North Georgia Fishing Report: Aug. 28, 2014

Info Provided by: Jeff Durniak, GA DNR North Georgia Region Fisheries Supervisor and North Georgia Region Fisheries staff

Jeff Durniak recently returned from Montana, where he caught this brown trout.

Jeff Durniak recently returned from Montana, where he caught this brown trout.

Enjoy the Labor Day weekend on a north Georgia lake or stream of your  choice.  Although the weather will be warm, there are still some great fishing opportunities available, especially if you avoid the midday heat.  Here are some best bets for your consideration.

River bass and bream – The rivers are low and clear and the fish are looking up, so don’t miss these great chances! We had a good two-hour wade trip on the Hooch above Lanier  after work on Monday.  Small shoal bass and redbreast sunfish were very cooperative on surface poppers and dredged soft plastics as dusk approached.  It looks like some big fish are also hungry, based on these pics and video.

Try the Chestatee, Hooch, Etowah, or the Chattooga before the next big rain. Hints: 1) Duncan to Mossy, 2) Mossy to Belton.

Trout tailwaters (Hooch and Blue Ridge) should fish well.  Blue Ridge Dam repairs have been completed.  Check reservoir release schedules before getting into the rivers. GON Forum Report 1, North Georgia Trout Online Forum Report

Lake Burton brown trout should be packed into the lower thermocline. Try the area from Billy Goat Island down to the dam.

These stocked trout streams should fish well, especially before the sun gets high and water temperatures soar.  Camo, light lines, and small hooks are in order.  This is the last week of catchable trout stocking for north Geogia “put-and-take” trout waters, as our hatcheries  now need the raceway space to grow their supplies of four-inch fingerlings to catchable size for next year’s trout season.  Stocker best bets are: Hooch (tailwater and WMA), Johns, Holly, Little Cedar, Soapstone, Holcomb, Dicks, Rock, Cooper, Wildcat, and Tallulah.

Lanier topwater spots have heated up recently.  You may have to go early to dodge some holiday boat traffic.

The deepwater reservoir bite continues on our reservoirs like Lanier, Hartwell, and Carters. Pot luck includes stripers, hybrids, spots, and even some walleye.

For the adventurous, a longer trip can really pay off.  Enjoy the pics of a recent trek to somewhere far “west of Summerville,” where the sights were grand and the hopper/dropper bite was decent.  Don’t forget your three bucks – – – and a fishing buddy who runs slower than you when casting to cutts in the home of the griz.

Good luck.  Enjoy  the three-day weekend “laboring” with a rod in your hand and sunscreen on your cheeks.

Southeast Georgia Fishing Report: Aug. 28, 2014

By: Bert Deener, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist

(Deener’s reports can also be found in the Waycross Journal Herald on Thursdays)

This angler was fishing with Cricket Mobley of Altamaha Trading Company on Saturday and caught this 19-pound tripletail. (Photo courtesy of Cricket Mobley)

This angler was fishing with Cricket Mobley of Altamaha Trading Company on Saturday and caught this 19-pound tripletail. (Photo courtesy of Cricket Mobley)

Saltwater fishing produced the best reports this week. In freshwater, the Altamaha River was tops. The Outdoor Adventure/J.A.K.E.S. Day will be held at Paradise Public Fishing Area near Tifton on Sept. 27. I will be conducting free bass fishing trips to teach teens how to target bass. Each person will fish for an hour from a boat and will learn how to cast artificial lures for largemouth bass. Pre-registration is required. To sign up a teen (ages 12-16), or for more information about the event, call the Waycross Fisheries Office at (912) 285-6094.  First quarter moon is Sept. 2. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.

Altamaha River – Connie at Jaycee Landing Bait and Tackle reported that some big flatheads were caught this week. From late evening through dark was the best period to catch them. On Saturday night, a couple was fishing with goldfish on the back side of a sandbar and caught a 45-pounder. Redbreasts were biting crickets fished in the mouths of sloughs. Warmouth were caught in good numbers on worms fished on the bottom. Dannett from Altamaha Park said that limb line anglers caught a bunch of flatheads by baiting their hooks with goldfish. The crappie bite was still strong for those fishing minnows in the deeper oxbow lakes. Bream and redbreasts were caught in good numbers on crickets. The river level was 2.0 feet and falling (85 degrees) at the Baxley gage, and 3.3 feet and falling (85 degrees) at the Doctortown gage on Aug. 26.

Satilla River – I crossed the river on Highway 158 on Tuesday, and it is low. The best approach is to float or wade the river during the holiday weekend. Expect to drag if you float it. Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross said that crickets and worms were catching redbreasts and bream for those wading the upper river. Bubblegum ZOOM Trick Worms fooled some bass this week. Fish the worm unweighted, and throw it right into a blowdown tree and work it back out slowly. I imagine that you could get a reflex strike from a big bass by throwing a buzzbait early or late. The river level at the Waycross gage was 4.2 feet and falling (82 degrees) and at the Atkinson gage was 3.1 feet and falling (84 degrees) on Aug. 26.

