CFEOR researchers conduct numerous projects each year funded by internal University of Florida and IFAS programs as well as by external partners. The research cuts across biological, social, economic and management disciplines that often involves interdisciplinary teams of investigators to ensure that all aspects of a project are addressed by subject matter experts.
Florida State Forest Visitor Study
Investigator: Tony Fedler and Taylor Stein
This project assessed the quality of recreational experiences provided in Picayune Strand, Withlacoochee and Blackwater River State Forests. Although the forests are diverse in terms of geography, recreational facilities, environment, and demographics, there were many commonalities shared by recreational visitors to each forest. Visitors rated the quality of their recreational experiences highly. Slightly more than 60% of Blackwater River visitors rated the quality of their experience a perfect 10 out of 10 on the rating scale, while 52% of Picayune Strand and 48% of Withlacoochee visitors giving their experience a top rating of 10. Overall, 90% of the visitors rated the quality of their forest recreation experience an eight or higher. Few factors detracted from having an optimal experience. Those that did generally focused on the maintenance of bathroom facilities and trail conditions at all three forests. The primary recommendations for improving the recreational experience centered on better maintenance and improvement of restroom facilities, and improving or adding more camping facilities in all forests. In general, signage in the forests was adequate, but visitors to Picayune Strand were more likely to believe the signage was worse than at other areas in the region. Visitors provided many recommendations that ranged from campground and bathroom improvements to providing Wi-Fi in the campgrounds, allowing drones to be flown, and putting more fish in the lakes. 70% of Florida State Forest visitors rated the quality of their forest recreation experiences a 9 or 10. Overall, the Florida Forest Service appears to be providing a high quality recreational experiences for both Floridians and non-residents.
Investigator: Holly Ober
Magnolia ashei Weatherby (Magnolia macrophylla Michx. var. ashei, or Ashe’s magnolia) is a state endangered plant found only in the Panhandle of Florida. Little effort has been made to determine the precise geographic distribution of this unusual endemic species. Magnolia ashei is currently known to exist in only a few clusters scattered throughout the central Florida Panhandle, stretching from Santa Rosa in the west to Leon County in the east. We plan to develop a species distribution model for Magnolia ashei to accomplish 2 objectives that will enhance conservation efforts for this rare plant. We will (1) evaluate factors affecting the distribution of the species, and (2) locate new, unreported populations. We will employ a machine learning technique called Maximum Entropy Modeling that uses an iterative approach to approximate species distributions using principles of maximum entropy. Basically, the model predicts the suitability of each grid cell within an area of interest as a function of the environmental variables of each grid cell. We will identify grid cells predicted to have suitable conditions for Magnolia ashei and will then ground-truth results by visiting a subset of areas predicted to have a high probability of occurrence to determine true presence/absence.
Funding: University of Florida, IFAS, McIntire-Stennis Program
State governments are exploring ways to protect imperiled wildlife species and their habitats on private forest lands, with a goal of preventing federal listing under the Endangered Species Act, which can significantly limit productive use of these lands. Florida has developed wildlife Best Management Practices (BMPs) to guide landowners willing to cooperate and delay or prevent federal species listings. In a forestry context, we know considerably little about what drives BMP adoption rates; and in a wildlife context this issue remains unstudied. To determine drivers of wildlife BMP adoption in Florida, we will work with our CFEOR partner agencies to design and implement landowner surveys that examine the relationships among BMP attributes, perceived barriers to adoption, land management costs, and incentive payments. We will apply a stated preference valuation method (attribute-based choice experiment) to analyze forest landowners’ decisions to participate in a proposed wildlife BMP program. Survey results will be analyzed econometrically and integrated into a concise stand-level simulation model (modified Faustmann model) to predict changes in the present economic value and annual volume of wood produced under different policy alternatives for different types of forest landowners. This study will provide a preliminary assessment of the impact of wildlife BMP adoption on the Florida timber economy and forest outputs, and to develop outreach materials for educating forest landowners about the benefits and costs of BMP adoption.
Investigators: Damian Adams, Tony Fedler and Melissa Kreye
Funding: University of Florida IFAS, McIntire-Stennis Program
The number of users is a basic piece of in-formation needed by managers for managing out-door recreation resources. For most linear re-sources, like hiking trails and river corridors, time and logistical constraints make acquiring user data problematic. The University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation (SFRC) began a collaborative visitor assessment project for the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST) with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Florida Trail Association (FTA) in June of 2003. The purpose of the study was to deter-mine reliable use estimates of annual trail visits to 29 segments of the FNST in order to evaluate trends in visitation numbers. Use counts will continue in the future in order to identify how trail segments are utilized and will be combined with market segmentation data to design educational information that can be used by trail users to enhance their experiences.
Investigator: Taylor Stein
Funding: USDA Forest Service and Florida Trails Association
Restoration of wet, mesic to hydric flatwoods to meet ecological and human needs is of critical importance throughout the southeastern U.S., but has received less attention than restoration of upland longleaf pine ecosystems. In wet flatwoods, both longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and slash pine (Pinus elliottii) naturally co-occur, though early performance of each species would depend on a number of factors related to microsite variables (e.g. topography and hydrology) and fire. Slash pine is tolerant of saturated to inundated soil conditions but not tolerant of fire as a small seedling, while the reverse is true for longleaf pine. While there is growing interest to restore both longleaf pine and slash pine ecosystems to meet multiple objectives, there is still much concern regarding the feasibility of using prescribed fire regimes in conjunction with slash pine management. As part of a long-term project evaluating conversion of slash pine plantations to more natural uneven-aged forests on hydric flatwoods, we have begun conversion harvest treatments resulting in natural slash pine regeneration. Preliminary measurements following harvesting indicate that some slash pine regeneration may be of significant height to withstand low intensity fire, and observations of our treatment areas suggest microsite heterogeneity which may create variable fire conditions across the stand. For this proposed project, we will evaluate slash pine seedling survival in relation to microsite characteristics, fire intensity, and initial seedling height. These results will help guide land managers regarding the appropriate conditions conducive for restoration and management of wet flatwood ecosystems.
Investigator: Kimberley Bohn
Funding: University of Florida IFAS, McIntire-Stennis Program
The Florida Forest Service wishes to conduct visitor surveys at Picayune Strand, Withlacoochee and Blackwater River state forests during 2015. The purpose of the project is to develop information on state forest recreational visitors to gain an understanding of their experience expectations, needs and desires, image of state forest recreational opportunities, security issues, and recommendations for improving visitor experiences. Each of the three state forests included in this study provide a diversity of recreational opportunities that may include: hiking; horseback riding; camping; canoe, kayak and power boating; bird and wildlife watching, picnicking, swimming; fishing; and limited hunting in some forest areas. In some forests, such as Picayune Strand State Forest, recreational activity is concentrated at one or two primary locations. At Withlacoochee and Blackwater River State Forests, recreation use is more widely distributed with numerous access points to trails, creeks and rivers, and camping opportunities. Assessing the quality of recreational experiences on Florida State Forest lands will focus on three objectives: 1) To determine state forest user perceptions of the quality of recreational experiences being provided; 2) To identify the drivers of recreational experience quality perceptions; and 3) To develop basic online survey questions the FFS can use to monitor recreational user quality on state forest lands in the future.
Investigators: Taylor Stein and Tony Fedler
Funding: Florida Forest Service