Withlacoochee State Forest
I often volunteer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commission better known as the FWC and the Department of Forestry. Volunteering provides me an opportunity at an education I would otherwise not be able to attain. When volunteering there is many tasks that I have the opportunity to assist with. On this day I would be assisting the RCW program with burn prep. What does that mean in plain English you ask? RCW, short for Red Cockaded Woodpecker, is a federally protected species of woodpecker. This small bird measures about 7 inches in length and is found commonly throughout the longleaf pine ecosystem. At one time there were an estimated 1.6 million groups or family units of these birds throughout the United States but the primary habitat of these birds has been reduced to 3% of its original expanse. Today there remains only about 5600 groups or 14,000 birds throughout the southeastern United States. We have a population of these woodpeckers in the Withlacoochee State Forest and it was my job on this date to assist with preparing these trees to withstand a controlled burn in the area. The birds require low growing ground cover for forging. Along the Brooksville Ridge in the sand hill ecosystem fires are a natural occurrence. This keeps the natural growth in check and provides the perfect habitat for these protected woodpeckers. When natural fires do not occur, prescribed burns take their place. The Department of Forestry will do prescribed burns in these areas to help prevent wildfires.
To protect these nesting trees from damage during these controlled burns we were to rake the ground cover and cut back the “duff” to prevent the fire from getting close to the base of the trees and damaging them and possibly catching the entire tree on fire there for destroying the nests. This is not an easy job as in most cases this is done by hand by volunteers in very hot weather. These nesting trees are rarely located along the roads and require some bushwhacking to get to their locations. Once a nest is located trees are banded or painted with the white ring to more easily be identified when trying to relocate them. Mary had advised us which sections of the forest were to be burned in the next few weeks and gave us the locations of each of the clusters or family nesting areas of the RCW’s. Over the next 7 hours we raked and cleared a 15 foot area around the base of these trees and a 7 foot area around neighboring trees thought to also the potential nesting sites.
It was a pleasure working with Mary and Barbara on this day. I was able to learn so much about these small birds that I never once would have given a second thought to. The recovery efforts for the RCW began in 1973 with a recovery plan written in 1979 and revised in 1985 and 2003. Recovery will be achieved they have numerous self sustaining populations. Because of the work of so many volunteers these beautiful endangered birds will have the opportunity to recover their numbers. I’m glad that I was able to do my part to help these little birds and possibly giving the opportunity to my grandchildren to be able to enjoy them.
For more information on the RCW program please visit: http://myfwc.com/conservation/terrestrial/rcw/
You can also visit Barbara’s blog on volunteering with this program at: http://www.riverbanksoutdoorblog.com/volunteering-2/fwc-volunteer-installing-red-cockaded-woodpecker-nesting-boxes
For information on volunteering with the FWC please visit: http://myfwc.com/media/1529346/Ireland-letter.pdf