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Spring turkey season provides opportunities to enjoy a special Florida resource

Turkey Flock

Osceola wild turkeys. FWC photo by Chad Weber.

Florida’s spring turkey season opens Saturday, March 3, on private lands south of State Road 70, making it one of the first spring turkey hunting opportunities in the country. Florida is also the only place in the world where the Osceola subspecies of wild turkey is found. Also known as the Florida wild turkey, abundant populations of this subspecies live only on the Florida peninsula. It's similar to the eastern wild turkey subspecies, which is found in north Florida and throughout the eastern United States, but tends to be smaller and darker with less white barring on the wings.

Hunting wild turkeys is popular in Florida and throughout North America. One reason people enjoy it is the range of calls wild turkeys make. The most recognized call is gobbling, which is most often associated with male birds, or gobblers, during spring when they breed. The gobbler will fan out its tail, puff out its feathers, strut and gobble to attract hens. Hunters pursue this wary bird by imitating various turkey calls to bring gobblers in close. Getting to see a male wild turkey’s courtship ritual is exciting for new hunters as well as those with years of experience.

Another benefit of turkey hunting, for those lucky enough to harvest a gobbler, is that the meat is a good source of healthy, organic protein.

“Spring turkey season gives hunters the chance to share a delicious wild game meal with friends and family. It’s also a great time to share the turkey hunting experience with someone who has never tried it,” said Roger Shields, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Wild Turkey Management Program coordinator. “The weather is mild, the spring woods are beautiful, and the thrill of hearing a gobbler respond to your calls is a wonderful memory you can share with a new hunter.”

Wild turkeys are a conservation success story in Florida and across North America. They had almost disappeared by the turn of the 20th century, with populations remaining only in remote pockets of habitat. However, thanks to science-based wildlife restoration efforts, today Osceola and eastern wild turkeys are flourishing throughout the state.

FWC wildlife professionals use scientific data to conserve wild turkey populations and provide regulated and sustainable hunting opportunities. Hunters also play an important role in wild turkey management by purchasing licenses and permits, and along with other shooting sports enthusiasts, contributing to the successful Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. External Website

North of State Road 70, Florida’s spring turkey season on private lands opens Saturday, March 17. Florida’s wildlife management area system also offers opportunities for turkey hunters, and because dates and regulations can vary, hunters are encouraged to review the regulations brochure for the WMA they plan to hunt.

Get a snapshot of Florida’s wild turkey season dates and bag limits by visiting MyFWC.com/Hunting and clicking “Season Dates.” Learn more about wild turkeys by choosing “Species Profiles” at MyFWC.com/WildlifeHabitats.

Gulf gray triggerfish opens March 1 with new bag and size limits

Triggerfish

The recreational gray triggerfish season will reopen to harvest in Gulf state and federal waters March 1. When the season reopens, the daily bag limit will be one fish per person (previously two fish per person) and the minimum size limit will be 15 inches fork length (previously 14 inches fork length). These changes were made at the July 2017 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) meeting and are consistent with changes made in federal waters. The changes also include an annual January through February recreational closure in Gulf state waters in addition to the annual June and July spawning closure.

These federal consistency measures should help maintain fishing opportunities for gray triggerfish in state and federal waters for 2018 and the future.          

If you plan to fish for gray triggerfish in Gulf state or federal waters from a private recreational vessel, you must sign up as a Gulf Reef Fish Angler(annual renewal is required). To learn more, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Gulf Reef Fish Survey” under “Reef Fish.” Sign up today External Website at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.

Learn more about gray triggerfish at MyFWC.com/Fishing by clicking on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Triggerfish.”

Triggerfish Underwater

FWC removes floating plants in Lake Josephine

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will remove nearly 14 acres of floating plant material from the western basin of Lake Josephine in Highlands County.

This project is scheduled to begin Monday, Feb. 19, and will take about a month to complete. It will restore critical habitat for many fish and wildlife species. 

