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FWC uses teamwork to manage exotic species, improve habitat

As I See It

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Media contact: Rodney Barreto

Florida is home to many exotic species. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) works with our partners and the public to manage the animals and plants that don't belong here.

Education is one tool. Recently, the FWC participated in Invasive Species Awareness Week. The nationwide event promoted a greater awareness of nonnative animals and plants and their impacts on our environment.      

Making the right decisions is another tool. On Saturday, March 12, the FWC will host the fifth annual Nonnative Pet Amnesty Day at Zoo Miami. Dozens of exotic pet owners will do the responsible, ethical thing at the event by surrendering their animals. I know it will be a difficult decision to give up their beloved pets, but they will have done the right thing. FWC staff makes every effort to place the surrendered animals with qualified adopters. In the past, people have turned in all kinds of nonnative critters - the majority being snakes and other reptiles.

Science plays a big part. Earlier this month, the FWC and its partners surveyed a small area in western Miami-Dade County where Northern African pythons have shown up. Surveyors slogged through marsh and trekked through thick, heavy brush to find these nonnative snakes or any evidence of them. FWC biologists routinely survey these areas to stop the species from spreading. Since 2009, at least 20 Northern African pythons have been removed from the area.

Besides nonnative animals, Florida also needs to manage nonnative plants. FWC staff periodically treats Florida's waterways to manage invasive, exotic, aquatic plants such as hydrilla, water hyacinth and water lettuce. Hydrilla, especially, can spread easily throughout the state's lakes and rivers by hitchhiking rides on boats. It clogs waterways, making recreational activities difficult or impossible, and it chokes out beneficial native plants.

One of the best science-based methods the FWC uses to control the spread of invasive plants is prescribed fire. FWC biologists recently completed a large burn in the Everglades. The fires eliminated undesirable, overgrown vegetation, and created access for future exotic vegetation removal. The result is improved habitat for our fish and wildlife.

The FWC continues to manage Florida's valuable native resources in the face of entrenched nonnative species and the threat of other plants or animals becoming established. We don't do this alone. We have partners.

Anglers help us deal with illegally introduced fish. While our goal is to prevent new exotic fish from entering Florida's waterways, that's not always possible, so FWC biologists develop management practices for these unwanted fish. One management tool for illegally introduced fish is to encourage anglers to fish for exotics. The FWC recently certified a blue tilapia caught in the St. Lucie River as the largest ever caught recreationally in Florida. It weighed nearly 10 pounds and broke the world record!

Hunters in Florida also help the FWC manage natural resources in the presence of exotics. Licensed hunters may harvest wild hogs, a nonnative species, year-round on private property with landowner permission. Hunters may also harvest wild hogs from wildlife management areas during specific seasons.

Additionally, licensed hunters may take nonnative reptiles, such as the Burmese python and Nile monitor lizard, from areas around the Everglades during specific hunting seasons.

You can help protect our natural resources by never releasing an exotic critter into the wild.

Not only is releasing nonnatives into the wild illegal, it can be harmful to our native fish and wildlife. In some cases, exotic critters will actually feed on our native fish and wildlife. Nonnatives can quickly become a nuisance. Some spread disease. Some destroy agriculture.

Each of us can make a difference and help protect natural Florida. Please report fish and wildlife law violators to the FWC's Wildlife Alert hotline, 888-404-FWCC.

FWC Facts:
Scientists can determine the age of a fish by counting growth rings, similar to growth rings of a tree, on otoliths, the “inner ear bones” of fish.

Learn More at AskFWC