There are currently 147 areas encompassing 5.9 million acres within the Wildlife Management Area (WMA) system of Florida. They are rustic natural areas and were established to provide wildlife-centric recreation and contribute to the biological diversity of the state. Some areas offer hunting, fishing wildlife viewing, cycling, horseback riding and paddling. The WMA System is divided into five regions with some areas managed completely by FWC (lead) and some managed cooperatively with FWC and other government agencies or private land owners. FWC biologists use surveying and monitoring, species and habitat management, and outreach and education to help maintain, increase or enhance wildlife populations and public access. Prescribed fire, mechanical treatments, timber thinning and hydrological and groundcover restoration are some techniques biologists use to manage the areas.
Since 2012, the Center for Spatial Analysis (CSA) within FWRI’s Information Science and Management group has been working with the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation to create a master data set with accurate boundaries for each WMA and Wildlife and Environmental Area (WEA). This is not a trivial task since a WMA may have multiple parcels or owners. Historically, there have been numerous attempts by different groups to create these boundaries. Multiple uncoordinated efforts to create these map boundaries has led to issues such as incorrect acreage numbers and out of date information. It was decided in 2014 that there should be one group solely working on this project with other entities providing help. CSA is collaborating with WMA Biologists, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Natural Areas Inventory and other government entities to pull together legal descriptions, survey data, parcel data and satellite imagery to accurately digitize each boundary. As of September 2015, 18 out of 51 lead managed areas have been updated and completed.
The newest version of the Cooperative Land Cover Dataset (CLC) is now available on FWC’s data library and public GIS data site as a 10.0 file geodatabase feature class and 10m raster.
The Florida Cooperative Land Cover Map is a partnership between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) to develop an ecologically-based statewide land cover data set. The CLC was developed using existing federal, state, and local data sources and expert review of aerial photography and ground conditions. The CLC uses the Florida Land Cover Classification System (Kawula, 2009), which was developed to address the need for a single classification system that incorporates the level of detail and flexibility needed by the FWC and its conservation partners. The classification schema creates a system that uses well-defined land cover classes that are unique to the state of Florida, but can also be incorporated with systems in neighboring states, as well as regionally. This classification system is limited to terrestrial, wetland, and inland aquatic (i.e. non-marine) classes and does not attempt to develop a classification system for marine habitats.
The classification system is hierarchically organized such that it can be applied at multiple scales. STATE classes represent the broadest level of differentiation used in the CLC, and are most appropriate for regional or state level scales, or for representing a generalized land cover class. SITE classes represent increasing levels of land cover details, and are most appropriately used to represent site or local level scales.
The Cooperative Land Cover Map is continuously revised, with new versions being released every 6 – 12 months. FWC now takes lead on updating and maintaining the dataset. FNAI will continue to provide guidance for the classification of natural communities, and site specific data sources based on their mapping and revision efforts.
Feedback from users is welcome, and users are encouraged to contribute datasets, send questions and report errors to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On a research vessel in Gulf of Mexico, deep into the night, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) seafarers communicate in Latin, “Doryteuthis! campechanus! synagris! brevirostris!” Scientists call out species’ names as they sort trawls of writhing fish, toxic sponges, and everything in between. The effort is part of the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program, or SEAMAP—an operation to collect data for future policy and management decisions of marine resources in the region. All species encountered in the biannual cruises are accounted for (hence the Latin). And there are a lot of them.
The Gulf of Mexico harbors roughly 9,000 species of invertebrates alone. Yet this number only represents those that have been discovered and described by scientists; there are many, many more. Think worms buried deep in soft sediment, symbiotic shrimp living in the network of tunnels in barrel sponges, the sponges themselves that form the structure of whole communities, and numerous other obscure and cryptic species of sea cucumbers, slugs, squirts, and beyond. Life in the ocean is diverse, it is complex and connected, and there is much left to be discovered.
FWRI’s marine collection (or Specimen Information Systems) is teaming with SEAMAP and other FWRI programs to not only discover, document, and describe marine biodiversity, but also make these data available to scientists and the public—worldwide, free and open. The goal is to census all species in the region and provide photos, keys, descriptions, and DNA sequence data to help identify each one. A huge task, but it’s worth it. All marine biology research—from identifying game fish prey items to rehabilitation of damaged ecosystems—hinges on first knowing what’s out there. The accompanying photo of specimens collected on a recent SEAMAP cruise represents the beginning of this initiative and just a small taste of the Gulf’s incredible biodiversity.
While part of a fish and wildlife manager’s work is to understand animal population levels and trends, actual management decisions take place in an environment that includes social, cultural, economic, and political elements. These decisions can’t focus on ecological science alone. The human factor is often the least understood, yet a primary factor influencing many environmental issues.
My job as a human dimensions (HD) specialist is to use social science to describe, understand, and predict human attitudes and behaviors toward the natural environment and wildlife, specifically freshwater systems. HD bridges ecological science with social science and forms the basis for making better management decisions in ways that will enhance our ability to conserve and manage our natural resources and encourage an open and informed exchange of ideas.
I’m currently designing a state-wide survey of freshwater angler values, attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors. I’m also working with other FWC staff to help them develop or enhance understanding of their diverse stakeholder attitudes and behaviors through social science methods like surveys, interviews, and focus groups and through outreach and education. If you’re interested in learning how HD can help freshwater fisheries issue in your area, contact me at email@example.com.
In September, a Florida resident reported that she and her family experienced respiratory irritation in Northwest Florida at Bid-A-Wee Beach in Panama City. At the same time, FWC’s Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) group confirmed that bloom concentrations of Karenia brevis were present in water samples collected by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and volunteers for the HAB program from Gulf and Franklin counties. Sampling efforts, along with reports of respiratory irritation and fish mortalities throughout October, demonstrated the persistence of K. brevis blooms in this area, with expansion of the bloom west towards Okaloosa and Walton counties by the end of October. In early November, the FWC Fish Kill Hotline received reports of fish and crab mortalities in Manatee and Charlotte counties in
Southwest Florida, which were quickly linked to red tide — confirming the presence of co-occurring blooms in both Northwest and Southwest Florida.
Since late September, the HAB group has been tracking these blooms through sample analysis as well as imagery supplied by USF’s Optical Oceanography Laboratory. Multiple FWC partners, including staff in the Fisheries Independent Monitoring, Fisheries Dependent Monitoring, Mollusc, and Fish and Wildlife Health groups, have contributed to sampling efforts. Sample analysis has also ramped up, thanks to teamwork by multiple HAB staff! FWC HAB staff have continued to work with USF researchers to generate short term forecasts of bloom movement via the Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides.
Sampling this year — markedly skewed towards inshore waters — has revealed persistent blooms in bays and estuaries including Pensacola Bay, St. Andrews Bay, St. Joe’s Bay, Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, and Charlotte Harbor. Tidal cycles have pushed K. brevis into Tampa Bay past the Skyway Bridge, where staff recently confirmed concentrations greater than 3 million cells L-1. The blooms in both regions have resulted in numerous fish kills, extensive respiratory irritation, and multiple closures of shellfish harvesting areas.
The FWC HAB group publishes a midweek red tide update each Wednesday and a full report each Friday by 5pm on the FWC website at: MyFWC.com/RedTide.