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Peninsular Florida - More Information

Background information on DU's Peninsular Florida conservation priority area
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As noted previously, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades Agricultural Area (rice, tomatoes and other truck-farm type crops, and sugar cane) winter an average of 170,000 ducks, of which scaup (<97,000) and ring-necked ducks (<35,000) are the most abundant species (Johnson 1987, Johnson and Montalbano 1989). Blue-winged teal also are common in winter on Lake Okeechobee and throughout the Everglades region. Mottled ducks and fulvous whistling ducks are present at relatively low densities (Johnson and Montalbano 1989, Moorman and Gray 1994).

Along Florida's Atlantic Coast, Merritt Island NWR contains brackish impoundments that produce abundant stands of wigeon grass. These impoundments originally created to control mosquitoes, typically over-winter several thousand dabbling ducks, including wigeon, pintails, and mottled ducks (Gordon et al. 1989). Also, the Indian and Banana Rivers provide important winter habitat for 200,000 to 300,000 lesser scaup. On the Gulf Coast, Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor winter 45,000 and 20,000 scaup, respectively. Other coastal areas offer considerably less waterfowl habitat relative to interior wetlands discussed above.

Importance to other wildlife

One migrant population and one resident population of greater sandhill cranes occur in this area. The Eastern Population, which breeds in Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, over-winters primarily in southeastern Georgia through central Florida. A resident population of cranes occurs in peninsular Florida (Tacha et al. 1994). Much of the population of limpkins in North America occurs in association with cypress and bottomland hardwood swamps in Florida, with a small number of birds in extreme southwestern Georgia (Gough et al. 1998).

Substantial numbers of shorebirds use this region, particularly the Atlantic coast of Florida and the mudflats and beaches of the eastern Gulf Coast of Mexico. Wetlands in Florida are among the most important in North America for vast numbers of wading birds. In particular, the Everglades region has great significance to colonial wading birds, including nearly all species of herons, egrets and bitterns in North America, white ibis, limpkins, and wood storks. Many of these species annual events are linked to the annual flooding and gradual drying of the Everglades system. Alterations to hydrology in the Everglades have been responsible for a dramatic decline in the number of wading birds in this conservation region. This region also supports populations of endangered snail kites and Florida panthers. Also, efforts are underway to re-establish a resident population of whooping cranes.

Conservation programs

DU's conservation accomplishments in Florida have grown in recent years. In 2003, DU received a NAWCA grant to restore the Hickory Mound Impoundment in the Big Bend Region of Florida. Also, DU has partnered with the USDA NRCS to complete some large, site-specific Wetland Reserve Program projects in Florida. The remaining accomplishments in Florida are all related to the MARSH programIn Peninsular Florida, DU has worked with the FFWCC, the USFWS and other partners to conserve 9,284 ha of wetlands. Conservation staff are currently evaluating the need and potential expansion of conservation programs in Florida, particularly in the arena of conservation easements and private lands programs.

Goals

  • Peninsular Florida recently became part of the Atlantic Coast JV of the NAWMP. Conservation planning is underway to determine habitat goals for this conservation region, but data for the key habitats like freshwater lakes is scarce. It will be necessary to estimate the value of existing foraging habitat in light of both current and desired winter waterfowl populations to develop the habitat goals. DU conservation programs will be geared toward contributing to or meeting foraging habitat objectives after they are determined.

Assumptions

  • The primary assumption in conservation planning for this region will be that foraging habitat limits the number of waterfowl wintering in the region, and indirectly influences over-winter survival rates.

Strategies

  • Evaluate the potential for growth of conservation programs in the region related to private lands conservation programs, conservation easements, and an increased role for DU to provide biological and engineering services to public land management agencies, particularly various water management districts.
  • Work closely with the FFWCC in the implementation of the Florida Mottled Duck Conservation Plan.
    Work on a project-by-project basis in partnership with the USDA NRCS to complete Wetlands Reserve Program projects.
  • Develop a GIS that will assist with planning, targeting and evaluation of conservation programs.
  • Work with Field Operations and Development staff to secure funding to support all planned growth in this conservation region.
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