Upcoming Event: Panhandle Outdoors Live at St. Joseph Bay on June 21st!

Upcoming Event: Panhandle Outdoors Live at St. Joseph Bay on June 21st!

The University of Florida/IFAS Extension & Florida Sea Grant faculty are reintroducing their acclaimed “Panhandle Outdoors LIVE!” series on St. Joseph Bay. This ecosystem is home to some of the richest concentrations of flora and fauna on the Northern Gulf Coast. This area supports an amazing diversity of fish, aquatic invertebrates, turtles and other species of the marsh and pine flatwoods. Come learn about the important roles of ecosystem!

Registration fee is $40. You must pre-register to attend.

Registration link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/panhandle-outdoors-live-st-joseph-bay-by-land-sea-tickets-906983109897

or use the QR code:

Meals: Lunch, drinks & snacks provided (you may bring your own)

Attire: outdoor wear, water shoes, bug spray and sunscreen

*If afternoon rain is in forecast, outdoor activities may be switched to the morning schedule

Held at the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve Lodge: 3915 State Road 30-A, Port St. Joe

8:30 – 8:35 Welcome & Introduction – Ray Bodrey, Gulf County Extension (5 min)
8:35 – 9:20 Diamondback Terrapin Ecology – Rick O’Connor, Escambia County Extension
9:20 – 10:05 Exploring Snakes, Lizards & the Cuban Tree Frog – Erik Lovestrand, Franklin County Extension
10:05 – 10:15 Break
10:15 – 11:00 The Bay Scallop & Habitat – Ray Bodrey, Gulf County Extension
11:00 – 11:45 The Hard Structures: Artificial Reefs & Derelict Vessel Program – Scott Jackson, Bay County Extension
11:45 – Noon Question & Answer Session – All Agents
Noon – 1:00 Pizza & Salad!
1:00 – 1:20 Introduction to the Buffer & History – Buffer Preserve Staff
1:20 – 2:20 Tram Tour – Buffer Preserve Staff
2:20 – 2:30 Break
2:30 – 3:00 A Walk in the Mangroves – All Agents
3:00 – 3:15 Wrap up & Adjourn – All
Thinning-One of The Most Important Forest Management Practices

Thinning-One of The Most Important Forest Management Practices

Thinning is an important part of any forest management plan and getting it right can be the difference between successful outcomes and persistent problems. Probably one of the most common questions foresters get is “Should I Thin My Trees?”. It is an important question to ask and definitely needs a forester’s input to get right. Thinning is part of managing the density of a forest stand and preventing issues with overstocking. If a stand is overstocked it causes multiple issues with the health and growth of a forest stand. Forest stands can even stunt when left in overstocked conditions and fail to produce the timber yield that would be expected. Not thinning at proper intervals when it is needed also results in lost growth even if the thinning is performed later. The key issue is competition and managing density prevents excessive competition among trees. To understand how thinning works you must understand some of how trees grow.

An overstocked pine stand in need of thinning Santa Rosa County, FL . Photo Credit: Ian Stone

Trees compete on a site for resources such as sunlight, water, and nutrients. As a young stand of timber develops the trees initially have plenty of resources while they are young and small, but they begin to compete when they grow older. Initially the competition can be a good thing encouraging taller and straighter growth habits and self-pruning of lower branches. As the stand develops though the competition becomes a negative factor when the trees begin to experience stress from lack of resources, primarily sunlight but also nutrients and water. At this point the stand is considered overstocked and thinning will improve the health and growth of the trees. Effectively thinning removes trees that are not needed and will eventually be out-competed and die. This allows a landowner to make some timber revenue while improving growth and health down the road. The trees that remain after thinning no longer are overstocked and competing and respond with improved growth and health. This important forest management technique is one of the primary management decisions in timberland ownership.

