Please help Francis M. Weston Audubon Society encourage the Florida State Government to reject the proposal to use Blackwater River State Forest and Tate’s Hell State Forest for military training.

Please send a letter or an email to the following state officials who will make this decision. You may copy and paste our letter or write your own. Just write soon, as this decision is to be made soon.

Peggy Baker

Governor Rick Scott
The Capitol
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0001

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putham
The Capitol
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0810

Mr. James Karels, Director
Director of Florida Forest Service
3125 Conner Blvd
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-1650

Nick Wiley, Executive
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
620 South Meridian St
Tallahassee, Fl 32399-1600

Senator Bill Nelson
111 N. Adams St.
Tallahassee, Florida 32301

Dear Sir
        As a member of Francis M. Weston Audubon Society and as a Florida citizen, I am requesting that you do not support the military plans to use Blackwater State Forest and Tate’s Hell State Forest for training purposes.
       While our chapter does support our military troops, we are also extremely proud and protective  of the efforts and success of the Florida Forest Service and the Florida Wildlife Commission in the restoration of the longleaf/wiregrass ecosystem in the Blackwater River State Forest.  The state of Florida has greatly invested in the replanting  of native species, the removal of non-native and fire management in the restoration of this historic forest. These military activities cannot help but interfere with the management practices of this successful project.
        FMWAS has also invested (over 3000 volunteer hours) in this forest.  We conducted weekly bird surveying trips  in the forest for three and a half years. Analysis of our data revealed trends in avian live that indicate these restoration efforts have begun a successful ecological recovery –one which will require many more years of undisturbed management before the forest reaches its climax condition as a mature longleaf pine forest. For example, bluebirds and purple martins have returned to natural cavities;  southeastern American Kestrels are now nesting there; 181 species use the forest with 110 wintering species finding food and cover there; recovered Red-cockaded Woodpecker clusters; large numbers of other woodpecker species: and abundant numbers of fox squirrels. The submitted EIS only considered the  species found on the threatened/endangered Federal list. What an insult to Florida citizens and FWC that the t/e species on the FloridaThreatened & Endangered list were never considered.  Why put these creatures in jeopardy just as they are starting to recover from the total destruction of the longleaf forest 100 years ago?
        BRSF is a rare green, natural area in N.W. Florida that is accessible to the public.  Many people live in the forest seeking the solitude and quietness of the woods. Other people seek out the streams for tubing and canoeing  and swimming in quiet places.  The many trails are places to escape from crowded cities while hiking, biking, birdwatching, or horseback riding.  The many campgrounds within the forest are there for those people who enjoy a few days away from  civilization.  The  Forestry Service have done an excellent job of making this a recreational forest.  Military activities in the forest would rob the citizens of the opportunity for wilderness experiences as promised in the mission statement and will definitely interfere with the peace and tranquility that many enjoy there.
      The EIS reported that the military plans will work around the hunting seasons of the forest.  It did not consider that there is hunting every night as not all animals in BRSF have designated hunting dates.  Conflicts with hunters will happen and they could be catastrophic.
     We wondered why it was recommended to invite the special forces training into the Eglin acreage when shortly after, it was discovered there was no room for them there.  That EIS failed.  Will the EIS of the Florida State Forests usage for military training also fail?
    The military is not just another forest user.  It will greatly affect the enjoyment of the forest by the many other users. Please save this forest for the use of the citizens of the state.
Please read for back ground of southern forests

Understanding the Issues & Complexity of Restoration

Gulf Regional Air Space Initiative (GRASI) Landscape Initiative (LSI) is an effort for the military to use the Blackwater River State Forest and Tate’s Hell State Forest for military training.  Combined, these two forests equal 400,000 acres. The panhandle of FL is fortunate to still have large parcels of land in natural settings.  Many of these lands are owned and managed by the military including Eglin AFB, Hurlburt, Tyndall, NAS Pensacola, Whiting Field, and a handful of outlying fields (one acre x one acre) for aircraft touch and go training maneuvers.

Pensacola is known as the cradle for aviation, because all pilots in branches of the service go through beginner flight training at Whiting Field.  Student pilots begin their careers learning to fly by sight, and graduate to instruments and eventually nighttime flights.  As a result, our air space in the vicinity of these bases is often loud, noisy, and very active.

Many residents have ties to the military; either having served themselves or having family members who have served.  The military is known as one of the largest economic drivers in the region, other than tourism.  Many military veterans and their families return to this area when they retire since the climate, natural and coastal areas are beautiful, and their fond memories beckon their return.

