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?
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.
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.
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.
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 .
Summertime always makes me think of the supermarket. At least one time each of the past few summers, I clearly remember being at the supermarket during a rainstorm and watching the water wash over the parking lot, talking with all the other people debating whether to run to their car with a buggy full of food. Supermarkets, home goods stores, medical facilities, libraries, and shopping centers all provide important services that we depend on for our everyday life, but their development has altered the natural processes that control the movement of water from the landscape to creeks and ultimately to the bays and bayous around us (collectively referred to as receiving waters). Concrete, asphalt, and building roof surfaces are impervious, meaning that water cannot pass through them. As a result, more water washes off the rooftops, parking lots, driveways, and roads than before the area was developed. Less water sinks into the ground to move slowly toward receiving waters and to recharge aquifers. More impervious surface leads to more runoff to receiving waters, resulting in greater erosion and higher levels of pollutants like nitrogen, phosphorus, and silt in these waterways. These extra pollutants from the landscape and from eroding stream banks have harmful effects many types of organisms that call these waterways home.
New development in Florida is required to include features that “treat” a fraction of the surface water that runs off impervious surfaces before flowing into receiving waters. Treating surface water runoff means holding it back and preventing it from running quickly off the developed landscape; as it is held back, some pollutants may settle out or be consumed by plants. Treatment is commonly accomplished through features like dry retention basins or wet detention ponds, where water is stored and then slowly moves through soil pathways toward receiving waters. These features are common parts of our developed landscape: the big pond behind the supermarket or in front of the new truck stop, or the grassy pit next to the gas station. While these satisfy regulations, they occupy a considerable amount of land, typically are aesthetically lacking, and may not actually reduce pollutant runoff or stormwater volume as intended. They also can be neglected and become a nuisance in the landscape.
Nature-based stormwater infrastructure projects can play an important role in protecting communities in northwest Florida from the effects of heavy rainfall that occurs periodically in the region. Nature-based stormwater projects are designed primarily to incorporate the natural processes of infiltration that occur in undeveloped areas in the developed landscape, treating stormwater by reducing volumes of surface runoff and concentrations of pollution that could otherwise flow directly into receiving waters. Depending on their design, these features can also provide aesthetic enhancements that can increase the value of properties and the overall wellbeing of the communities where they are implemented. When used in coordination, nature-based projects such as roadside treatment swales, bioretention cells, rain gardens, green roofs, and porous pavement can provide similar levels of stormwater treatment as dry retention basins and detention ponds while also enhancing the aesthetic, recreational, or functional potential of the landscape.
Local government and extension staff across northwest Florida are working to introduce more nature-based stormwater projects into the panhandle landscape. To learn more about recent demonstration projects that have been implemented in our region, visit the WebGIS project https://arcg.is/1SWXTm0.
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.
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.
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.
When we talk about white-tailed deer management, we often look to the states that have monster deer like Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio. Those states grow 200 plus inch bucks. It’s amazing to see for sure. But this is Florida and we can’t effectively manage deer the same way. Actually, in Florida, we can’t even manage deer the same across the state. This is why we have 12 deer management units. So, what are the reasons we can’t manage deer the same?
Plant hardiness and climate
Deer are highly adaptable to habitats. They can be found in almost every state in the US. The native vegetation is very different in Northwest Florida versus Iowa or Illinois. Deer are eating different diets depending on the habitat they are residing in. Bedding areas will vary also. This affects the body size, antler growth, and fawning rates for deer.
We can grow food plots to supplement deer diets but those will look a little different too. For example, clovers and cereal grains are normally frost seeded in late winter or planted in the spring in parts of the country that actually experience winter. In Northwest Florida, we plant clovers and cereal grains in the fall.
Finally, rut timing is a key part of deer nutrition management. In Northwest Florida, the rut (deer breeding season) is happening now. In other parts of the country such as Iowa, they are shed hunting already because their rut happens in November.
So, given these reasons, we do things a little differently here. We plant cool season food plots in the fall. These act as attractants to draw deer in during hunting season. Then our summers are when the deer need more nutrition for antler growth and fawn rearing. Warm season food plots should focus on supplying adequate crude protein and energy for this increased demand period.
I get calls every year about planting pines, stand establishment, and related requests. I also get many calls from landowners who have planted pines recently (10 years or less) and are wondering what to do going forward. Ideally, they are from landowners that have well thought out plans and just need some assistance with the finer details or are experiencing some unexpected issues. Unfortunately, I do often get calls from landowners that are just at a loss and are planting or managing with no real plan for now or the future. These landowners have great goals and intentions, but they are new to forest ownership and the long-term nature of forest management comes as a bit of a surprise. I love helping these landowners out though because often I can catch them early and get them on the right track. Establishing a forest stand right from the beginning and managing it well in the early establishment phase is critical to success. Mistakes can often stick around and be felt a decade or more in forestry; it is just part of forest ownership and management.
In over a decade of forest management practice I cannot stress to landowners and forestry professionals the critical importance of getting initial planting and establishment right. This is not the time to have a vague plan or to cut costs or corners. What you do now may well haunt you and impact your goals and investment return for over 30 years. In row crop agriculture you can often make corrections year to year, but in forestry missing competition control or a thinning can impact growth for the entire rotation. Considering that on average a landowner will get to see two rotations of timber in their lifetime, the margin for mistakes and missed opportunities is very slim. This is why it is so important when establishing a forest or reforesting after a final harvest that the planting plan and early management plan be well thought out and executed.
