O2O Newsletter, Fall 2021


Photo by Renee Bodine

Volume 3, Issue 2 Ocala to Osceola (O2O) Wildlife Corridor Partnership Newsletter

Upcoming Deadlines and Dates

September 25, 2021 National Public Lands Day

Ocala National Forest is hosting a Public Lands Day – Clean up and Restoration Project with the support and help from the UCF Knights.

O2O Partnership Meeting Updates

Our next O2O Partnership meeting

Location:  Zoom Meeting

Link and details were emailed on September 8th, 2021. For information please email me ktillman@nflt.org

Date: November 3th , 2021

Time: 9:30am-1:30pm

Join at 9:00 on zoom to mingle with other O2O partners before the meeting!

In This Issue

  • Letter from Jim McCarthy President of North Florida Land Trust.
  • Hiking the Florida Trail from O2O By Barney Barnes and Tom Ankersen. A Story of two friends who hiked our O2O Wildlife Corridor along the Florida Trail.
  • O2O Land Protection A first for NFLT in Land Protection
  • O2O Program Development  Northeast Sentinel Landscape Proposal
  • O2O Partnership Highlights O2O Highlights from 5 O2O partners

A letter to the O2O Partnership from the President of NFLT

Hiking the Florida Trail from O2O

by Grenville “Barney” Barnes and Tom Ankersen

The authors on the O2O part of the Florida Trail (FT)
Map of the O2O showing the Florida Trail in red
Hidden Pond near Juniper Springs

The trail during a rainy summer
Forest roads can be challenging to bike
A bridge too far?

“Hiking, on-road and off-road biking, weekend warrior style, down (and up) the Florida National Scenic Trail through, in and around swamps, sandhills, springs, scrub, sinkholes, seeps, ravines, rivers, creeks, lakes, flatwoods, hammocks, prairie and pasture.”

In early March of 2018, we joined a small group of enthusiasts on a Florida Trail Association led hike of Bradwell Bay in Apalachicola National Forest to the west of Tallahassee. The hike (or swamp slog) was billed as “Florida’s roughest, wildest day hike.” While living up to its name, this 8.7-mile hike was so enjoyable that we decided to hike the entire 1300-mile Florida Trail.   We knew we could not manage a through hike, so we set out to achieve this in our lifetimes. Since we are both in our mid-sixties, we decided it would be advisable to start on this as soon as possible.

Our strategy was to first complete the famed “O2O” route which runs through the Ocala and Osceola Forests and the area between them. We concentrated initially on the sections closest to Gainesville, where we both live. So, in August 2018 we set off to conquer our first section, the popular 10-mile stretch that runs from Pat’s Island trailhead through the Juniper Wilderness Area south to Juniper Springs. We stopped off for lunch and a swim at Hidden Pond, a welcome relief from the 98-degree heat. We also began another tradition, bringing along hammocks or pack chairs and a beverage to better enjoy our lunch and the solitude of the wilderness.  After completing this first section of the O2O, we spent the rest of that wet winter and the following summer shuttling with two vehicles and methodically working our way north and south.

 While most of the Florida Trail runs through protected swaths of Florida, there are times when these swaths must be stitched together by private lands and public (and private) roads. We agreed early on that we would bike these road walks which, we reasoned, would help to speed things up. The heavy rains in the summer of 2019 did not make biking easier, as we were forced to wade through wide pools of water on forest roads, carry our bikes through overgrown paths that sometimes connected the road walks, and hoist them over pesky fences. On some occasions it was so wet that we carried our hiking boots and sloshed barefoot along the riverlike trail, listening to the water filter through the flooded flatwoods.

