Working Together For the Dunes.
Photo submitted by USFWS
April 5, 2013
At Gulf Shores Plantation, a wooden boardwalk has always been the gateway between condominiums and the sandy white beaches of the Fort Morgan peninsula. As vacationers happily cross the boardwalk to reach the Gulf of Mexico, they are able to view sand dunes, which act as valuable beach mouse, sea turtle, and shore bird habitat. For years, residents have been co-existing with wildlife habitat…enjoying nature’s gifts and working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help stop their extinction.
But in 2004, Hurricane Ivan wiped out that boardwalk, along with sand dunes on the beach. When it was rebuilt, it sat too low on the flattened beach. As the dunes began to rebuild, they didn’t have any vegetation, making them unstable. Soon, winds covered the boardwalk with sand. Many vacationers and snow birds had no access to the beach. “We have a lot of elderly and disabled people who rely on that boardwalk. But when the sand overtook it, access to the beach was cut off,” explained Boardwalk Committee Chairman Robert Bush. “Mothers couldn’t even push strollers over the thick sand.”
Bush, a Kentucky native, was tasked with solving the sandy problem facing the boardwalk. He met up with Fish and Wildlife Biologist Bill Lynn to figure out the proper way to fix the problem without disturbing beach mouse habitat. “We quickly realized we both wanted the same thing,” said Lynn. “He wanted to stabilize the dunes to keep the sand from ruining the boardwalk. I wanted to keep them stable for beach mouse habitat.”
So with the help of the Baldwin County Soil and Water Conservation District (BCSWCD), North Baldwin Center for Technology, Locust Grove Baptist Church, and Boy Scout Troop 369, Bush kicked off a project to help keep those dunes intact. Volunteers spent the first week of April getting their hands dirty, digging deeply into the sand, and planting native dune vegetation that will help hold the dunes together. “Dunes provide important habitat for beach mice, sea turtles, and migratory birds,” explained Lynn. “But they also create a natural line of defense against storms and help protect property. Stabilizing these dunes is a win-win situation for both wildlife and people.”
Conservationists with the BCSWCD were able to purchase the dune plants through a grant provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Volunteers arrived with more than 8,000 plants, including Sea Oats, Sea purslane, and panic grass. Joey Koptis is BCSWCD’s District Conservationist: “Our mission is to help people help the land. It’s a good opportunity for folks to see that conservation doesn’t just happen in farms or forests. We can also protect our natural resources on the beach.”
Thirteen year-old Austin Reynolds travelled with his Boy Scout Troop to Alabama all the way from Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Wiping the sweat off his brow, Reynolds said he was proud to make the trip to the Gulf Coast. “I am glad to do my part to help,“ said Reynolds. “Its hard work, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
The Boy Scouts weren’t the only ones getting hands-on experience in conservation. A class of 16 from the North Baldwin Center for Technology also got to work. “It’s good to get the kids out of the classroom and into the field,” said Agri-Science Teacher Allan Williams. “It’s nice for them to do a project where they can come back years from now and show their children.”
Long-term results are exactly what Bush has in mind. Once the vegetation is planted, the committee will monitor the dunes and implement a fertilization program in order to boost growth. He knows the project will require maintenance and commitment for years to come. For now, Bush is beaming with pride as he watches the community come together. “I’m so tickled. It’s a good feeling to know that you have involvement and people want to help.”
Volunteers Needed to Build Living Shoreline in Mobile Bay.
April 6, 2013 · Pelican Point, Baldwin County, Alabama
WHO: 100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama
WHAT: The second major volunteer reef building event for the 100-1000 Restore Coastal Alabama partnership is happening on April 6, 2013. Volunteers are needed to build the next 4 reefs. To date, combined efforts and funding have resulted in 2.07 miles toward the goal of building 100 miles of reefs and protecting and restoring 1000 acres of coastal marsh and seagrass.
This habitat restoration project offers citizens an excellent opportunity to actively engage in Gulf Coast restoration.
WHERE: Pelican Point, Baldwin County, Alabama, southern end of Weeks Bay. 10299 County Road 1, Fairhope, AL36535
WHEN: Saturday, April 6, 2013 - 8:00a.m. - 4:00p.m. CST.
