Audubon Florida News

Topic: Citizen Science,Florida Scrub-Jay,Land Conservation,Volunteering,Wildlife

Audubon Jay Watch Partners to Restore Rare Scrub Habitat

Audubon Jay Watch, FWC Ridge Rangers, and Highlands Hammock Park staff team

Timberrrr” calls were heard near and far on the morning of January 9th in the Tiger Branch area of Highlands Hammock State Park.  A lone pair of rare Florida Scrub-Jays calls this area “home” but the overgrown habitat could host many more birds if restoration is successful.

Paul Ahnberg, Jay Watch volunteer, cuts a sand pine sapling in a recently burned scrub zoneTwelve Audubon Jay Watch volunteers, 18 Ridge Rangers, a volunteer corps of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, three Park rangers, and three additional volunteers felled 1,891.5 sand pines up to 12 feet tall in 3 hours’ work using chain saws, pole saws, hand saws, and hand loppers.

That number, again: 1,891.5 sand pines cut. “I ran out of gas for my chainsaw while cutting the last tree,” quipped Jerry Burns, one of the three volunteers there that are both Jay Watchers and Ridge Rangers.

Audubon provided a hearty lunch for the hardworking volunteers and Park staff after a morning of cutting pines in 10 acres of scrub burned within the past year and another 27 acres planned for near-future burns.

Prescribed burn in scrub habitat; Photo by Chris Becker, Florida Park ServiceWhy spend the time and effort to cut sand pines? Years of fire suppression causes sand pines to become both tall and numerous. Sand pines have seed cones that are opened by fire, producing a new generation of saplings that create dense sand pine forest patches within overgrown scrub.

Sand pines hide fast-flying Cooper’s Hawks from the view of unsuspecting Scrub-Jays and pine stands also provide predator cover for small mammals and bird egg-loving snakes. Cutting the pines and leaving the downed wood to dry out before setting a prescribed fire prevents the cones from opening to release seeds.

Florida Scrub-Jay; Photo copyright: Susan Faulkner DaviThat’s why the sweat equity invested by 30 volunteers and Park rangers was vital to habitat restoration – work that, according to Park staff, would’ve taken them three or months to accomplish alone.

With a wave of their wings, the resident Florida Scrub-Jays say “THANK YOU” Jay Watchers, Ridge Rangers, and all who made this event possible with smiles and hard work.




Florida Audubon Society Completes Acquisition of Newest Sanctuary in the Chassahowitzka Marsh

posted on December 16, 2015 in Coastal Conservation,Land Conservation,Wildlife

John Emory Cason SanctuaryThe U.S. Family Foundation has completed a transaction deeding 80 acres of pristine coastal marsh and hammock habitat in Citrus County to the Florida Audubon Society.

Located just southwest of the community of Homosassa and immediately north of the boundary of Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, the new Audubon property will be known as the “John Emory Cason, Jr. Bird Sanctuary” in honor of its former owner.

John Emory Cason Jr, who passed away in 2012, was a lifelong resident of Inverness, Florida and an avid outdoorsman and well-known local farmer. Cason had a wish that his coastal property be preserved forever as a sanctuary in the hands of an owner who would guarantee its permanent protection.

The location of the property is far out in the marsh west of U.S. 19 and has no road access, not even walkable access from adjacent roads – the closest being S. Rooks Drive in Homosassa. Other than reaching the sanctuary via airboat or kayak, the only visitors this new sanctuary will see are the birds themselves, and there will be plenty of them.

Over 200 species of coastal birds have been documented by the staff at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. A copy of the bird checklist can be downloaded here.

Roseate SpoonbillsCharles Lee, who manages sanctuary properties for the Florida Audubon Society, Inc., commented, “This is one of the most diverse and compellingly beautiful tracts of coastal marsh and hammock I have seen. It has wide open marshes and some pockets of open water against a backdrop of towering sabal palms at the edge of the hardwood hammock. There are Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks in the marsh and a wide variety of birds of prey, such as Bald Eagles, Coopers Hawks, Red Shouldered Hawks, and several species of owls that patrol the edge of the forest and marsh looking for their next meal. It is truly an extraordinary place”.