Overstocked stands create multiple issues that cause negative outcomes. One of the primary issues is that trees in overstocked conditions are weaker and more susceptible to insect and disease outbreaks. It is very common for bark beetle outbreaks and other issues to take hold in overstocked stands and produce considerable losses. Thinning is an effective measure at preventing this. Overstocked conditions result in poor growth and can lead to a situation where trees have a low portion of living foliage. Once this occurs a stand can become locked in a slow growing condition that can’t be reversed. This causes a loss of both volume and quality by reducing the development of high value saw-timber and poles. Overstocked and dense stands are also less desirable for wildlife and plant diversity. Thinning opens up the forest and allows more light and space which improves habitat and increases diversity on the forest floor and lower levels. All around thinning at the right time based on the forest conditions and stocking produces better outcomes. During thinning trees with form, disease, or other issues can be removed to improve the overall stand. Determining when and how to thin is a function of having a good forest inventory and monitoring tree size and stocking. There is usually a period of time that is referred to as a “thinning window” when the stand is beginning to become overstocked but will still produce a thinning response. This varies based on forest conditions and is more of a function of the size and density of the trees than an exact age or predetermined point in time. The best practice is to determine when a forest is entering the thinning window and take advantage of the thinning benefits. Delaying thinning will result in less optimal outcomes and results may be permanent. Similarly thinning too early or thinning incorrectly (too few or too many trees removed) can produce less desirable results. The key is to thin correctly and thin when forest conditions indicate it is needed.

Overall thinning is one of the best forest improvement practices available, and to get the most benefit it has to be done correctly. Far too often forest areas that need thinning are overlooked and go far too long without getting the thinning they need. You do not want to look into getting your timber thinned only to find out you should have done it 5-8 years ago or more. Worse still you develop a southern pine beetle out break and loose timber or start to have timber die from competition. The best way to make sure you stay informed on when and to what extent to thin is to have a forest management plan and update it regularly. Working with a consulting forester to inventory your timber stand and plan out forest management is one of the best things you can do. A good consultant forester can assist you in determining when and how to thin properly. They can also assist in marketing timber harvested in a thinning along with other services like timber marking. You can get assistance through the County Forester office with Florida Forest Service as well. You can work with the County Forester to enroll in the Forest Stewardship Program and get a management plan written at no cost to you. A forest management plan will cover thinning and other important practices to help you meet your goals.  Determining when and how to thin is something that requires advice from a good professional forester. By working with a professional forester, you will avoid common pitfalls like making opportunistic thinning decisions, over-thinning, under thinning, leaving poor quality trees, and more. If you think your stand may need thinning contact the extension office, the county forester, or a professional forester of your choice. Making those contacts are a great first step in getting the most out of a good thinning.

Silvopasture?? What is That and How Do I Learn More?

Silvopasture?? What is That and How Do I Learn More?

Silvopasture is a unique and highly effective agroforestry technique that can be a great fit to accomplish some landowners’ land management and agricultural enterprise objectives. Agroforestry is a system which combines forest management and agricultural production systems to get synergistic effects that make both systems more sustainable and resilient. While these systems do not seek to optimize and maximize forestry or agricultural outputs the overall economic and total outputs are usually higher than stand alone traditional or forestry systems. They are also very ancient and many of the worlds oldest agricultural systems and methods would fall under the agroforestry umbrella now. Silvopasture is one unique expression of this method of combining forestry and agriculture. Silvopasture systems seek to combine forestry, forage production, and livestock on one area of land where all three combined make for a strong system of both shorter term agricultural production and longer term forest products production. For the right landowner and the right objectives it can be a perfect match.

Are you and your landholdings suited to Silvopasture? The best way to find out is consult with our outstanding extension agents and visit an outstanding Silvopasture system and producer to see it in the field. Fortunately, this month just this opportunity will be provided in Washington County at the extension office in Chipley, FL. The morning will feature a series of presentations and a discussion panel covering forestry, forage production, soil consideration, and livestock components of silvopasture systems. The presenters will consist of agents Ian Stone (Forestry Walton/ Multi-county), Mark Mauldin (Agriculture, Washington), Jenifer Bearden (Agriculture, Okaloosa), Nick Simmons (Agriculture, Escambia). The morning session will be followed by a catered lunch. For the afternoon the program will feature an outstanding tour of an advanced and well established silvopasture system, Mr. George C. Owens is a nationally recognized livestock producer and landowner who has successfully implemented silvopasture systems using a variety of methods. He has presented at conferences at the local, state, and national levels and is an outspoken advocate of silvopasture and sharing his knowledge and agricultural success his lands in silvopasture have produced. The tour will include the panel of agents for infield discussions and questions. UF-IFAS is very grateful to Mr. Owens for opening his property for this tour. The workshop is also approved for 4.5 Category 1 Continuing Forestry Education (CFE) credits for foresters and land managers needing continuing education. The program is part of the Florida Land Steward series for the year and the entire team looks forward to hosting landowners and land managers in from across the Panhandle at this event.

