Monday, March 25, 2013

2013 Sierra Club Service in the Ocala National Forest

Last week, thirteen Sierra Club members and two leaders camped in Florida's Ocala National Forest for a service project outing called "Sand Pine, Silver Water, and Service. (Click to enlarge photos.)

Our first project was to close "illegal" roads into the forest. Numerous forest roads are open and available to all-terrain vehicles, SUVs, and motor bikes, allowing these recreational vehicles to enter and use the forest, and also to allow hunters to get deep into the woods to hunt and retrieve their kills.  But some forest users create other entrances, thus ruining habitat, disturbing the ecology, or even dumping refuse. We were tasked to make four such user-created entrances impassable by installing posts and building obstacles of vegetation. In the photo below, four such posts or bollards are being installed here...

...and can be seen here. Dead trees and limbs are then added to further prevent access via these closed roads.

For one morning and two afternoons, we entered the water of Salt Spring (72 degree water year-round) to remove invasive hydrilla plant using rakes. These bad weeds displace the native submersed plant communities, stealing the sunlight from the indigenous plants upon which the native fish and wildlife depend for sustenance and shelter, thus altering fish populations and shifting zooplankton communities. The canoes are used to transport the hydrilla to shore.  

Our piles of hydrilla were immediately taken away on a cart to a place where it could dry out and then be burned, but we did manage a group photo by a "small" pile seen here...

Front row (left to right): Kathy, Jeanne, Felix, Kristine, Pete, Cheryl, Tom (our leader), and Francy (our co-leader).
Back row:  Jim, Bill, Linda, Rick, Susan, Dona, and Chuck

Meanwhile, another contingent of our crew was scouring the forest to locate and remove "air potatoes," a twining vine that quickly engulfs native vegetation as it climbs high into the forest canopy.  Its tubers, (which do look like potatoes) fall to the forest floor and quickly spread the invasive plant, so collecting the potatoes before they go to seed helps keep the plant from spreading even more.

On Thursday, we met three US Forest Service wildlife biologists, Jay, Liz, and Clay, whose job it is to manage the forest habitat for the benefit of the wildlife, especially endangered and threatened species. They took us into the forest to demonstrate their technique for managing the red cockaded woodpecker (RCWs) which are the only woodpecker to carve nests in the trunks of living trees (and no, they do not damage the trees when the dig out their nesting cavities.) Using a video camera called a "peeper" mounted atop a long extendable pole, the rangers peek into existing nests to see if it they are in use, and if so, by whom, because squirrels, snakes, and other critters sometimes inhabit these dwellings. 75 pairs of the birds inhabit the Ocala National Forest and they are monitored annually at which time the data base is updated.  To encourage RSW nesting, man-made cavities can also be inserted into chain-sawed holes in Long Leaf Pine trees, and the birds will accept these artificial nests and move in. In the photo below, Liz is holding the "peeper" device (on the yellow pole) as she explains the process, while Clay (center) shows the hand-held data base device.

Trees that are occupied by RCWs have white bands painted around them as Cheryl demonstrates here, so they can easily be identified by rangers during wild fires or prescribed burns, so we scraped off the old, deteriorating bark and repainted the white bands.

One morning, when it was too chilly to get into the water yet, we hiked a section of the Florida Trail and connecting forest roads and removed numerous bags of litter deposited by messy forest users.

Here's a photo of our knowledgeable and personable US Forest Service rangers who led us on this project, Marcus and Kinzie.  We are so grateful to them and also to the biologists for sharing their time with us, and also for unselfishly dedicating their careers to the environment!

Downloadable photos of the project can be found here.

And here's a video highlighting the week's activities (click on the arrow and then click on the  bottom right "YouTube" to enlarge)...

1 comment:

Tom Brown said...

Every year the Sierra Club offers 350 outdoor adventure trips to destinations around the world. Many of those trips are service trips like the one Chuck has documented here. Visit to learn more.