The Florida Audubon Society, Inc accepts the donation of sanctuary properties that meet its standards for ecological value and fit within the organization’s management capabilities. As the government programs that purchase and conserve land have become less reliable, Audubon seeks wildlife sanctuary donations from individuals who want to preserve their land. The donation of land and the donation of cash and securities are tax deductible.

For more information, please contact Audubon’s Charles Lee at

West Pasco Audubon Advocates for Rocky Creek

posted on September 9, 2015 in Chapters,Coastal Conservation,Land Conservation

West Pasco Audubon Society Members With about 25 West Pasco Audubon Society members in attendance, the Pasco Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to pay $3.1 million to buy the Rocky Creek property, which is located just south of the Florida Audubon Society’s Gibbons Sanctuary.

The new coastal preserve is a high quality wetland and coastal hammock habitat, which is valuable to wading and migratory birds. The unanimous vote comes about a month subsequent to a proposal by some Pasco Commissioners to divert environmental lands funds to drainage and stormwater uses.

The Rocky Creek parcel received the highest conservation scoring of any parcel reviewed by the land selection committee to date. The parcel is comprised of 30 acres of saltwater marsh, 1 acre of mangrove forest, and 22 acres of wetland forest, with the balance comprised of uplands that had been previously approved/slated for residential development.

Thanks to West Pasco Audubon chapter and their friends from the Florida Native Plant Society  for communicating with commissioners and turning out to testify in favor of the Rocky Creek purchase.

The photo shows just some of the chapter members on the courthouse steps after the vote.

Audubon Establishes “Reid Hughes Marsh Sanctuary” in Nassau County

posted on August 7, 2015 in Land Conservation,Wildlife

Seaside SparrowThe Florida Audubon Society has added nearly 200 acres of pristine Nassau County marshland to its system of wildlife sanctuaries thanks to a generous donation from Reid B. Hughes of New Smyrna Beach. Hughes serves as a member of Audubon’s Board of Directors and is a past member of the Governing Board of the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Audubon will name the new sanctuary the “Reid Hughes Marsh Sanctuary” in honor of the donor.

Tree island SW property - Copy (Medium)The new Audubon sanctuary tract is located on the Bells River, which branches from the St. Marys River separating Florida and Georgia. The sanctuary is just offshore of the Pirates Wood subdivision near Yulee and consists of deep marsh with some tree islands. Audubon is increasing its efforts to protect the marshlands in the Northeast Florida area, as these marshes are vitally important habitat for both resident bird species and migratory species on the Atlantic Flyway.

The “Reid Hughes Marsh Sanctuary” is ideal habitat for Threatened Wood Storks, ibis, herons, egrets, many types of shorebirds, as well as the MacGillivray’s Seaside Sparrow and Worthington’s Marsh Wren, a Species of Special Concern in Florida.

Woodstork on sanctuary property“The Reid Hughes Marsh is a great addition to the Florida Audubon Society’s sanctuary system. It provides exactly the kind of habitat we are looking for to sustain important coastal bird species that are under increased threat from development and climate change,” said Eric Draper, Audubon Florida Executive Director. “Private environmental land donations have become ever more important in recent years because of reduced state land purchases. Individual donors, like Reid Hughes, are stepping up to make a positive impact for Florida’s imperiled birds and wildlife.”

For information on Audubon conservation efforts in Northeast Florida, contact Chris Farrell, Policy Associate, Northeast Florida (904) 325-9940.  For information on donating conservation land to the Florida Audubon Society, contact Charles Lee, Sanctuary and Land Manger, at (407) 620-5178.

Audubon Florida Presents Sustainable Rancher of the Year Award for 2015 to Lykes Ranch

posted on June 22, 2015 in Land Conservation,Press Releases

Audubon Florida presented its Sustainable Rancher of the Year award to Lykes Ranch at Florida Cattlemen’s Association annual banquet held at Champions Gate near Orlando on the evening of June 18.  Accepting the award for Lykes Ranch was Charles P. “Charlie” Lykes Jr., President & Chief Executive Officer of Lykes Bros. Inc. Also present was Linda McCarthy Senior Ecologist at Lykes Bros, Inc, along with numerous members of the Lykes Ranch Staff.

Lykes Ranch, comprising 338,162 acres in Glades, Highlands and Polk Counties, is a leader in ranch based wildlife habitat conservation and water management innovation.

