Dr. Paul Gray wants more wildlife habitat

OKEECHOBEE — Dr. Paul Gray of Florida Audubon has been asked to be part of the new Aquatic Plant Management Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

When it comes to aquatic plant management, Dr. Gray said his focus will be on wildlife habitat.

Rather than trying to eradicate non-native plants from Florida waters, Dr. Gray promotes controlling the exotics while still maintaining marsh areas that provide critical habitat for birds and wildlife.

Aquatic plants provide spawning areas for fish, and habitat for wading birds and other wildlife, he explained.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Cynthia Barnett
Dr. Paul Gray is pictured out on his beloved Lake Okeechobee.

A fish needs somewhere to spawn, a frog needs a plant to sit on, he explained. Sometimes non-native aquatic plants are better than no aquatic plants at all.

Aquatic plants also serve in a critical role of cleaning nutrients from the water. Dr. Gray points out that the phosphorus and nitrogen levels in the marshes, where plants are performing their natural function as the lake’s filter, the nutrient levels are much lower than in the center of the lake.

The TAG was established by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at the FWC February meeting, in response to the widespread criticism of the use of chemical herbicides to control invasive aquatic plants.

In late January, FWC temporarily paused the aquatic spraying program and then conducted a series of public forums about aquatic plant management. Hundreds of anglers and boaters turned out for the meetings around the state with the overwhelming majority asking for more limits on herbicide spraying and more oversight of the spray operators. At the hearings, FWC officials appeared to be responsive to the public outcry against the use of chemical herbicides in state waters. But later in the year, FWC resumed the spraying program.

At the February FWC meeting, commissioners directed staff to establish the Aquatic Plant Management TAG. The TAG will be a forum for discussion on all aspects of the aquatic plant management program. Those interested in participating in the TAG were invited to submit applications to be part of the group.

The TAG members include:
• James Cooper of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services;
• Mark Detwieler, owner of Big Toho Marina;
• Mark Edwards of Citrus County Aquatics Services;
• Dr. Jason Ferrell, director, Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants;
• Jeff Fitts, former member of the Florida Aquatic Plant Management Society;
• Amy Giannotti, Florida Aquatic Plant Management Society;
• Gene Gilliland, National Conservation Director, B.A.S.S.;
• Dr. Kendra Goff, Department of Health;
• Dr. Paul Gray, Florida Audubon Society;
• Cheryl Grieb, Osceola County Board of Commissioners;
• Shaw Grigsby, tournament fisherman;
• Porter Hall, bass fisherman;
• Ramon Iglesias, manager of Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort;
• Gary Jennings, American Sportfishing Association;
• Todd Kersey, Bass Online;
• Danielle Kirkland, FWC;
• Mike Krause, owner of Okeechobee Fishing Headquarters;
• Jon Lane, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers;
• Fracois Laroche, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD);
• Jill Lingard, Florida Paddling Trails Association;
• Brian Nelson, SFWMD;
• Jeremy Olson, St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD);
• James Reed, Riparian owner, LIMC, Friends of Istokpoga;
• Joseph Richter, United Waterfowlers;
• Clay Shipes, Ducks Unlimited;
• Randal Snyder, SJRWMD:
• Peter Thliveros, Bass Online and I-Outdoors;
• Travis Thompson, owner, Cast and Blast Florida;
• David Whiting, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration; and,
• Chris Wittman, Captains for Clean Water.

The TAG’s first meeting is planned for Sept. 20, at the Orange County Agricultural Extension Service in Orlando.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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