This Thursday I had the honor of being included in Senator Stewart's meeting of environmental advocates. We packed her conference room and discussed her team's plans for the upcoming session and our concerns.
Our major discussion topics were:
Water quality measures that have been removed over the last eight years under the Scott administration.
Sen Stewart is working on a bill to reinstate all of these protections.
The Senator's exasperation at how many bills that she introduced last session that would have improved water quality in the Kissimmee River watershed that were vetoed by Governor Scott
Reintroduction of black bear protection bill (SB 156) from last session.
Co-priming a bill with Senator Bracy to help the wetlands in the headwaters of the Little Wekiva River with $5m for the Saint Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD).
Extensive discussion on the under-funding and misappropriation of Amendment 1/Florida Forever money.
Sen Stewart co-sponsored SB 370 in 2017-8 which had $100m put aside for Florida Forever (historic funding was $300m).
I guided the discussion on how to best advocate for land acquisition. A few of us formed a small working group to identify critical properties for state acquisition.
I've been inspired by our hiking group1 finding a new plant species to look at how many new plant and animal species we have documented in Split Oak since the BioBlitz on May 4-6, 2018.
This summer-blooming wildflower in the Aster family was not vouchered2 in Osceola County and it had not been recorded in iNaturalist3, by FWC4 or in a herbarium5 as being present in Split Oak Forest.
Danny Goodding, a PhD candidate at the University of Central Florida, planned and ran the entire event. Scheduling it in May meant that we could perhaps observe Spring wildflowers that were not observed by the FWC contractor that created the plant list, as they did their survey in the fall.
BioBlitz participants observed 303 species in Split Oak Forest, compared to the 400 species listed in the previously referenced FWC management plan.
The species count for Split Oak Forest on iNaturalist is currently at 548, only two months after the BioBlitz!
Including the species found during the BioBlitz, people visiting Split Oak Forest between May 4 and July 16, 2018 documented 88 new species, including 4 new endemic plant species, 44 new common plant species, 5 new species of animals, 34 new species of insect, and 2 new species of fungi/lichen
Indicative of the political and environmental climate in Central Florida, Brevard County wants to put a dump on the Osceola County line directly feeding into the headwaters of the St. John's River. The public notice states that water flows directly into the St. Johns River and Lake Washington from the site. Lake Washington is where the City of Melbourne gets its drinking water.
Please email your objections to Jeffrey.S.Collins@usace.army.mil.
You may model your comments on The Central Florida Sierra Club Group's comments here.
While the entirety of Split Oak Forest in the Kissimmee River Basin it is adjacent to lands that feed into the St. Johns River and the quality of the St. Johns River is within the purview of Friend's of Split Oak Forest's mission.
Today the entire board and many members of Friends of Split Oak Forest as well as members of Speak Up Wekiva and concerned local residents attended and spoke at the Central Florida Expressway governing board meeting.
On the agenda were the three projects taken over from the Osceola County Expressway Authority. The chairman of that board, Atlee Mercer, made some amusing comments to the CFX board toward the end of the public comment period:
"These roads haves been talked about for almost 30 years. We had a plan. We vetted it entirely. We passed it at our board. We passed it on to you. You chose to revisit it. That’s OK. I get it. But don’t lose sight of that plan. I’m here to say that this road, this connection, is critical to the long-term health of Central Florida and the East Coast. And it needs to be constructed because it is an integral part of that southern beltway."
Yes, roads are really, really healthy, Mr. Mercer. This is part of his 'this is a road that's got to be built' mantra that he leans on in times like these.
It's unfortunate because the Osceola Parkway Extension is not a critical part of the beltway. It's a spur of the beltway that leads into the airport. The completion of the beltway would be an extension of the Northeast Connector to the that has not yet been planned.
Friends of Split Oak Forest, along with most of the commentators, were concerned with the Osceola Parkway Extension, of which six out of the seven routes go through Split Oak Forest.1 Despite consistent requests from a variety of groups starting during the CFX Kickoff series of meetings in Fall 2017, CFX leadership refuses to re-examine a route that avoid both Lake Ajay Village and Split Oak: OCX E-1. I wrote an entire post on this issue.
At this meeting, several board members indicated that they would like the alternative that avoids Lake Ajay and Split Oak to be considered. Let's see if these board member comments go the way of Buddy Dyer's comment about investigating lower speed limits so that sharper curves could be considered. That way is nowhere. By interviewing CH2M engineers and CFX engineers long after the board meeting where Buddy said that, I learned that no orders had been given to engineer any route options at a lower speed limit.