We never encountered a bear, that iconic symbol of the O2O protection effort, but there was plenty of evidence of them, and they certainly saw us.  We did, however, have the odd encounter with arguably the most dangerous species on the trail – humans. One hunter we came across had obviously spent more time taking shots from a bottle than with his rifle. On another occasion we found ourselves in the firing line of a hunter and downwind of the deer, which came running in our direction right after shots were fired. While we didn’t spot the hunter, perhaps because of the burst of speed we put on in the other direction, it made us even more wary of hunters further down the trail. On one of our last hikes through the southern part of the Ocala Forest, we came across a hunter pointing his rifle straight down the FT ready to shoot a deer that had been flushed in that direction by a pack of howling dogs. Fortunately, we weren’t hiking that section on that particular day. Later that month we made sure to hike it on a weekday wearing a full ensemble of orange clothing. This is not to cast aspersions on all hunters, the vast majority of those we encountered were both friendly, woods-wise, and helpful, but those encounters were less memorable.

By the start of the 2019 winter, we had made good progress, exiting the Osceola National Forest, and reaching the Suwannee River in the north and well into the Southern half of the Ocala Forest. However, suddenly disaster struck and unexpectedly we had to suspend our O2O section hiking for over a year, as the sorts of health issues that can crop up in the over 60 and active crowd conspired to delay our adventure. It was only in December 2020, after nearly a year of rest, recovery, and rehab that we were able to hike the last sections of Ocala Forest near Paisley, and complete the approximately 220 miles of the Florida Trail – from O 2 O.

As we have continued our journey to the north and the south of the O2O, we have noted many more miles of “road walks” where the FT wends its way around the sprawl of urban areas like Orlando or traverses’ private forest and farmlands. The unique connectedness of the O2O can be attributed to the efforts of groups like the North Florida Land Trust who work tirelessly to ensure there is a continuous swath of protection for the wide-ranging and charismatic megafauna – like bears – and the not so charismatic ones – like us.

Written by-Grenville “Barney” Barnes and Tom Ankersen

O2O Land Protection

This map shows the location of the Alexander property, in red, sitting close to the west side of Camp Blanding Joint Training Center shown in blue.
This map shows the location of the conservation easement
Cattle grazing on the Alexander property

North Florida Land Trust (NFLT) has conserved land that protects National Security and the Environment

NFLT has acquired a 119-acre conservation easement near Camp Blanding in the center of the O2O that will ensure the land remains in agriculture production as well as support military readiness forever. This was the first time USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Agricultural Land Easement Program was used in conjunction with the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center ACUB program.

“Selling this conservation easement is a real blessing for our family,” said Justin Alexander. “We were able to pay off the 20-year mortgage 17 years early which saves us $50,000 a year. Now, that money can go back into our cattle operation and help us expand it.  While the process took some time, it was well worth the wait because now we don’t have the stress of keeping up with those mortgage payments, and we can put that money back into our business.”  Read more about this Conservation Easement on NFLT’s press release by clicking here.

To learn more about the National Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Agricultural Land Easement Program click on their picture below

To learn more about the partners involved click on their logos below

Camp Blanding Joint Training Center
USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service

The North Florida Land Trust

O2O Program Development

The red outline is the proposed boundary for the Northeast Sentinel Landscape.  This proposed boundary’s west side lays on top of the west boundary of the O2O wildlife Corridor. The O2O corridor is included in the Sentinel Landscape proposed boundary.

Click on the names to learn more about each partner that assisted with the proposals development

Army National Guard

Defenders of Wildlife

Enterprise Florida

Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Florida Forest Service

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

National Park Service

Natural Resources Conservation Service

North Florida Land Trust

North Florida Regional Planning Council

Putnam Land Conservancy

St. Johns River Water Management District

USDA Forest Service

US Department of Defense Navy

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Northeast Sentinel Landscape Proposal 2021