For more information please contact Ian Stone at the Walton Extension Office. Online registration will be through Eventbrite at the following link https://www.eventbrite.com/e/florida-land-steward-silvopasture-101-and-george-c-owens-property-tour-tickets-876970992847?aff=ebdssbdestsearch . Online registration is required and the registration deadline is April 19th. Tickets are limited so please register early to ensure you have a ticket for the event. The team hopes to see those interested on April 26th and looks forward to showcasing how silvopasture can be part of your land management to meet your objectives. Mark your calendars and register early to ensure you can attend this educational and field tour opportunity.

2023 Pensacola Bay Snake Watch Annual Report

2023 Pensacola Bay Snake Watch Annual Report

I began this project in 2022 wanting to know which of the 40 species of snakes known to inhabit the Pensacola Bay area were encountered by people.  I also wanted to know where they were encountering them and what time of year.  This information would be used in my Living with Snakes program and provide better information than field guides and publications that covered a broader area.  The 40 local species were divided into six categories: small snakes (<12”), mid-sized snakes (12-24”), large snakes (> 24”), water snakes, venomous snakes, and non-native snakes. 

The red rat snake, or corn snake. Photo: Molly O’Connor

Which snakes did people encounter?

In 2023 there were 215 snake encounters between Jan 1 and Dec 10.  This is a 136% increase over 2022.  This is probably not because of more snakes but rather more residents participating in the project. 

Of the 40 species possible, 24 (60%) were encountered.  This is a 13% increase over 2022.  Again, I feel this is due more to increasing participation. 

The most frequently encountered species were:

  1. Cottonmouth – 49 records (23%)
  2. Southern Black Racer – 35 records (16%)
  3. Banded Water Snake – 26 records (12%)
  4. Eastern Garter Snake – 17 records (8%)
  5. Eastern Coachwhip – 11 records (5%)

The Southern Black Racer was the most frequently encountered snake in 2022 (23%), followed by the cottonmouth (16%).  As you can see, the frequency of encounters remained the same this year, but the species flipped.  The Eastern Ribbon Snake, which was third at (14%) in 2022 did not make the top five this year. 

The rarest snakes – those encountered only once or not at all – included:

Encountered once:                                     

Rough Green Snake                                                                 

Eastern Kingsnake                                      

Eastern Coral Snake

NOT Encountered at all:

Smooth Earth Snake

Marsh Brown Snake

Southern Hognose Snake

Mole Kingsnake

Scarlet Kingsnake

Eastern Indigo Snake

Black Swamp Snake

Glossy Crayfish Snake

Queen Snake

Midland Watersnake

Yellow Bellied Water Snake

Diamondback Water Snake

Western Green Water Snake

Western/Eastern Mud Snake

Rainbow Snake

Of the four species only encountered once, each is considered quite rare for encounters.  The Eastern Kingsnake was once common but has declined over the years.  The Eastern Coral Snake is quite common, but its behavior and activity make it rare to encounter.  Some snake experts have never seen one in the wild. 

Of the 16 species not encountered at all, three are small snakes whose size and habits make them difficult to detect.  Two are mid-sized but their habits also make them hard to detect.  Nine are water snakes who live in swampy environments along our rivers.  You would have to be out there to encounter them, and few people are.  Two species, the Southern Hognose and the Eastern Indigo Snake, are state and federal listed and are extremely rare.  

The gray rat snake, also known as the oak snake. Photo: Nick Baldwin

Where did people encounter these snakes?

I divided the bay area into four regions: North Escambia, South Escambia, North Santa Rosa, and South Santa Rosa. 

North Escambia – 13 species (54% of the total 24 species found this year).

South Escambia – 16 species (67% of the total).

North Santa Rosa – 17 species (71% of the total).

South Santa Rosa – 11 species (46% of the total). 

There is not much difference between these.  In Escambia County more encounters occurred in the southern portion of the county.  For Santa Rosa County it was the opposite.  Whether this is because there are more snakes in these locations, or more participants in the project cannot be said.  We will pay more attention to this next year.    