WHY: Volunteers will deploy 20,500 interlocking blocks to create four reefs at Pelican Point, an area that has experienced significant habitat loss and erosion that in turn has negatively impacted the very resources that draw residents to the area and support local economies. Once constructed, the reefs will protect the adjacent shoreline and enhance habitat for fish, shellfish and birds, providing opportunities for fishing, bird watching and sightseeing from land, kayak or boat.
For more information see the attached pdf: Volunteers Needed to Build Living Shoreline in Mobile Bay or fill out our volunteer sing-up form electronically and return it to email@example.com.
If you have any questions about the Pelican Point event, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AFO Biologists Evaluate Hundreds of Stream Crossings, Study Effects of Sediment.
Photo submitted by USFWS
February 14, 2013
By Jeff Powell
Did you know that one of the biggest impacts to our imperiled freshwater animals is sediment (aka “dirt”)? Sediment clogs the gills of fish and mussels, covers-up their sensitive spawning habitat, and restricts their ability to feed. Sediment enters our rivers from a variety of sources, but generally, its sources include runoff from construction sites, agricultural fields, logging operations, and roads. Yes, roads. Roads, particularly unpaved roads, are a big source of sediment in Alabama. Also, the areas where roads cross streams (for example, bridges and fords) could be a big impact. If stream crossings are not designed and maintained correctly, they can be barrier to fishes moving upstream.
The week of February 4th, staff from the Service’s Alabama and Georgia Field Offices, and the Geological Survey of Alabama spent time evaluating the condition of over 250 stream crossings in Big Canoe Creek (a tributary to the Coosa River in St. Clair and Etowah counties, in Alabama). Although the results have not been finalized, please visit the AFO website to learn more about the Service’s Strategic Habitat Unit (SHU) project and imperiled critters of Alabama.
Homework Assignment: Next time you cross a stream on the road or your property, take the time to get out of your vehicle and take a look upstream and downstream of the crossing. Ask yourself a few questions: is sediment pilled-up around the opening, is it clogged-up with logs and trash, and is the downstream opening “perched”, meaning, is there a drop or waterfall that would restrict fishes from moving upstream? Understanding and addressing these simple questions will greatly help preserve Alabama’s rich aquatic fauna.
Alabama Field Office Employee's Retirement Will Leave Void.
Photo submitted by USFWS
December 6, 2012
In March, the Alabama Field Office (AFO) will say goodbye to a very important member of our family. Administrative Officer Jill Carlton will retire after 29 years of federal service; twenty as a civilian employee for the Coast Guard and nine years with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Jill has the difficult job of balancing our office budget, and her success in this task has allowed the office's biologists to do their conservation work. Bill Pearson, Field Supervisor for the AFO says that an effective Administrative Officer will make or break a field office. "After I was selected as the supervisor, my first phone call was to the Acting Field Supervisor who was also the AFO Deputy Field Supervisor, my second call was to Jill", says Pearson. "I told her that she had the most important job in the office....and after more than six years as the AFO supervisor, I still believe that." The implementation of FBMS, the new budget system, has made it tough on all of the administrative officers, but "Jill has hung in there and figured that system out and made our life better here in the field office", says Pearson. In addition to the nearly full time job keeping up with FBMS, Jill also serves as our office timekeeper, and is responsible for verifying the timesheets of all twenty-one employees. Other responsibilities include travel authorizations, grant agreements, accounts payable, personnel actions, purchasing, payroll, and the office uniform coordinator. Jill looks forward to spending more time with her family and dedicated time on the farm, tending her garden, chickens, and sheep.
We will miss you, Jill, job well done!!!!
IT Makes it Happen
Credit: USFWS December 3, 2012
Alabama Field Office employees are often called to duty for incidents across the country. From oil spills to hurricanes, you can often find Service employees getting their hands dirty. But our office biologists aren’t the only ones in high demand. This year, our Information Technology Specialist Tracy Bush participated in an on-the-job detail in Portland, Oregon. A series of summer fires were sweeping the area. So Tracy joined the Northwest Coordination Center in an effort to get the fires under control. The Center included a team of several agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, Department of Interior, Forest Service, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Each team member needed technical assistance to function…including computer set-up, blackberry activation, printers, and networking.
Tracy became the primary IT Specialist during her two week detail. Her skills allowed folks on the ground to upload reports, get email, attend webinars, view Geographic Information Systems layers, and track fires and planes, as well as resources. Her skills were so impressive, she was recently selected to an elite disaster response team. In other words, she is now qualified to be a first responder during an incident. Congratulations on all of your achievements, Tracy!
