuming warm-season plots will be panted in the same areas as cool-season plots, the simplest timing strategy is to simply wait for the cool-season plots to play out (a warm, dry May is normally the end of even the best cool-season plot) and then begin preparation for the warm-season plots. This transition period is the best time to deal with soil pH issues (get a soil test) and control weeds. Seed for many varieties of warm-season legumes (which should be the bulk of your plantings) can be somewhat hard to find, so start looking now. If you start early you can find what you want, and not just take whatever the feed store has. Warm Season Food Plots for White-tailed Deer
Deer Feeders – Per FWC regulations deer feeders need to be in continual operation for at least six months prior to hunting over them. Archery season in the Panhandle will start in mid-October, meaning deer feeders need to be up and running by mid-April to be legal to hunt opening morning. If you have plans to move or add feeders to your property, you’d better get to it pretty soon. FWC Feeding Game
Dove Fields – The first phase of dove season will begin in late September. When you look at the “days to maturity” for the various crops in the chart below you might feel like you’ve got plenty of time. While that may be true, don’t forget that not only do you need time for the crop to mature, but also for seeds to begin to drop and birds to find them all before the first phase begins. Because doves are particularly fond of feeding on clean ground, controlling weeds is a worthwhile endeavor. If you are planting on “new ground”, applying a non-selective herbicide several weeks before you begin tillage is an important first step to a clean field, but it adds more time to the process. As mentioned above, it’s always pertinent to start sourcing seed well in advance of your desired planting date. Timing is Crucial for Successful Dove Fields
There are many other projects that may be more time sensitive than the ones listed above. These were just a few that have snuck up on me over the years. The links in each section will provide more detailed information on the topics. If you have questions about anything addressed in the article feel free to contact me or your county’s UF/IFAS Extension Natural Resource Agent.