Species that were found in ALL four regions included:

Eastern Garter Snake

Gray Rat Snake

Corn Snake

Southern Black Racer

Coachwhip

Cottonmouth

Species only found on one of the four regions included:

Eastern Kingsnake

Florida Pine Snake

Brahminy Blind Snake

Rough Earth Snake

Pinewoods Snake

Eastern Coral Snake

What time of year were these snakes encountered?

Winter – 57 encounters; 13 species

Spring – 80 encounters; 20 species

Summer – 52 encounters; 18 species

Fall – 17 encounters; 10 species

There was an obvious decline in encounters in the fall.  Many species are beginning to settle in for the winter this time of year, but many others breed, and thus should be moving (at least the males).  I know some volunteers ceased looking, but others I know who search weekly, or daily, did not encounter as many snakes. 

Only one species was encountered every month of the year.  This was the cottonmouth

The Eastern Garter Snake was seen every month except June and October; it seems to be active year-round. 

The Southern Black Racer was missing in January, November, and December – suggesting a dislike for the cold. 

NOTE: many of these hibernating snakes will emerge on warmer sunny days during winter and can be encountered. 

SPRING was the time of year with the highest encounter rate and species encountered.  This would make sense in two parts; (1) they are emerging seeking food after non-feeding during winter, (2) they are emerging looking for mates because it is breeding season for many.  Five species were only encountered in the early part of the year.  Two species were only found in winter and one species was only found in the spring. 

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake crawling near Ft. Pickens Campground. Photo: Shelley Johnson

What about the venomous snakes?

As expected, most are concerned more about the encounters with venomous snakes.  There are six venomous species listed in the state of Florida, four inhabit the Pensacola Bay area.  All four were encountered in 2023. 

  1. Cottonmouth – was encountered in all regions, each month of the year, it was the most commonly encountered snake in our area this year.
  2. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake – was encountered seven times, only during the spring and summer, and in three of the four regions in our area.  This snake is pretty common but not commonly encountered where people most often reside and play.  Though encounters do occur in residential neighborhoods, they are rare. 
  3. Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake – was encountered six times, during spring, summer, and fall, and two of the four regions in the bay area. 
  4. Eastern Coral Snake – was encountered once, during the spring, and in only one of the four regions in the bay area.  Again, this snake is actually quite common, but its behavior makes it difficult to encounter.  So, encounters with this species are rare. 

Summary

In 2023 60% of the known species of snakes that inhabit the Pensacola Bay area were encountered by residents at some time during the year.  Most encounters occurred in the spring and summer and encounters occurred throughout the entire region.  The cottonmouth was the most frequently encountered species this year but rare species, such as the Eastern hognose, Eastern kingsnake, and the Florida pine snake were seen – and that is pretty exciting.  The snake diversity in the Pensacola Bay area seems good.  There is concern that a non-native parasite decreasing the populations of some species in central and south Florida may make its way to the panhandle.  We are participating in a project entitled Snake Lungworm Alliance Monitoring (SLAM) that collects deceased snakes for examination by researchers.  If you find a deceased snake in good enough condition to be dissected, place it in a plastic Ziplock bag, label with the date, location (GPS preferred), and your contact information.  You can then bring it to the Escambia County Extension office or freeze it and call me – (850-475-5230) or email roc1@ufl.edu and we will arrange pick up. 

We plan to continue the Snake Watch Project in 2024 and encourage all who see snakes to contact me at the above email address.  We will also be offering the Living with Snakes presentation.  If your community group is interested in this talk, contact me. 

Poisonous Plant? Take a Closer Look, but not too Close

Once cooler fall temperatures arrive, a lot of us spend time in the yard ridding our property fence lines of vines or better yet trekking through forested areas to simply enjoy the great outdoors, where those very vines also exist. Unfortunately, there is a long, long list of enemies, when discussing poisonous plants. However, there are a few more common, native plants, like poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac and poisonwood that we should be fully aware of in our surroundings, along with their friendly mistaken counterparts. This article will seek to distinguish poison ivy and Virginia creeper.

Figure 1: Poison Ivy on Left / Virginia Creeper on Right in Fall Colors.
Credit: Sydney Park Brown, UF/IFAS.