At our last O2O Partnership meeting, many of you volunteered to participate in the Northeast Florida Sentinel Landscape working group.  As you may recall, the Sentinel Landscape program aligns incredibly well with the O2O initiative in that its main goal is to support military readiness through land conservation and private landowner assistance programs. Over the next few months, NFLT convened the working group and added other partners from the Northeast Florida region to develop the full proposal for the Northeast Florida Sentinel Landscape.  As the proposal developed, it became clear that, to stand apart from the eleven other applicants, the partnership must focus on climate change adaptation and mitigation. In the national security context, climate change is a “threat multiplier,” meaning that climate change amplifies existing issues around the world and at home. The military not only provides protection to US interests from armed conflict, but also delivers humanitarian assistance and responses to natural disasters. As people migrate due to sea level rise or drought, conflicts will likely increase requiring military intervention. As the severity of droughts, wildfires and storms intensifies, the military’s resources are correspondingly burdened. The Sentinel Landscape program offers the opportunity for Northeast Florida and the O2O Partnership to be leaders in developing and implementing practices and protections that mitigate climate change effects. By continuing and accelerating our land protection and land management work, we can have a far-reaching impact on the resiliency of our region and beyond. Through the help of many of you, the Northeast Florida Sentinel Landscape full proposal was submitted in August.  Now we wait for the final determination from the Federal Coordinating Committee.  In December, we expect to hear whether we are chosen for designation.  Regardless of the result, the NEFSL partners believe it’s important to continue to collaborate on resiliency efforts in the region.  As those meetings progress, many of you will be involved, and those of you that aren’t directly involved will receive reports through the O2O Partnership.  A huge thank you to everyone that participated in the development of the proposal!  We look forward to continuing this working group on military readiness and resiliency in NE Florida and updating you along the way!  -Written by Rebecca Perry

O2O Partnership Highlights

Our O2O Partners are amazing! Here are a few exciting things happening with them in our O2O Wildlife Corridor.

  • Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT) was awarded a RCPP that will focus on watersheds in north Florida.
  • Camp Blanding Joint Training Center is doing great things for wildlife.
  • USDA Forest Service Ocala National Forest claims a new resident and it is blue!
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) leads local working groups of landowners and managers to help solve natural resource problems together.
  • North Florida Land Trust (NFLT) has met the EJK match!  Also the proposed Big Pine Preserve was approved as a Florida Forever project area.

If you would like to add an update from your organization, please reach out to me anytime and I will include it within the next O2O Newsletter or O2O Exciting Tidbit!  ktillman@nflt.org

Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT) was awarded a Reginal Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

This RCPP is called Surface to Springs.  It is a working area that will focus on the Suwannee and Santa Fe watersheds.  This area sits right next to the west side of our O2O Wildlife Corridor boundary, see map below.

Here is a quote from Erica Hernandez, Conservation Director at ACT:

“Alachua Conservation Trust’s (ACT) Surface to Springs RCPP Project focuses on the Suwannee and Santa Fe watersheds and will bring federal resources to a region that has five state designated Springs Priority Focus Areas. ACT and its partners will work with private property owners to protect working farms, timberlands, and natural areas through private land protection; increasing technical assistance to landowners while focusing on protecting the region’s springs and aquifer; and connect landowners with the tools and resources to move forward with best management, enhancement, and restoration strategies to benefit the region. Since 1988, The mission of Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT) is to protect the natural, historic, scenic, and recreational resources in and around North Central Florida. ACT protects land through purchase, donation, and conservation easements in 16 counties.”

Spring photo by Alison Blakeslee
Pine habitat photo by Erica Hernandez
Spring photo by Alison Blakeslee

This map shows the Surface to Springs RCPP work area
This map shows the O2O wildlife Corridor in green on the right and ACT”s Surface to Springs RCPP working area in orange to the left.

Camp Blanding Joint Training Center (CBJTC) is doing great things for wildlife on their installation!

Camp Blanding has been doing great things for wildlife on their installation over the years. One recently is working on ephemeral wetland restoration for striped newts. This effort is led by Jessica Baker CCAA Biologist for Camp Blanding.  “Striped newts can be found in a few upland ponds on the installation.  They are being considered for state listing because of their low population numbers in the state.  On the installation 15 ponds are being targeted for removal of excess vegetation where fire has been excluded.  Once the vegetation is removed it allows fire to be reintroduced while lowering potential smoke impacts to nearby roadways. This project is in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC).  During recent surveys FWC identified four new ponds that now have striped newts!” said Cynthia Balboni.  Camp Blanding’s Red Cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) population has grown again this year as well.  They discovered three additional RCW clusters on site. Do you remember the story of the female RCW that dispersed from Osceola National Forest and made her way down to Camp Blanding in 2019?  She was a successful breeder again this year and raised two healthy chicks to the age of fledging.  Read more about the original discovery story here of this female that was hopefully the first of many as we work to connect this wildlife corridor together! Information above was provided by Cynthia Balboni Camp Blanding Joint Training Center Wildlife Biologist