St. Marys River –  Bream, redbreasts, and lots of catfish were caught this week. The panfish were caught with crickets, while shrimp, worms, and rooster livers duped the catfish. The river level at the MacClenny gage was 2.6 feet and rising on Aug. 26.

Local Ponds – Warren Budd fished a blackwater pond this past weekend and whacked almost 40 bluegills on crawfish Satilla Spins. He managed two over a pound, and one of them weighed 1-pound, 12-ounces (his second of the year that was that weight). Michael Winge said bream have been bedding around the new moon, and the bite has been steady. Crickets and worms fooled them around beds. Memphis George went to a Waycross area pond on Sunday and caught a bucket full of “grown” bream on crickets. Channel catfish have been biting worms, shrimp, and rooster livers fished on the bottom. Fire tiger-colored Rapala minnows fished around shoreline cover produced some nice bass.

Okefenokee Swamp – The torrid warmouth bite on the west side slowed a little this week, but some nice ones were still caught. The bowfin (mudfish) bite was good on both sides of the swamp. While most would argue that they are not very good eating, they are a blast to catch. If you want to learn some tricks for catching bowfin, check out my article in the August issue of Georgia Outdoor News. I would imagine that the flier bite is excellent, but I did not receive any specific reports this week. As the water drops and concentrates the fliers in the canals, the catch rates can approach the silly range! Pitch yellow, pink, or orange sallies on a bream buster and hold on.

Saltwater (Georgia Coast) – Capt. TJ Cheek reported that the tarpon bite was still going strong, but the hurricane currently spinning offshore (and the winds and waves associated with it) will probably put the bite off a couple of days. Finding them once the blow is over is going to be the key. Inshore fishing has been strong for trout, but most fish are small. Right now, his charters are catching about four throwbacks for every keeper. Cricket Mobley of Altamaha Trading Company out of Two-Way Fish Camp got on a bunch of tripletail this weekend. On Saturday, two anglers caught 15 tripletail. They kept three and threw back a dozen (five of those were keeper-sized!). Two of the fish they kept were 19 and 14 pounds. Ed Zmarzly and Scott Hamlin fished the St. Marys Jetties and Cumberland Island Beach on Saturday and Sunday and whacked the sharks and jumped a tarpon. They were using pogies free-lined around pogy pods and Sea Shads fished on Jetty Jigs. Flounder were caught at Gould’s Inlet by those fishing mudminnows and finger mullet. Trout were caught in good numbers from Village Creek. Sheepshead were caught under the bridges around the Brunswick area. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said that from the pier, flounder and trout were the best bites. On Saturday, an angler caught a limit of flatties over 18” on mudminnows. Some Spanish mackerel were still around, along with whiting and croakers. Shrimping from the pier has started picking up. Most “mudbugs” were medium-sized. A few blue crabs and stone crabs were caught from the pier.

Best Bet - For the holiday weekend, there are several good options. In saltwater it will be hard to make a bad choice, as Hurricane Cristobal should be out of the picture. Whether fishing for flounder from the St. Simons Pier, sheepshead under a bridge, trout at Crooked River, or tarpon at the St. Marys Jetties, you should have success. The marine forecast for the weekend is good at this time, but check it closer to the weekend in case it changes. The Altamaha River and ponds are your best bets in freshwater. Bluegill and catfishing should be great options on the big river. In ponds, fish early and late for bluegills, catfish or bass.

Botanists Find ‘Holy Grail’ of Georgia Grass

By Rick Lavender

Biologist Tom Patrick searching for Dichanthelium hirstii - the Holy Grail of Georgia plants.

DNR botanist Tom Patrick at the Dichanthelium hirstii site in Sumter County.

When it comes to Hirst Brothers’ panic grass, Georgia went from zero to 500 – and from potential player to world leader – in one hot August afternoon.

A search led by Delaware Department of Natural Resources botanist Bill McAvoy and coordinated with Georgia DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section found an estimated 500 Dichanthelium hirstii plants at a limesink pond in Sumter County on Aug. 7. That marks the first time the candidate species for federal listing as endangered had been seen in Georgia since 1947, and only the third time ever.

“I was very excited,” said McAvoy, of Delaware DNR’s Species Conservation and Research Program.

McAvoy is conducting a range-wide survey of Hirst Brothers’ panic grass for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Previously, there were five known populations of the grass. That includes one plant McAvoy found in North Carolina this year, a population in Delaware and three in the New Jersey pine barrens. Of the sites in Delaware and New Jersey, only one has visible plants this year – fewer than 20 individuals.

Named for two brothers credited with discovering it in New Jersey in the 1950s, Hirst Brothers’ panic grass grows in limesink ponds, or depressional wetlands, that fill with rain in winter and go dry in summer. Thousands of these pools dot the landscape in south Georgia. But many have been altered by land uses such as farming. Others, explained DNR botanist Lisa Kruse, have been overtaken by trees and woody shrubs as the fires that kept the grasslands open have been suppressed. The habitat is also under-surveyed, particularly during the autumnal bloom phase, when the tall grass is more conspicuous.

Delaware DNR botanist Bill McAvoy with a pressed specimen of Dichanthelium hirstii.