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) grows in just about any location imaginable. Poison Ivy is probably the most common and most irritating poisonous plant one will come in contact with, no pun intended. This is a woody shrub that can reach 6 feet in height or grows like a vine up to 150 feet tall on trees. As a vine, it is often found on fences and trees. The leaf forms three leaflets, which can be 2-6 inches in length and may have smooth edges or can be toothed. Leaves are shiny with a tint of red most of the year. Leaves will turn purple before dropping in the fall. Remember the old saying when it comes to identifying poison ivy, “leaflets three, let it be”.

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is commonly mistaken for poison ivy. It is a climbing vine as well with similar growth patterns. However, there are some distinguishing traits, as Virginia Creeper has five leaflets, instead of three. Virginia Creeper also has blue-black berries along with tiny, sticky segments that are used to attach to surfaces. During the fall, Virginia Creeper leaves turn red before dropping.

There are some important precautions about poison ivy that we should remember when out and about. Warmer months correspond with the increased sapping stage of poisons plants, which means the allergic reaction from contact is both more likely and possibly more severe. The four native poisonous plants mentioned earlier all contain urushiol. This is a plant oil that causes a severe skin rash when contact is made. People have different sensitivity levels to exposure. Symptoms appear within a couple of days and the itching and burning of the skin can last weeks. Over the counter products with the active ingredient dient bentoquatam can help prevent or reduce the reaction. This product must be applied before contact is made. If exposed, as soon as possible clean area with warm, soapy water and rinse with cool water. Clothing should be washed separately from other laundry. Severe reactions may need professional medical treatment.

For more information on poisonous plants in our area, contact your local county extension office.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publications: “Identification of Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Poison Sumac,

and Poisonwood” by Sydney Park Brown: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP22000.pdf

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Join Our Workshop to Manage the Invasion of Cuban Treefrogs!

Join Our Workshop to Manage the Invasion of Cuban Treefrogs!

Cuban Treefrogs and Environmental Concerns

Discover the fascinating world of Cuban Treefrogs and join us for an exciting workshop aimed at effectively managing their invasion. Led by Dr. Steve Johnson, an expert on Cuban Treefrogs from UF/IFAS Extension, this workshop will provide you with valuable insights on recognizing these invasive frogs and exploring management options. In addition, attendees will have the opportunity to learn how to monitor and report data on Cuban Treefrog populations. Together, let’s take action to address the challenges posed by the invasion of Cuban Treefrogs! The Workshop will be held September 28th 9am – 3pm CDT at 2728 E14th St, Panama City, FL 32401 Register Here

The Invasion of Cuban Treefrogs:

Originating from Cuba and introduced unintentionally to Florida in the 1920s, the Cuban Treefrog has rapidly established itself across various states, including Georgia and Louisiana. Believed to have arrived as stowaways in shipping crates, these non-native frogs have become a cause for concern due to their impacts on native treefrog and toad populations.

Understanding the Threat:

Cuban Treefrog adults and their tadpoles are known predators of native treefrogs and toads. Their presence poses a significant threat to the delicate balance of our ecosystems. Therefore, it is crucial to develop effective management strategies to curb their invasion and minimize their impact on our native species.

Workshop Highlights:

During the workshop, Dr. Steve Johnson, an esteemed authority on Cuban Treefrogs, will guide participants through the identification and management of these invasive frogs. Attendees will gain valuable knowledge and practical skills to recognize Cuban Treefrogs and explore options for effectively managing their populations. Participants will also build and take home their own treefrog house (refugia) made with PVC.

Contributing to Research:

In addition to learning about identification and management, workshop attendees will have the opportunity to play an active role in monitoring and reporting data on Cuban Treefrog populations. By actively participating in data collection efforts, you will contribute to scientific research and provide crucial insights into the distribution and behavior of these invasive frogs.

Join the Cause:

The invasion of Cuban Treefrogs is a pressing environmental issue that requires collective action. By attending our workshop, you can become an agent of change in addressing this invasive species. Let’s work together to protect our native treefrogs and toads by effectively managing the population of Cuban Treefrogs.

Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to join Dr. Steve Johnson and fellow nature enthusiasts in our workshop focused on managing the invasion of Cuban Treefrogs. By acquiring knowledge, developing practical skills, and contributing to data collection efforts, you can actively participate in protecting our native species and preserving the delicate balance of our ecosystems. Together, let’s make a difference and tackle the challenges posed by the Cuban Treefrog invasion. Register now and be a part of this important environmental initiative!

An invasive Cuban Tree Frog specimen. Invasive species, amphibians and reptiles. frogs, pests. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.