Jeff Gleason Joins the Alabama Field Office to Coordinate Activities with Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.
Photo submitted by Jeff Gleason
November 20, 2012
Jeff Gleason is the Alabama Field Office’s (AFO) newest Endangered Species Biologist. Jeff is filling a newly-created position that will link him with other science networks to help strategically conserve our natural resources. Those networks are called Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs). LCCs are applied conservation science partnerships with two main functions. The first is to provide the science and technical expertise needed to support conservation planning at landscape scales – beyond the reach or resources of any one organization. Through the efforts of in-house staff and science-oriented partners, LCCs are generating the tools, methods, and data managers need to design and deliver conservation using the Strategic Habitat Conservation (SHC) approach. The second function of LCCs is to promote collaboration among their members in defining shared conservation goals. LCCs provide a forum for States, Tribes, Federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, universities and other groups to work together in a new way.
Jeff’s background will help the AFO achieve its goals in the LCC setting. A native of west-central Iowa, Jeff grew-up in an agricultural setting where he developed a strong interest in the outdoors through time spent hunting and fishing with his father. During his undergraduate degree, Jeff worked for several graduate students, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (MT, SD), and U.S. Forest Service (AZ). He received his Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. After a summer with the USGS-Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in Jamestown, ND, Jeff completed a Master’s at South Dakota State University in Wildlife Management where he studied survival of resident giant Canada geese. After working a summer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (SD) he obtained a PhD in Zoology from the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada, where he studied reproductive performance and behavior of breeding Canada geese in the presence and absence of lesser snow geese in Southern James Bay (Akimiski Islnad, Nunavut).
His first permanent position was with the Minerals Management Service, Environmental Studies Section in the Alaska Regional Office, Anchorage, AK. He has since worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Migratory Bird Management in Portland, OR, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Refuges in Kulm, ND, and most recently with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Gulf of Mexico Regional Office in New Orleans, LA. Though most of his formal education is related to waterfowl ecology and management, he has published on a diversity of mammalian (e.g., white-tailed deer, beaver, bowhead whales, and polar bears) and avian species. He remains actively involved in avian ecology and research, including 2 recently completed research projects on potential effects of wind-development on prairie-nesting dabbling ducks in southern ND/northern SD.
Alabama Divers Play Critical Role in Service Mission.
Alabama divers participate in an illegal lobster
Photo By: USFWS
October 24, 2012
Though not widely known, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has a small group of individuals that actually get to dive as part of their jobs. In the Southeast Region, there is a team of 14 authorized divers, including federal law enforcement agents, pilots, and biologists. This team uses SCUBA and HOOKA diving as a means of conducting search and rescue missions, aquatic surveys, and other scientific research.
The Alabama Field Office has three biologists on that team: Jennifer Pritchett, Patric Harper, and Jeff Powell. The dive team is a critical part of many missions in the Service. In 2010, Powell participated in a law enforcement investigation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Service, and the Miami-Dade County Dive Team. The group teamed up in the Florida Keys where lobsters were being illegally harvested in the Gulf of Mexico. This year, Harper joined other Service divers in Louisiana to investigate a fish kill at Pearl River.
Our divers also use their skills to conduct surveys for imperiled mussels and snails in the rivers across Alabama and more recently, conducting surveys for invasive species in the Gulf of Mexico. One of those species, the Lionfish (Pterois miles), is an exotic species that has been documented sporadically along the East Coast for the last ten years, but over the last couple of years the population has exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Although a relatively small species (maximum sizes up to 19 inches), the Lionfish is a ferocious predator that can live up to 20-30 years. This species has the potential to seriously impact our native marine fauna including game/sport fishes and crustaceans (shrimp).
In October, the Alabama Field Office Divers joined the rest of the SE Region Dive Team and other Lionfish experts to begin develop procedures and methods for monitoring, tracking, and managing the species. Stay tuned for updates on this potentially nasty species.
For more lionfish information please visit Reef.org's Lionfish Research Program.
Sand Dunes Help Protect Beach Homes
September 28, 2012
When you drive along the beach in Fort Morgan, you can’t help but notice the mounds of white sand, covered in sea oats, morning glory, and beach elder. These are sand dunes, and they add more than just beauty to the beach. They also act as habitat for wildlife, and protection for coastal homes.