This photo was taken by FWC during a newt survey on Camp Blanding Joint Training Center CBJTC
This photo of an RCW was taken by Renee Bodine

Ocala National Forest Can Now Say They Provide a Home to a Blue Bee

The Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) and the University of Florida (UF) have recently discovered the rare Blue Calamintha Bee in the Ocala National Forest and our O2O landscape! Nest sites were located as well as individuals observed by FLMNH researchers in the Ocala NF.  These sightings expanded the known range of this bee farther north than it was known to be before 2020. Learn more about this story by clicking here on a recent O2O Exciting Tidbits.

Click on the picture above to read more about this new discovery in the O2O.
Click on the picture above to read more on the Florida Museum’s website.
False Rosemary Conradina brevifolia An endangered plant in FL, as well as in the U.S. Click on the photo to learn more. Photo is from Wikipedia

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) leads local working groups of landowners and managers to help solve natural resource problems together.

The NRCS leads local working groups throughout the state where they encourage participation and input from farmers, forest landowners, conservation partners and the public to help develop solutions to natural resource problems using Farm Bill programs. Find local working groups by clicking here to see the full list of NRCS working groups in the state.

Click on the picture above to read more about this new discovery in the O2O.

North Florida Land Trust (NFLT) has met the EJK match!

North Florida Land Trust has met a challenge grant issued by the EJK Foundation of Houston Texas. The Foundation issued the challenge in July 2020 with their initial award of $450,000, over a two-year period, toward the O2O initiative.  Their donation is going toward the operation of the O2O partnership as well as land acquisition to connect the O2O Wildlife Corridor. NFLT had until August 31 of this year, 2021, to raise $75,000.  If successful, the EJK Foundation would then match it 1 to 1. We did it!! And now we have an additional $150,000 of financial support going toward the O2O initiative. This brings the total support coming from the EJK Foundation to $600,000 for the O2O! THANK YOU EJK!!

 Read more about this match and grant here on the NFLT’s press release.

This map shows land protected within the O2O from 2017-2020
Photo by Doug Eng of flatwoods habitat

A New Florida Forever Project Area!

The photo on the left was taken on the proposed Big Pine Preserve. This Longleaf pine is over 25 inches in diameter. The photo on the right is of a large size Longleaf pine tree with an active Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavity just across the road within the Ocala National Forest. Photos by Kimberly Tillman.
If conserved this property would be called Big Pine Preserve. The map shows the location of the property in red within the Ocala National Forest.
This picture shows a historic carriage road that runs through the north side of the property. Photo by Kimberly Tillman

Cover page for the O2O Newsletters
Cover page for the O2O Exciting Tidbits

Proposed Big Pine Preserve:  NFLT successfully gained approval for a brand-new Florida Forever “project area”. The proposed 541 acre “Big Pine Preserve” was approved! Significantly, Big Pine Preserve contains the largest unprotected old-growth longleaf pine forest in Florida, as well as notable lands on the shores of Lake Kerr in the middle of the Ocala National Forest.  This approval may facilitate State funding for conservation of this important and unique property. Read more about this very cool property by clicking here or on the picture below. 

If someone would like to support the protection of this property, please link them to the O2O donation website found here.

New Partnership Communications

The O2O Partnership Newsletter has a new look as of 2021.  The O2O Newsletters will be hosted on the O2OWildlifeCorridor website and emailed out to partners in two forms, an online webpage post and a PDF version. The online newsletter post will hold more information on each story within the newsletter as well as quick access buttons or links for additional information.   The PDF version will have active links as well but sometimes shorter content. All communications will be emailed to you. If you would like to search for past O2O Newsletters, O2O Exciting Tidbits, or general O2O information everything is stored and organized on the O2O Wildlife Corridor website.  www.o2owildlifecorridor.org Please email me as well if you would like to receive emails with this information. ktillman@nflt.org

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