Monarchs are cool, but they’re the only butterflies we see in this area that aren’t 100% local. We trek through a couple of different habitat types and get a hint of the diversity of butterflies we have here in the Red Hills of Florida and Georgia. Scroll down for a complete list of species we saw in the video. Music for the piece comes from Haiqiong Deng‘s performance on Local Routes. She performed two songs; the other song aired in the same episode as this segment. If you missed it, you can watch it on the Local Routes page.
Examining some torn up leaves in my garden one night, I started down a path that led me to become somewhat of a butterfly enthusiast. My wife and I had recommitted ourselves to making full use of the space we had to grow veggies, and part of that was some good old-fashioned pest squashing. Of course, some bugs are beneficial, so I did my due diligence before pulling the trigger. In other words, I went on Google. Continue reading →
Wildlife watching is big business in Florida. In a state with the unique natural resources we have, that’s no surprise. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has determined that it brings, more or less, $5 Billion to Florida a year. When we say wildlife watching, we usually mean birds and butterflies. Animals that are cute, colorful, and/ or ferocious. What Eleanor Dietrich wants you to consider is that wildlife watching could also mean wildflowers. And just as it is thrilling to watch an eagle or a heron catch a fish, carnivorous plants might be the most thrilling of wildflowers. Luckily for those in our area, the Apalachicola National Forest in Liberty County is a hot spot for these strange and beautiful killers. Continue reading →
I like the idea of hiking cross country, unimpeded, for miles at a time.Trails are great, of course. But they only offer up so many possibilities. What if you could stand in one place, look in every direction, and just go where it looked most interesting?
On our hike through the St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve, Dr. Jean Huffman is leading us on just such an adventure to look for rare plants. The showiest of those is Chapman’s rhododendron. This is the only public land where this flowering shrub is found. Other unique-to-Florida (or unique-to-the -panhandle) species are hidden within the grass. Continue reading →
The longleaf pine/ wiregrass ecosystem was historically common in the coastal plain (low lying flat areas adjacent to the coast) of the Southeast United States. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, this ecosystem has seen a 97% decline. In our recent excursion along the Apalachicola River, we visited this habitat and learned about efforts to restore it.
There’s a certain terminology we use when we talk about the wild places of the world. We use words like “pristine,” or “untouched.” When you hike through a forest along the Florida Trail, there are times where you can imagine that you are the first person ever to walk under the trees that you see. Of course, much of the time, not only are you not the first person to have seen the trees, the trees look the way they do due to someone’s careful manipulation. The practice of land management and why it is used can change the way you think about what is “wild.”
Prescribed burn. Courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The video above is about how the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is using prescribed burning in its restoration of longleaf pine habitats. Longleaf pine had historically thrived because they have the evolutionary advantage of a thick, fireproof bark in what are known as Fire Climax Communities. This is a habitat in which fire (typically started by lightning strikes) is the primary controlling factor, and so lesser equipped competitors to longleaf pine are eliminated. This natural process makes for an ecosystem dominated by the thick barked pines. So why are humans assuming a role usually played by nature?
That goes back to our conception of what is “wild.” That forest you hike through looks untouched, like I said earlier, but human influence reaches even into its deepest reaches. For one, we have roads cutting across the forests, and while there are often large expanses of unbroken forest, paved roads keep fire from spreading as far as it once might have. Another factor is that there is human settlement all around the forest, and uncontrolled fire is a threat to life and property.
Courtesy of the Florida Archive.
Prescribed fire is one tool in the toolset for restoring the longleaf/ wiregrass system. This was the dominant habitat of the southeast, characterized by a wide spacing of trees (wide enough to ride a wagon through, FWC’s Liz Sparks tells me) that allows for a diversity of ground cover plants. These cover plants, as Matt points out in the video above, are attractive to the many species that thrive in a longleaf/ wiregrass ecosystem. Ironically, this ecosystem has been drastically reduced as a result of another type of land management- silviculture. As you’ll see in the video above, timber operations replaced longleaf for slash pine, a faster growing variety of pine with a lesser quality wood but that is far more profitable to grow. The slash pine grew closer together, eliminating the ground cover that is so important to the many birds, reptiles, and amphibians that make the longleaf/ wiregrass system so diverse. That’s why FWC does timber thinning before the burns.
Marsh burn. Courtesy Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
And since this is In the Grass, On the Reef, I did want to mention something I left out of the video, which is marsh burns. Every 4-6 years, they burn the sawgrass in the freshwater marshes on the Apalachicola River system. This clears the plants out and allows for new growth; the less dense grass provides nesting cover for many birds. Wintering waterfowl like canvasback, scaup, and redhead eat submerged vegetation called widgeon grass; periodic burns increase access to this for birds. As with longleaf ecosystems, fire was a naturally occurring, controlling factor. The systems evolved with the plants and animals that could best take advantage of these fire events. Nature may not be able to provide fire to these systems as effectively as it once had; luckily, mankind has flame throwers and ping pong balls full of potassium permanganate.
For more information about these and other Florida Fish and Wildlife land management initiatives, visit their web site.
Watch our latest EcoAdventure, where we visit a lot of this managed land around the Apalachicola River on WFSU’s dimensions– Sunday, February 19 at 10:00 AM/ ET.
This WFSU documentary, which aired November 30, 2011, takes an in depth look at prescribed burning and its safety and ecological benefits. The video is running off of WFSU-TV’s video on demand site, which features PBS programs like NOVA and Nature as well as local programs, like In the Grass, On the Reef and Florida War Diaries, a look at our local involvement in WWII.