Mechanical harvesters and barge-mounted excavators will be used to remove the heavy mats of floating plants and associated organic material, often referred to as tussocks. The tussocks can impede access to the lake for recreational use, increase organic sediments deposited on the lake floor, and reduce the value of wildlife habitat in the shallow water marsh.

The primary aquatic plant species to be removed include American cupscale, burhead sedge, cattail, spatterdock and primrose willow. However, other aquatic plant species within the work areas also will be harvested. 

For more information, contact Carly Althoff, an FWC aquatic habitat project manager, at 863-697-6323.

Report fish and wildlife sightings with FWC’s new app

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) invites Florida residents and visitors to take an active role in conservation by reporting fish and wildlife observations with the new FWC Reporter app.

From fish kills to exotic species, to trapped or injured wildlife, FWC Reporter connects citizens to FWC experts directly from their Apple or Android devices.

“This app strengthens our relationship with the public by engaging people and streamlining communication with our staff,” said Gil McRae, director of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. “This is a great opportunity to incorporate citizen participation into our research and management efforts.”

The FWC often relies on reports from citizens to protect and manage Florida’s diverse fish and wildlife. To make a report, users select a category from the menu, provide relevant information, and submit photos if available. Download the FWC Reporter app and become a partner in conservation.

You can download the free FWC Reporter app on Apple or Android smartphones or tablets from the App Store External Website and Google Play. External Website

App Icon

Help plan the future of Watermelon Pond Wildlife and Environmental Area

Photos available on the FWC’s Flickr site: http://bit.ly/2o5eQXX External Website

A 10-year plan for the Watermelon Pond Wildlife and Environmental Area will be presented at a public hearing in Alachua County on Thursday, Feb. 22.

People are invited to the 7 p.m. public hearing in the John R. “Jack” Durrance Auditorium (Room 209) of the Alachua County Administration Building, 12 SE First St., Gainesville.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff will present the draft land management plan Adobe PDF for the FWC-managed WEA, and people will be encouraged to comment and ask questions. For more information on the upcoming local public hearing, go to MyFWC.com/Conservation and select “Terrestrial” then “Management Plans (WMA).”

Located in southwest Alachua County, Watermelon Pond WEA has pastures, pinelands, hammocks and marsh that provide habitat for native wildlife such as the gopher tortoise, Bachman’s sparrow, Florida sandhill crane, southeastern American kestrel, Sherman’s fox squirrel and eastern indigo snake.

Outdoor enthusiasts at this WEA can enjoy wildlife viewing, hiking, bicycling, horseback riding and picnicking.

 “Watermelon Pond WEA was purchased to ensure the conservation of fish and wildlife resources, other natural and cultural resources, and for fish- and wildlife-based public outdoor recreation,” said Lance Jacobson, FWC land conservation planner. “This draft plan will specify how we intend to do that.”

All lands purchased with public funds must have a management plan that ensures the property will be managed in a manner that is consistent with the intended purposes of the purchase. Hunting and fishing regulations are not included in this plan or meeting; those are addressed through a separate public process.

To obtain a copy of the land management prospectus for Watermelon Pond WEA, call Jessica Larimer at 850-487-7063 or email Jessica.Larimer@MyFWC.com.

For more information on management plans and their goals, visit MyFWC.com/Conservation and select “Terrestrial” then “Management Plans (WMA).”

For more on the Watermelon Pond WEA, go to MyFWC.com and select “Wildlife Viewing” then “Wildlife Management Areas.”

New FWC rule prohibits feeding of wild monkeys

Amended rule: http://bit.ly/2stgGYi  External Website

At its December 2017 meeting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) voted to prohibit the feeding of wild monkeys in order to promote greater public safety and decrease health concerns associated with these animals. This amendment to the General Prohibition Rule went into effect Feb. 11. Free-roaming, non-human primates join coyotes, foxes, raccoons, bears, pelicans and sandhill cranes as species included in this rule. 