Winter is forestry planting season, and it is in full swing right now. Peak planting is usually in the months of December and January, but forest planting usually runs from November to the end of February or first of March. This is the opposite of most other agricultural and plant establishment operations because trees are best planted while they are dormant. Winter is the best time because when trees are dormant, they focus energy on root growth, and thus a newly planted seedling will focus on establishing it’s root system and be ready to start growing in spring. You may be wondering about pines and evergreens since they keep their foliage, but this is true for them as well. Pines have a dormant period in winter that is induced by weather and the amount of low temperature chill hours. They do not lose their needles but continue to photosynthesize. They do not actively grow new foliage or start renewed growth until spring. This is why winter is the best time to plant both forest and urban trees of all types and why Florida celebrates Arbor Day on January 20th (check your local county information for your local celebrations).
If you are conducting reforestation operations this winter, as many are, now is a great time to update your forest management/stewardship plan. If you are planning to plant trees or reforest in the near future, or if you are planning to harvest timber soon, now is a great time to work on a reforestation and stand establishment plan. If you are not working with a consulting forester it is highly encouraged you work with one to help with your reforestation, planting, and forest management needs. These highly trained professionals are equipped to help you make the best forest management decisions and can assist with locating contractors and forestry service providers. Using a consulting forester makes reforestation and management much easier for a landowner and results in better outcomes. Use of a consultant is not required though, so if you are a do-it-yourself landowner you will want to make sure all your ducks are in a row well before planting time comes around. The key to that is a good planting and stand establishment plan. UF IFAS has a great new EDIS publication out and available for landowners on planting southern pines in Florida. You can access the article here FOR385/FR456: Planting Southern Pines in Florida (ufl.edu) . For those who aren’t aware; recovering forests in the Hurricane Michael impact zone has become one of the largest reforestation and recover projects in the state’s history. If we get those reforestation efforts right now; it will pay big dividends for our landowners and communities in the future. The same goes for normal year to year reforestation efforts across the state as well.
A good reforestation or tree planting plan has several components. The core components are: type of regeneration natural vs. artificial, site and stand preparation, seedling establishment/planting, survival and early stand assessment, and early management of vegetation and fertility. For this article we will focus on artificial regeneration, which is when nursery grown seedlings are planted on the site. This is by far the most prevalent method, and it provides the most control over density and seedling quality. This also allows the use of genetically improved seed stock, which can greatly enhance forest productivity and value at end of rotation. Most pine planted in the southern United States now uses genetically improved seed stock. This is the result of decades of careful selection, testing, and deployment; much like agricultural crops like corn, cotton, etc. A landowner planting trees today has access to some of the best site preparation and reforestation seedling stock ever available, and taking advantage of it pays huge dividends. Here are the steps you can take as a landowner to get your plan outlined.
Determine the timeline for reforestation and plan accordingly.
Determine the species, density, seed source, genetic improvement level, and nursery availability of your desired seedlings.
Determine the site preparation required to ensure planting success
Determine the planting method; reserve planting labor and seedlings required to accomplish planting
Have planting contractor and nursery logistics coordinated for day of planting
Establish a follow up survival assessment period and have a plan to correct a full or partial planting failure.
Follow up on monitoring your stand and have plans for control of competing vegetation and other early stand treatments.
The work does not stop once you have the trees planted and the young stand is established. One of the biggest mistakes made in forest management is a “Plant Them and Forget Them” approach to timber management. This is a near guarantee to have issues especially in Florida with its fast vegetative growth, heavy competing vegetation, and propensity to hurricanes and wildfires.
Once you have your stand established by executing your reforestation plan; you want to move into forest management and stewardship for the long haul. This means you will need a Forest Management or Forest Stewardship plan to get a handle on what your young forest needs going forward. The plan is usually written to cover a 5-to-10-year period and then it is reassessed and revised.
A landowner with 20 acres or more can enroll in the Forest Stewardship Program through the Florida Forest Service and receive a Forest Stewardship Plan written by the county forester or a consultant. Forest Landowners with 160 acres or more are encouraged to use a private consultant to develop a plan. Landowners that use a consultant can receive funding through the program to help cover the cost of the plan. For more details and to enroll in the Forest Stewardship Program contact your county forester and follow this link Forest Stewardship Program / Programs for Landowners / For Landowners / Forest & Wildfire / Home – Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (fdacs.gov) . Once you have your plan and complete the program you get a great Stewardship Forest sign to advertise your commitment to being a good land steward.
The old adage “Fail to plan, Plan to fail” unfortunately often holds true for reforestation and forest management. Failed planting operations and missed opportunities can cost a landowner significantly. To ensure the success of your reforestation efforts and early timber management; get a plan and have one for the long haul. When planned out well, tree planting operations usually go smoothly and are successful. Followed up with a good forest management plan this covers the critical early establishment period and will ensure a successful forest management operation. Getting a plan together is a minimal cost compared to a failed planting or reduced growth and yield. Using a private consulting forester of your choice and working together with a forestry professional can get you off to the long-range project that is timber management. If you are planning on planting trees now or in the future; plan well and follow up. Years from now you will enjoy seeing your goals and objectives come together.