The biting insects took a morning off, and a volunteer crew made the most of their absence to clean up the Cook's House. The architects will be visiting to gather additional on-site data for the next phase of the plan to weatherproof the building. Friends member Ann Kamzelski shares the photos below that she took during the project.
Following is a summary of Andrew's notes for the Friends' May board meeting. Lots going on at the Refuge.
Staff are rehabbing compromised culverts on a few backwoods roads as the ground is finally dry enough to do the work. This work is north of the western leg of the Barnett Creek Trail. Recovery from this work may take awhile due to the impact from the heavy equipment needed to do the work. The area is slated for future forestry restoration efforts.
Work also continues on Seahorse Key dock rebuilding. The work is expected to continue through the summer.
Andrew summarized the longleaf pine restoration work that is starting in Dixie County. A separate project involving 70 miles of hazard fuels from encroaching roadside and overhead vegetation will be awarded in the near future. Refuge roads serve as fire breaks for burn units, buffers for Wildland Urban interfaces and access to fire equipment. Work is expected to start this summer and be completed in early 2024. These efforts along with the ongoing maintenance of the Refuge have been a boon to pollinator habitat - much to the delight of many including our butterfly experts. See our previous May 11th blog post for more information on these projects.
Andrew welcomed the summer to fall 2023 Resident Camper Volunteers, Rex and Claudette Tilley, whom he reports are fitting in nicely and have already picked up where Rick and Robin left off.
Speaking of highly valued volunteers, three Youth Conservation Corps students are being interviewed to start work in early June. One of their first assignments will be to help rebuild the River Trail Boardwalk that was damaged in a recent storm.
For the hunters and other enthusiasts, quail call surveys have begun, and staff are reporting hearing more than last year. Although quail are not hunted on the Refuge, everyone is pleased to hear more of them calling.
Unfortunately the season for the biting flies and other blood thirsty insects has arrived. Andrew warns that if you go for a walk or run at this time of year, you're guaranteed to get your exercise running away from them. Don't forget your repellent!
April was a busy month for outreach - with our two-day booth at the art festival where hundreds saw our booth and materials and many of those stopped in to purchase items and gather info.
Later in the month, volunteers staffed the Friends' table at the Chamber on the 15, 22, and 23. Visitor interactions ranged from 15 on a quiet day to over 45 on busy weekends. What's always interesting is how many visitors, or even area residents, don't know the Lower Suwannee Refuge exists and they also may not know that Cedar Keys is a separate Refuge.
We have a great need for more volunteers to staff the Chamber table as well as other locations including the River Trail and Shell Mound. The summer heat and critters may discourage some of these woody locations, but the Chamber is a great spot (a nice big fan is available). Please comment if you're interested in volunteering or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're new at volunteering we will pair you with someone more experienced. We think you'll find it educational and enjoyable.
The Refuge has begun two habitat restoration projects that will also serve as prescribed fire safety and wildfire risk reduction efforts.
The first project is a longleaf pine habitat restoration project covering 23 sites in Dixie County east of County Road 349. This restoration project is a site conversion from slash pine to longleaf pine. The longleaf pine once encompassed much of the Refuge before deforestation from logging and the eventual replacement with commercial forest trees such as loblolly and slash pine.
The second project is to reduce roadside hazard fuel loads on 70 miles of LSNWR roads. Refuge roads serve as fire breaks for burn units, buffers for Wildland Urban Interfaces, and access for fire equipment while conducting controlled burns and wildfire suppression.
The Assistant Forester from the regional office made a recent visit to the Refuge. He has visited a few times in the last 10 years, and commented that restoration efforts over the last 5-7 years are very noteworthy. He suggested the Refuge contract with someone to do vegetation diversity surveys as well as pollinator surveys to highlight the Refuge's restoration strategies.. He was encouraged by the extent and quality of the pollinator habitat and thought that monitoring would help demonstrate the success of the ongoing efforts.
While forest health has been the primary goal of restoration efforts, the successes of rejunvenating pollinator habitat has been important to the overall ecological health of the Refuge and a joy to butterfly, bird, insect and wildlife enthusiasts.
Friends of Lower Suwannee & Cedar Keys NWRs will participate in the Alachua County Climate Fair on Friday, June 2 from 5pm to 8pm at Camp Cuscowilla in Gainesville. The address is 210 SE 134th Avenue, off of SR 441.
The purpose of the Fair is to let residents know about the County's recent Climate Vulnerability Analysis.
Many Friends members live in Gainesville and Alachua County. We hope to see them at the Fair, and it would be very helpful to have a few members help at the booth. If you might be able to volunteer, please leave a comment on this post or email email@example.com.
At Friends booth, we will share stories with visitors about our Refuges and their role in protecting, maintaining, and enhancing habitats along the Lower Suwannee River and protecting the nesting shorebirds on the Cedar Keys. The Lower Suwannee NWR is a linchpin of the conservation lands along the entire Big Bend of Florida. These lands provide a buffer against hurricanes and storms, and protection from commercial and agriculture development that could make our region more vulnerable to climate impacts.
We will also have information about what visitors can do and see at the Refuges, and some Refuge-related merchandise available.