The military has been a good steward of their lands for the last 15-20 years.  A successful partnership between the military and the US Fish & Wildlife Service, placed biologists and botanists on bases to help manage landscapes for different species, based on terrain and climate.  The results of this partnership have gained awards and attention for its great results.  So, what’s the problem?  It seems like a win-win for all.

The forests in our region are still very young.  In the 1800 and 1900’s, our forests were dominated by the longleaf pine ecosystem.  This keystone species supported hundreds of different species, both flora and fauna; many of which can be found below your knee.  The longleaf pine ecosystem evolved with fire; numerous lightning strikes during summer afternoon thunderstorms would occasionally catch fire, smolder, creep or run – depending on the fuels (grasses, deadfall, etc.) .

By the early 1930’s, our forests had been clear cut without the first thought towards conservation or restoration.  The loss of the forests, coupled with severe periods of drought, and intense summer heat without shade altered the local climate and degraded the land further.  The nutrient poor, highly erodible sandy soils would leave giant gullies after the occasional heavy rain events; today we know it was the roots of the plants which helped to secure and anchor them with the ground.

By the mid-1930s, the nation was experiencing the Great Depression.    Food and jobs were scarce.  Items with worth one day were worthless the next.  People were starving, people were scared, and everything seemed hopeless.  The then president, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a serious challenge to overcome for the county.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families as part of the New Deal. Originally intended for young men ages 18–23, the program was expanded to young men ages 17–28. The New Deal as the program became known, provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments. The CCC was designed to provide jobs for young men, to relieve families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression in the United States while at the same time implementing a general natural resource conservation program in every state and territory. Maximum enrollment at any one time was 300,000; in nine years 3 million young men participated in the CCC, which provided them with shelter, clothing, and food, together with a small wage of $30 a month ($25 of which had to be sent home to their families).  This excellent program ended as WWII began.

All across the US, remnants of the CCC can still be seen and felt. The CCC built roads and bridges, and replanted much of the Conecuh National Forest and the Blackwater River State Forest.  The Apalachicola National Forest was also replanted by hand by the young CCC men.  Unfortunately for everyone, the pine that was being replanted was slash pine, a fast growing pine that the timber industry used, but did not have the rich quality of the wood, nor the strength of the longleaf pine. The longleaf pine lifecycle wasn’t understood until the early 1960s, and early restoration attempts did not include any type of fire management.

Fire, as we know today, is crucial for the landscape.  Species from plants to animals depend on a fire cycle to maintain the open landscape.  As anyone living in the region can attest, the natural landscape can grow up and grow together in a few short years without fire management.

Before the landscape was fragmented by roads, communities, and other aspects of our lifestyles today, the landscape was continuous and was connected to many various ecotones – each harboring special characteristics which allow specialized plants and animals to thrive.  When summer storms popped up, lightning strikes would cause fire, which if conditions were suited would creep and crawl for weeks, recycling the nutrients for all the resident plants and animals.  It wasn’t unusual for large black bear, panther, and other large mammals to migrate hundreds of miles from inland to the coast during different seasons of the year.  Archaeologists have evidence that native Indians followed similar patterns.

It was President Roosevelt who found the little bear cub after a fire at Yellowstone National Park.  His hair singed by the fire, was aptly named Smokey Bear.  So revered was this little guy, and the story that lead to his fame – that in short order, Smokey Bear warned people that “only you can prevent forest fires”.  Roughly three generations of ‘fearing fire’ completely altered our natural fire dependent landscape.

Today, through science and technology, we use prescribed fire to manage invasive species, control under brush, remove and manage fuel, which can create disastrous high-heat fires, open areas to more light, and allow the native groundcover to thrive.

The military has played a key role in developing fire management tools for the large land owners in our fire dependent area.  This fire management and more importantly smoke management models were developed specific to our area’s climatic conditions to allow military training to continue without interruption, while accurately predicting where smoke patterns would go, such that large landowners like the Blackwater River State Forest could burn their forests without endangering young pilots, who are learning to fly.

So what appears to be the issue?  The forest system is in a state of recovery.  Activities overhead, while not pleasant to hear, pass quickly and with the exception of a mishap or accident do not leave an impact on the ground.  On the ground maneuvers, especially those in low lying areas, have the potential to alter hydrology.  The creatures of the forest are slowly making a comeback, every few years there are new plants and animals species discovered – which had been absent in the recent past.   Maybe the plants are returning from a long forgotten seed bank.  Or maybe the seeds are being transported and deposited by of feathered friends who are also forest users.

Much like the patient recovering from a serious health issue needs rest to regain strength and heal; our forests need proper management to achieve equilibrium and develop the resiliency observed in healthy diverse populations.