Sand dunes can form naturally through wind-blown sand and vegetation. They can also be built by humans through beach renourishment. In Alabama, sand dunes are habitat for species, like the migratory birds and the Alabama beach mouse. In addition, they also add a strong line of protection for property on the beach.
“As hurricane frequency and intensity continue to grow, there is increasing evidence that natural beach dunes protect manmade structures such as homes, condominiums, and boardwalks,” explains U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Bill Lynn. “Large sand dunes provide protection for homeowners because it takes more time for them to be eroded by storms.”
But even large sand dunes can wear down after awhile. That’s why it’s important for landowners to take steps to protect their property and assist in the dune recovery process. Lynn says a great way to stabilize dunes is by planting vegetation.
“Dune vegetation traps the windblown sand, causing formation of sand dunes and stabilizing soils,” says Lynn. “The stems of dune plants slow wind velocity and sand movement. Dune plants also give an aesthetic benefit for the homeowner.”
Establishing your sand dunes is only the first step. The next step is maintaining them. In addition to native dune plants, Lynn suggests homeowners install sand fence or rope fence as well. Fertilization has also proven very affective in dune enhancement. However you decide to protect your dunes, make sure your neighbors know not to trample on them. “Dunes are usually not significantly affected by a few people walking through them. However, dunes are easily damaged by repeated trampling,” explains Lynn. “A dune walkover gives folks access to the beach while allowing for dune growth and protection.
If you have any questions about sand dune maintenance, you can contact our public affairs officer Denise Rowell at email@example.com.
For a complete list of dune plants, click here.
For a list of dune suppliers, click here.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Announces Plan a revised Permitting Process for Folks Planning to Build in Alabama Beach Mouse Habitat
Alabama Beach Mouse
(Peromyscus polionotus ammobates)
Photo By: USFWS
July 20, 2012
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) wants to make the permitting process more efficient for folks planning to build homes in Alabama beach mouse habitat.
The Alabama Beach Mouse General Conservation Plan was just signed into law, and is now being implemented in parts of Fort Morgan and Gulf Shores. The plan will streamline the permitting process for those who want to build single-family or duplex homes in Alabama beach mouse (ABM) habitat.
The ABM is federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. In the past, folks who wanted to build homes in ABM habitat underwent a permitting process that would often take years. Under the new plan, the process would only take about three months.
“We realized the permitting process was taking too long,” explained Alabama Field Supervisor Bill Pearson. “We are pleased to come up with a plan that would streamline the process. We feel the General Conservation Plan will protect this unique mouse with little interruption to the taxpayers’ lives.”
Under the General Conservation Plan, the applicant must meet certain requirements, such as reducing their total impacts to just 0.10 of an acre or 4,350 sq.ft. If an applicant doesn’t meet those requirements, he/she can still apply for an incidental take permit.
An integral part of the plan is an in-lieu-fee of $2.30 per square foot. The funds collected from the in-lieu-fee will be used to further ABM conservation across its range through monitoring, habitat restoration, land purchase, and research. The Alabama Coastal Heritage Trust will administer those funds.
Click to access Alabama Beach Mouse General Conservation Plan Frequently Asked Questions
Candidate Conservation Agreements (CCAs), and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs)
Spring Pygmy Sunfish
When a critter is close to extinction, conservationists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service take protective measures to restore the species. Adding imperiled wildlife to the Endangered Species List is the last line of defense for the animal. But the list of troubled plants, fish and animals is growing. Currently, the Service is working on a backlog of 435 species in the Southeast Region that may need protection under the Endangered Species Act. In other words, they are “candidates” for listing. While biologists collect data on these species, the Service is taking proactive measures to help boost other populations…and help keep them off the list.
In order to stop these candidates species from federal listing, more field offices are taking advantage of Candidate Conservation Agreements (CCAs), and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs). These are formal conservation agreements between the Service, Federal agencies, States, Tribes and non-governmental organizations who voluntarily commit to implement specific actions designed to remove or reduce threats to species. These agreements would cover Federal and non-Federal land, as well as private land.
The Endangered Species Act is designed to help those species desperate to survive. With the help of CCAs and CCAA’s, hopefully candidate species won’t have to reach the brink of extinction. Together, the partners can take proactive steps to enhance fish, wildlife and their habitats. If you have any questions about these agreements, email Alabama@fws.gov.