“The health and safety of the public is the Commission’s number one priority. Feeding wild monkeys creates an elevated risk to human health because it brings them into closer contact with people,” said Dr. Thomas Eason, Assistant Executive Director of the FWC. “This amended rule provides our staff the tools we need to effectively address a situation that can have serious consequences.” 

As the population of wild monkeys has increased across the state, public health and safety concerns have also increased due to public contact with the animals. In an effort to reduce the risk of public contact, the FWC adopted an amendment to the General Prohibition Rule to include the prohibition of feeding these animals. 

Currently, there are three established species of wild monkeys in Florida: squirrel monkeys, vervet monkeys and rhesus macaques. When these animals are fed by humans, they often develop a dependency on humans as a source of food and become territorial over the area where feeding occurs. This dependency can lead to increased aggression, which may result in injuries and spread of disease to humans. 

Wild monkeys are documented carriers for various diseases. Rhesus macaques can carry herpes B, a potentially fatal disease in humans if not treated immediately. While there are no documented cases of free-roaming macaques transmitting herpes B to humans in the wild in Florida, the risk for exposure will continue to grow as public contact with these animals increases. 

“The implementation of this amendment allows FWC officers to better educate, inform and encourage the public to refrain from feeding these animals,” said Col. Curtis Brown, Division Director of the FWC Division of Law Enforcement. 

For more information, visit MyFWC.com/wildlifehabitats and click on “Nonnative Species.”

Free Kids’ Fishing Clinic in Crystal River promises day of learning, fun

Photos available on the FWC’s Flickr site: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjzBWzfa External Website
Video available on the FWC’s YouTube site: http://youtu.be/KzOua12jMX8 External Website

 Kids Fishing Clinic

Participants in the Kids' Fishing Clinic will learn fundamental saltwater fishing skills.

Teaching children a lifelong hobby, instilling appreciation for our marine environment and providing fun, family outings are the objectives for the Kids’ Fishing Clinic in Crystal River on Feb. 24.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will offer a free Kids’ Fishing Clinic for children between the ages of 5 and 15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Fort Island Trail Park, 12073 W. Fort Island Trail.

 These free clinics enable young people to learn the basics of conservation stewardship, fishing ethics, angling skills and safety. Kids’ Fishing Clinics strive to achieve several goals, but the main objective is to create responsible marine-resource stewards by teaching children about the vulnerability of Florida’s marine ecosystems. In addition, organizers hope to teach fundamental saltwater fishing skills and provide participants a positive fishing experience.

Fishing equipment and bait are provided for kids to use during the clinic, but organizers encourage children who own fishing tackle to bring it. A limited number of rods and reels will be given away to participants upon completion of the clinic.

If conditions allow, participants will have the opportunity to practice their new skills and fish from the pier. This event is a photo catch-and-release activity. An adult must accompany all participants. Preregistration is strongly encouraged. To register visit Citrus County Parks and Recreation website. External Website

Individuals or companies interested in helping sponsor this event or volunteering at the clinic should contact Maci Kepler at 352-527-7540 or FWC’s Elizabeth Winchester at 850-617-9644.

To find out more about fishing clinics for kids, go to MyFWC.com/Fishing/Saltwater and select “Kids Saltwater Fishing Clinics” option under “Education.”

Hunter safety courses offered in 4 counties

Huntsafely

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is offering free hunter safety courses in four counties (list follows).

All firearms, ammunition and materials are provided free of charge. Students should bring a pen or pencil and paper. An adult must accompany children younger than 16 at all times.

Anyone born on or after June 1, 1975, must pass an approved hunter safety course and have a hunting license to hunt alone (unsupervised). The FWC course satisfies hunter-safety training requirements for all other states and Canadian provinces.

Internet-completion Courses

Broward County
March 10 (8 a.m. – 4 p.m.)
March 25 (8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.)

Martin County
March 18 (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.)

Monroe County
March 4 (11 a.m. – 5 p.m.)

Palm Beach County
March11 (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.)

Traditional Course

Palm Beach County
March. 10 & 11 (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.)

