Florida Fish and Wildlife
The restoration of game, such as white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and wood ducks, is one of the most famous achievements of modern wildlife management. The return of these iconic species has been the result of several factors – support from hunters/conservators, dedicated funding, the creation of wildlife agencies, habitat conservation and the introduction of game laws. Wildlife research has also played a central role in these conservation successes. And research continues to be the foundation of scientific wildlife management today. Through research, biologists have improved their understanding of wildlife ecology. However, it is essential that we continue to collect and analyze data due to changing landscapes, hunter preferences and wildlife populations. Another reason to continue to invest in research is the possibility of integrating technological improvements, such as the advent of satellite-based GPS transmitters, which can provide new and important information beyond what was available when technologies older ones were used.
Ensuring we have the best information available – as opposed to sightings not backed by measurable data – is essential for wildlife managers when making decisions about season lengths, bag limits and more. Research results and hunter preferences are key factors that support the goal of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Division of Game and Wildlife Management to provide hunting opportunities while meeting conservation objectives and maintaining populations at acceptable levels.
HGM biologists work with FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, universities and other partners on research projects designed to increase knowledge that addresses specific management issues and improves conservation practices. HGM is currently participating in the cutting-edge research efforts described below.
North Florida Deer Study
The FWC’s North Florida Deer Study, which began in 2020, examines the population dynamics of white-tailed deer in north-central Florida. Now in its second year, biologists are using state-of-the-art strategies and equipment, such as GPS collars and trail cameras, to collect data on deer survival, home range and movements. This five-year study was initiated at the Ordway-Swisher Biological Station, a 9,500-acre area in Putnam County. In cooperation with the University of Florida’s Deer Lab, this study is being expanded in 2022 to include the Osceola Wildlife Management Area, a public recreation area in Columbia and Baker counties. Extending this study to a second site will allow biologists to assess the impact of human activity on deer survival, seasonal and annual movements, and use of various habitat types.
This study will provide biologists with information on how factors such as home range, movements, causes of mortality and recruitment rates vary across habitats, management practices and hunting regulations.
Regional wood duck study
Florida is one of eight states participating in a multi-year study to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of wood duck nest boxes as a tool to increase local wood duck populations. Research teams have fitted hens and ducklings with bands and web tags so they can identify individual hens and their offspring to determine how many are returning to the same breeding population from which they hatched. The project also examines why wood ducks choose the nest boxes they choose and how to improve nest box placement and structure.
HGM is working with FWC’s FWRI to better understand the population characteristics of Wilson’s snipe, a migratory game bird that winters in Florida. This study identifies the breeding regions of harvested snipes in Florida by analyzing the chemical properties of feathers collected from harvested birds. The study will then examine questions to determine whether breeding regions or timing of migration influence where birds overwinter in the state. The answers to these questions will inform future conservation efforts by the FWC and others to further study breeding grounds, ensuring sustainable populations for hunters of Florida’s migratory birds.
Snipe hunters can support this research project by submitting the first right wing primary feather of snipes harvested in Florida with the Snipe Harvest Form. The pen and form can be mailed or dropped off at TM Goodwin, c/o Mark McBride, 3200 TM Goodwin Road, Fellsmere, FL 32948. Sniping season runs through February 15 in lands outside the WMA system. The snipe harvest form and more information is available at MyFWC.com/Duck.
The American woodcock, another migratory game bird that winters in Florida, is the subject of an award-winning research project led by the University of Maine. HGM and FWRI are partnering with the university to document migration patterns and habitat use, and to identify potential candidates for woodcock habitat management. University researchers and their partners have equipped more than 400 woodcocks with satellite transmitters in 14 states and three Canadian provinces, allowing them to receive daily information on their southern migration routes and stopovers, and reverse migration routes to northern breeding grounds. It is important to expand our knowledge of this popular game bird, as the species has experienced population declines over the past five decades and little is known about woodcock migration.
FWC monitoring programs
Hunters have long been important partners in wildlife management, providing the FWC with valuable information about what is happening in the most remote areas of the state. You can continue this tradition of conservation by participating in the following FWC monitoring programs:
From June 1 to August 31 each year, the FWC asks everyone to report wild turkey sightings. This annual summer wild turkey survey is part of a larger regional study designed to better understand wild turkey reproduction, distribution and abundance. Learn more at MyFWC.com/Turkey.
Quails are another species that FWC biologists monitor and you can support this effort by reporting sightings and even birds that call but are not seen. Reporting your quail sightings will help FWC biologists better understand the current distribution and abundance of bobwhite quail populations in Florida. Find the link to report quail sightings at MyFWC.com/Hunting/Quail.
White-tailed deer monitoring/CWD
The chronic wasting disease, which has gone undetected in Florida, damages the brains and central nervous systems of affected members of the deer family and is always fatal. Chronic wasting disease has been detected in 27 states and four Canadian provinces and is one of the most serious diseases facing state wildlife agencies. It is a contagious disease and once it is introduced to an area it can spread and greatly reduce populations of infected deer. There is no vaccine, no cure, and it is virtually impossible to eliminate once it has been established.
The FWC takes a proactive approach to reducing the risk of chronic wasting disease spreading in or throughout Florida. Prevention and early detection through Florida deer monitoring are crucial. The FWC asks anyone who sees a sick, abnormally thin deer or finds a deer dead of unknown causes to call the CWD toll-free hotline, 866-CWD-WATCH (866-293-9282) to report the location. of the animal. Learn more at MyFWC.com/CWD.