The Lykes Ranch has been the most effective and innovative large scale participant in the South Florida Water Management District’s Dispersed Water Management Program. This year, the 16,000 acre Nicodemus Slough project became operational, providing temporary storage for 34,000 acre feet of water drawn from Lake Okeechobee. This is available to release into the lake or the Caloosahatchee River during times of need.

The Lykes Nicodemus Slough project was preceded by the “West Waterhole Marsh” project, a 2,370 acre facility on the C-40 canal in the Indian Prairie Basin. In 2014, over 6.8 billion gallons of water were pumped into the marsh. 88% of the phosphorus pumped into the marsh, or 10.3 metric tons, was retained in the marsh. 56% of the nitrogen pumped into the marsh (48.8 metric tons) was also retained. Click here to read the detailed independent study.

Lykes Ranch is planning the construction of a new large-scale (8,200 acres) storm water storage and treatment area known as “Brighton Valley” also in the Indian Prairie Basin. This project has been incorporated in the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan and is essential to meeting the plan’s goal for reducing phosphorous pollution. The BMAP projects a 7.7 ton phosphorus reduction from the Brighton Valley project, and it is scheduled to be constructed in FY16 and to be operational shortly after.

Lykes has also committed substantial portions of the ranch to perpetual wildlife habitat management through existing conservation easements, including:

  • A 41,606 acre conservation easement at Fisheating Creek
  • 7,578 acres of Gopher Tortoise Relocation Mitigation Sites
  • 3,008 acre Rainey Slough Wetland Reserve Program conservation easement.

Lykes Ranch is actively pursuing applications to state agencies for the purchase of additional conservation easements, including:

  • A 6,859 acre conservation easement protecting the 11 mile long, one mile wide tract known as Chaparral Slough through the Florida Forever program.
  • An 886 acre easement at Squirrel Island through the FDACS Rural and Family Lands program.

Finally, Lykes incorporates an integrated approach to wildlife management throughout the ranch. The most notable example is long history of vigilant voluntary protection offered by Lykes to the largest communal migratory roost of Swallow-tailed Kites (Elanoides forficatus forficatus) in North America. This Roost occurs annually on Lykes Ranch near Fisheating Creek, where as many as 3,000 birds congregate prior to migrating to Central and South America.

Working with ranchers to achieve conservation of wildlife habitat, and to encourage restorative water management projects on their lands is a priority for Audubon in the Northern Everglades.

To learn more about this effort, see the updated Audubon video by clicking here.





SWFWMD Staff Removes H‏álpata Tastanaki Preserve Tracts From Surplus List

posted on April 29, 2015 in Land Conservation

After meeting Friday, April 24 with Audubon’s Chalapata_swfwmdharles Lee and others concerned with protecting conservation lands in the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Ken Frink, Director of the district’s Operations, Lands & Resource Monitoring Division announced that the 47 acres of recovering Scrub Jay habitat at Halpata would be removed from the surplus list.

Frink also indicated that Pine Island, a conservation tract in the Braden River in Manatee County would be recommended for transfer to the county (which is actively managing the island) instead of surplussing the tract. Other tracts in Hillsborough County, including tracts adjacent to the Alafaya River will be considered for transfer to Hillsborough County rather than being surplused and sold on the open market.

While this is a good outcome for those tracts of land, others still hang in the balance. Over 1,500 acres of land in the Green Swamp is proposed for surplus with the district retaining a conservation easement. For most of this acreage, provided that the conservation easement is appropriately worded, this will make little difference as much of the surrounding land is already held in conservation easements rather than owned outright by SWFWMD and other state agencies.

However, two tracts totaling 338 acres are located immediately adjacent to the Van Fleet State Trail. Converting those tracts from fee ownership by the district to a conservation easement will deprive the public of the ability to utilize those tracts. Particularly because this trail is part of a trail complex where $60 million is being spent in this year’s budget to complete the “Coast to Coast” trail, it is inappropriate and short-sighted to remove the possibility that these tracts can be used in the future by the growing recreational constituency on the Van Fleet State Trail.

Other tracts, such as 39 acres just north of SR 44 at Flying Eagle Preserve cry out for an answer “WHY” when it comes to surplus. If the district’s mission is truly “Water Resources” then retaining tracts such as the piece of Flying Eagle at risk seems to be a straightforward and rational decision. The Flying Eagle tract is at least 99% deep wetlands consisting of cypress swamp and open prairie marsh. See the tract by clicking here.