Osceola County released this video after the meeting.
Several news articles were written immediately following the meeting:
Florida (or wild or false) Pennyroyal (Piloblephis rigida) is a native plant in the mint family that grows in Split Oak Forest. It grows into pretty obvious mounds and usually flowers in the spring. It can be used to make a delicious tea or mixed drink. You'll find it throughout peninsular Florida in the dryer upland plant communities while hiking, as well as in native plant enthusiasts' yards. You can find this plant for sale at native nurseries like Green Isle Gardens in Groveland and The Natives in Davenport1
Florida Pennyroyal used to be a reliable nectar plant for honeybees, but is no longer. Central Florida beekeepers that I've spoken to aren't aware of it as a nectar plant2. As a member of the mint family, its flowers are easily accessible to honeybees.
I have personally observed Florida Pennyroyal twice in Split Oak Forest, once this past Saturday near Lake Two and last November I saw it without flowers in the Osceola part. iNaturalist has two other observations in Split Oak Forest. The USF Herbarium has four vouchered specimens in Orange and Osceola counties, the earliest from 1952, pictured below.
This post kicks off National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2018! Split Oak Forest has been incredibly well-managed by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for over 20 years. They've kept a tight burn rotation as well as aggressively controlled the few invasive species that were onsite when Split Oak Forest was acquired by the two counties.
Wild hogs (Sus scrofa) are the most destructive invasive animal species in Split Oak. They are difficult to control even when trapped and hunted extensively. They dig on the sides of paths and firebreaks and anywhere they can find grubs, fungi, and easily-accessible roots.
Natal grass (Melinis repens) is scattered throughout Split Oak Forest, but appears to be restricted near the main entrance, disturbed areas (like our spoil sandhills by Lake 1 and Lake 2), and along firebreaks.
Caesar weed (Urena lobata) is restricted to the oak hammock called Eagles Nest Hammock. There is little groundcover there to compete with it, save a few saw palmettos (Sabal palmetto) and beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).
Split Oak is lucky to be not afflicted with cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica), which ifs very expensive and difficult to control.
Similarly, no old world climbing fern (Lygodium microphyllum) is found in Split Oak, but I have found it along the Swamp Trail in Moss Park just 100' from Split Oak's boundary. We (and Orange EPD and FWC) should keep an eye on it and preferably treat it soon.
In light of an incorrect statement by an elected official about Split Oak Forest's burn history, I have decided to describe Split Oak's fire management and why it's critical to the integrity of the park.
I requested Split Oak Forest's burn history from the managers of the site, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and was given this Burn History Map 2017 -2018. I created a heat map of the whole site using this data.
To summarize, every burn unit in Split Oak Forest has been burned with a prescribed fire in the last thirteen years. FWC has conducted 125 separate controlled burns on Split Oak since they've been managing it.
216 acres (+/-12%) of Split Oak was burned in the past year. Four burns were conducted last fall.
There are two places within Split Oak Forest that have never burned under FWC's management. The first is Lake Hart, which is a body of water, so would only burn if it's water levels dropped several feet for an extended period of time so that the bottom could dry out and be flammable. This would not occur because SFWMD controls Lake Hart's level via S62. You can view S62's real-time status here.
The second is the Lake Mary Jane Marsh. 'Slough marshes' such as this one used to burn more frequently in the past but are rarely burned by public agencies on purpose these days because the muck will smoulder for weeks and sometimes months. A good example of this were the muck fires last spring that caused road closures in Lake County, covered by WFTV.
Newly emerging saw palmetto fronds indicate a less-than-week-old fire in Unit 13. Photo taken August 2017.
Burned sticks of oak sprouts and gallberry bushes as well as the fire-scarred longleaf pine in the foreground and a completely torched longleaf in the background are evidence of the July burn in Unit 7.
A burn-scarred slash pine tree from the April 2016 burn in Unit 16A as of January 2018, looking over Lake Two.
Split Oak Forest must be managed according to a management plan that honors the original intent of establishing Split Oak Forest (page 15):
"The principle management emphasis at Split Oak Forest will be the protection and enhancement of habitat that is important to state and federally listed wildlife populations."
Based on the condition of Split Oak prior to acquisition by the two counties, only improved fire management were anticipated as necessary to meet that goal (page 4):
"Only fire management is needed in most of the upland portion of the site."