The specific locations for these classes will be given to those who register in advance. Those interested in attending a course can register online and obtain information about future hunter safety classes at MyFWC.com/HunterSafety or by calling the FWC’s regional office in West Palm Beach at 561-625-5122.

FWC hosts iguana technical assistance workshops in Keys

Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site. Go to https://www.flickr.com/gp/myfwcmedia/L961ZZ External Website

 Green Iguana In Tree

Green iguana in tree.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is hosting public technical assistance workshops regarding iguanas in the Florida Keys.

Green iguanas and black spiny-tailed iguanas are large, nonnative lizards that have reproducing populations in the Florida Keys. These reptiles can be a nuisance to homeowners by damaging landscape plants and gardens, leaving droppings in yards and pools, and causing property damage by digging burrows.

“Iguanas may impact sensitive natural resources in the Keys, but we do not know the extent of the threat,” said Sarah Funck, who leads the FWC’s Nonnative Fish and Wildlife Program. “These workshops will help empower homeowners to manage this nonnative species on their own property.”

The second workshop in this series will be held in Key West on Feb. 19 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel, 3841 N. Roosevelt Blvd. The third workshop will be in Key Largo on Feb. 20 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Murray Nelson Government Center, 102050 Overseas Highway.

Workshop participants will learn how to discourage iguanas from their property, and about legal removal options and regulations pertaining to the species. FWC biologists will also provide hands-on instruction with live traps.

For updates and to learn more about upcoming nonnative species workshops, visit MyFWC.com/Nonnatives and click on “Public Workshops.”

FWC approves draft rule to gather data from for-hire industry, discusses future of Gulf red snapper management

Photo: http://bit.ly/2Ev3mYb External Website 

Red Snapper

At the Feb. 8 meeting near Tallahassee, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved a draft proposal that would establish data collection improvements for the for-hire industry in Gulf state waters. The proposal would require for-hire operations that target or harvest certain reef fish in Gulf of Mexico state waters (excluding Monroe County) to report their intention to harvest these species.

This proposal is similar to the Gulf Reef Fish Survey, which is currently being used to enhance data collection from recreational anglers fishing from private vessels in Gulf waters. The Gulf Reef Fish Survey has been highly effective in helping the FWC gather data from this segment of anglers.

Reef fish included in this draft rule are the same as those included in the Gulf Reef Fish Survey: red snapper, vermilion snapper, gag grouper, red grouper, black grouper, gray triggerfish, greater amberjack, lesser amberjack, banded rudderfish and almaco jack.

This draft proposal will come back before the Commission at the April meeting for a final decision.

The FWC also discussed the future of Gulf red snapper management in state and federal waters, including a proposed fishery-management pilot program (also referred to as an Exempted Fishing Permit) that would allow the FWC to manage all recreational red snapper harvest caught in Gulf state and federal waters off Florida in 2018 and 2019. The pilot program is pending approval by NOAA Fisheries and would set the harvest season for recreational anglers fishing from private vessels in state and federal waters of the Gulf, and would also include for-hire operations that do not have a federal reef fish permit and are limited to targeting reef fish in Gulf state waters only.

The FWC discussed a potential 24-day season in Gulf state and federal waters as a jumping off point for a 2018 season proposal. This season length has potential to change.

“This is a challenging issue, but also an unprecedented opportunity,” said Chairman Bo Rivard. “At the end of the day, all people want to know is how many days they will get to go fishing. We aren’t clear on the answers right now, but I hope that more robust data will allow us to negotiate for more days in the season.”

The FWC has submitted their Exempted Fishing Permit proposal to NOAA Fisheries and is awaiting final approval. This Exempted Fishing Permit would not apply to commercial fishermen or for-hire operations with a valid federal reef fish permit.

This Exempted Fishing Permit opportunity and 2018 recreational season dates should be finalized sometime in April and discussed at the April Commission meeting.

To share your comments or input on Gulf red snapper, visit MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments.

Learn more about snapper at MyFWC.com/Fishing by clicking on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Snappers.”

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