Even though the district is proposing to surplus the tract with a conservation easement, its difficult to understand what a private buyer would want it for – unless it is to later challenge the easement and the regulatory process with a controversial effort to fill and develop it.  This tract (and other similar ones) ought to be kept in the district’s inventory – we will fight for that.

The District’s Governing Board will meet on May 19 to reach a final decision on this round of surplus.

Audubon Florida staff will be meeting with District staff and contacting board members in advance of the board’s final decision.

For additional coverage in the Ocala Star-Banner, please click here.

Osceola County Orders Ecological Review of Deseret Ranch Plan

posted on January 15, 2015 in Chapters,Land Conservation

Deseret Plan MapOsceola County has responded to efforts spearheaded by Audubon Florida and a coalition of Audubon chapters in Central Florida by ordering an independent ecological review of the vast Deseret North Ranch sector plan.

The 133,000 acre development proposal, involving a potential new population of over 500,000 people, and over 180,000 new housing units was headed on a fast track toward approval in October, when Audubon sounded the alert and filled the County Commission chamber with many concerned citizens and representatives from Audubon chapters in Osceola, Orange, Polk, Seminole and Lake Counties.

The Deseret development would be the largest single development proposal ever to take place in the state’s history.

The lands affected include important ecosystem components of the Econlockhatchee River Headwaters, the St. Johns River and tributaries, and highly important wildlife corridors and wildlife habitat. Components of the Sector Plan proposal include a proposed new bridge over the St. Johns River, and a new reservoir which would capture water now contributing to the base flow of the St. Johns River. In October, Osceola County Commissioners voted 4-1 against the transmittal of the plan to the Department of Economic Opportunity, the first step in the approval process. Instead, a commission majority asked the County Manger’s office to initiate a stakeholder process to further evaluate the proposal.

The county has now taken another important step to assure a proper and objective evaluation of this massive development project. Following recommendations made by Audubon Florida during stakeholder meetings, the county has retained some of Florida’s best known and most respected ecologists to perform a peer-review analysis of the sector plan and the land conservation plan presented by Deseret’s planners and biological consultants.  The team, consisting of Dr. Richard Hilsenbeck of the Nature Conservancy. Dr. Reed Noss of the University of Florida, and Dr. Jay Exum of Exum Associates Inc. will spend at least two months in the evaluation process.

Further action by Osceola County on the Deseret Sector Plan will now not take place until April 2015 at the earliest. The outcome of the process will likely be shaped by the recommendation of the county’s new ecological peer review team.

Audubon Florida extends heartfelt thanks to the Audubon leaders in Central Florida who stepped forward to state concerns about the Deseret plan. Audubon also thanks the County Commission, County Manager and staff at Osceola County for doing the right thing to assure a proper and thorough evaluation of the Deseret Sector Plan.

A letter stating Audubon Concerns about the Deseret Sector Plan, and other related materials can be viewed by clicking here.

Deseret Sector Plan Facts:

  • Projected Population – 500,000 +-
  • 182,600 Development (housing) units
  • 43,837,390 Square Feet of Commercial/Service Industry space
  • 23,969,010 Square Feet of Industrial space
  • 15,660,500 Square Feet of Institutional built space
  • 20,390 hotel rooms

Conservation Efforts of Rancher Bud Adams Featured in Tampa Bay Times

posted on January 6, 2015 in Land Conservation

EAA crops irrigated with water pumped out of Lake Okeechobee in May, a time when Everglade Snail Kites had abandoned babies in the nests and fled the Lake due to low water.  The Hoover Dike is in the background. Photo by Dr. Paul Gray.Adams Ranch and the quest of rancher Bud Adams and his family to protect ranchland through conservation easements was featured by the Tampa Bay Times this past weekend in a major article. Click here to view.

Audubon Florida has been assisting Adams and other ranchers in building support for the purchase of ranchland easements, and Audubon’s participation in recent efforts at the December 2014 Cabinet meeting in Tallahassee are featured in the article.

Hundreds of thousands of acres of ranch land north of Lake Okeechobee are vulnerable to development pressures. Ranch conservation easements such as those purchased under the Rural and Family Lands program of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services provide a practical and economically attractive mechanism for ranch families to remove development rights from the land. Ranch lands protected by easements in perpetuity provide important habitat for birds and wildlife.

Adams Ranch and Bud Adams received Audubon Florida’s “Sustainable Rancher of the Year” award for 2014.

Audubon Society of the Everglades Celebrates BIG Amendment 1 Victory

posted on November 10, 2014 in Land Conservation,Water Issues

Amendment1_YES_photo_smallThe Audubon Society of the Everglades members are taking great pride in the results of the vote on Amendment One because they were part of making it happen.  It began in early June when they met for their annual planning retreat.   They made “Vote YES on 1” their number one goal and devised a strategy focusing their efforts on the 3 months leading up to the November 4 vote.

August was a month for educating members and voters. For their August program they invited Audubon Florida’s Tabitha Cale to speak on the importance of passage of Amendment 1 for the future of Florida. Eighty members attended, had plenty of time for questions, and left really excited about Florida’s Water and Land Legacy Campaign.  The chapter bought several hundred “Vote YES on 1” buttons that were distributed that evening to members who agreed to wear them every day until the election.  70 went out that night and people were good to their word, they started appearing around town.

September was a month to get the word out.  The September KITE newsletter devoted one full page to the campaign which was reprinted by a number of other organizations.  They took advantage of local festivals to hand out literature and of course, buttons!  Even a casual conversation at the market or gas station often resulted in the exchange of information and the gift of a button.  The buttons prompted people to approach the wearers, and it was an easy sell.

In October, County Commissioner Paulette Burdick came to ASE general meeting and encouraged everyone to vote for the Amendment.  The group loved having their picture taken signaling “Vote Yes on 1” with the Commissioner and used it form their continued promotion of the Amendment.

During a congratulatory call to Audubon Society of the Everglades, President Paton White shared her excitement. “Our campaign was easy, fun and united our members in a common cause!”   While Audubon Society of the Everglades may not have been solely responsible for Palm Beach County’s astounding 85% support there is no doubt that their efforts paid off.

They have a great deal to be proud of.

Audubon Members Save Barr Hammock Preserve

posted on October 29, 2014 in Chapters,Land Conservation

Audubon Florida helped Alachua Audubon win an important decision at the Alachua CBarr Hammock Preseve Aerialounty Commission Tuesday, October 28, protecting an important piece of conservation land. The 5,719-acre Barr Hammock Preserve was bought between 2006 & 2010 by the Florida Forever, Communities Trust Program and Alachua County for preservation and passive nature based recreation.

The main feature of the preserve, a trail on a levee around Levy marsh, was opened allowing the public to view this important bird habitat. This spot is considered one of the best bird watching opportunities in the county.  After the trail opened, some adjacent residents with homes several hundred feet from the trail complained that trail users were interrupting their privacy. Even though the trail is hundreds of feet away from their homes, and generally screened by heavy vegetation, they claimed that trail users were making noise and were able to look into the windows of their homes.

County staff responsible for managing the Barr Hammock Preserve and the trail investigated the complaints, and found them not meritorious of any action.  The residents took their complaints to the County Commission and were able to get the commission to hold two lengthy discussions of the issue. At one point, some of the commissioners seemed leaning toward supporting the residents’ demands that a portion of the trail be closed.  The Alachua Audubon Society got to work, and obtained several newspaper articles, and an excellent editorial in the Gainesville Sun newspaper urging that the commission honor the original purpose of purchasing the preserve by keeping the trail open. Alachua Audubon also motivated dozens of members to turn out at the county commission meetings.

On October 28, following a two hour discussion and unsuccessful attempts by two commissioners to discourage public use of part of the trail with confusing signage and entrance features, the commission ended up unanimously voting to stick with the preserve’s original management plan and keep the trail open. Special thanks to Alachua County Commissioners Mike Byerly and Hutch Hutchinson who steadfastly argued to keep Barr Hammock fully open to the natural resource based recreation uses it was intended to facilitate.

This case demonstrates why Audubon Florida and all Audubon chapters must be forever vigilant against attempts to harm and degrade Florida’s important conservation lands.

For additional coverage from the Gainesville Sun, please click here.

Next »