Delaware DNR botanist Bill McAvoy with a pressed specimen of Dichanthelium hirstii.

So, while some botanists searched for the plant in Georgia, and many kept watch for it, none saw it.

McAvoy returned to Georgia this summer because the state has two historical records of Dichanthelium hirstii – from 1900 and 1947 – and the habitat considered key to the plant still seemed in place. (Both collections in Georgia were initially classified as other species, since Hirst Brothers’ panic grass wasn’t described as distinct until 1961.)

Prepping for his second trip to the state in two summers, the Delaware botanist scoured aerial photographs and maps for the signature limesink habitat. He crosschecked for sites with Boykin’s lobelia, a rare plant found alongside Hirst Brothers’ panic grass. With Kruse’s help, he focused on where the panic grass had been collected decades ago in Georgia.

And on the last day of his search in the field, and at almost the last pond, he and DNR botanist Tom Patrick found it. “It was everywhere, a clump here, a clump there,” Patrick said.

McAvoy said the population at the privately owned 10-acre pond was very healthy.

Next steps include discussions with the landowner about possible conservation options, and using habitat details from the site – the plants were found in the draw-down zone of the wet savanna habitat – to fine-tune searches on other property.

The effort is worth it, Kruse suggests.

“To the best of our knowledge, Dichanthelium hirstii  is an indicator of an extremely diverse and healthy ecosystem. Often this species is also with other rare plants … So when you find it, you know that plant community is unique and intact – it’s a special place.”

Hirst Brothers’ panic grass has long been a mystery in Georgia, she said.

“It’s sort of the grass Holy Grail.”

A Grail that has been found.

(Editor’s note: Tom Patrick said there’s nothing startling in the name panic grass. Panic is based on Panus, a Latin word that can denote millet. “So it has nothing to do with what it does to taxonomists,” he said. The panic grasses are now split into two genera – Panicum and Dichanthelium – and include a few hundred species. Some are rare, while others such as switchgrass or Panicum virgatum are common.)

Categories: Conservation

Southeast Georgia Fishing Report: Aug. 21, 2014

By: Bert Deener, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist

(Deener’s reports can also be found in the Waycross Journal Herald on Thursdays)

Justin Armour caught this giant tripletail while fishing with Capt. TJ Cheek last month. The monster inhaled a big white shrimp. (Photo courtesy of Capt. TJ Cheek)

Justin Armour caught this giant tripletail while fishing with Capt. TJ Cheek last month. The monster inhaled a big white shrimp. (Photo courtesy of Capt. TJ Cheek)

The Altamaha River and saltwater produced the best reports this week. New Moon is Aug. 25. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.

Altamaha River – Connie at Jaycee Landing Bait and Tackle reported that a 60-pound flathead catfish was caught on goldfish this week. The redbreasts were hitting crickets. One angler reported catching a cooler full of hand-sized bream on crickets. The bass bite was also solid this weekend in the Jesup area. Dannett from Altamaha Park said that the flathead bite is still on fire. Goldfish have been the most consistent baits, and the fish this week mostly ranged from 15 to 25 pounds. A group of Waycross anglers fishing over the weekend caught a mixed bag of 150 fish, including bream, redbreasts, and warmouth. Crickets fooled most of their bream and redbreasts, while worms produced the warmouth. Some anglers reported catching crappie from the deep holes using minnows. The river level was 3.7 feet and falling (84 degrees) at the Baxley gage, and 5.0 feet and rising (85 degrees) at the Doctortown gage on Aug. 19.

Satilla River – Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross said that bass were caught on black ZOOM Trick Worms and black/fire tail Culprit worms. Redbreasts are still being caught on crawfish colored Satilla Spins. The river level at the Waycross gage was 4.5 feet and falling (83 degrees) and at the Atkinson gage was 4.3 feet and falling (87 degrees) on Aug. 19.

St. Marys River –  Redbreasts were eating crickets, and catfish were caught by anglers fishing worms on the bottom. The river level at the MacClenny gage was 3.1 feet and falling on Aug. 19.

Local Ponds – Michael Winge said that bream bit crickets in the late afternoons in the shade. Bass ate black buzzbaits right after dark.

Okefenokee Swamp – Anglers fishing right below the Sill on the west side said that the warmouth and catfish bite was on fire. The Suwannee River rose this week, and the fishing was great.

Saltwater (Georgia Coast) – Capt. TJ Cheek reported that the tarpon bite is on fire in the Brunswick and St. Marys areas. Fish are busting pogy schools in the sounds and up in the rivers. His charters also caught trout and redfish in decent numbers this week. Waycross anglers fishing the Brunswick area said that lots of tarpon and sharks were around. Flounder were chowing mudminnows and finger mullet in the saltwater rivers around Brunswick. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said that from the pier, trout, flounder, and Spanish mackerel were caught this week. A few limits of flounder were caught, with fish mostly between 15 and 18 inches. Some croakers and sharks were also occasionally caught. Blue crab catches have started improving.

Best Bet – Tarpon are usually tough to pinpoint their location and even more difficult to get to eat your offering, but they are all over the place right now. The most effective presentation is to cast-net some pogies and put out a spread on top, mid-water and bottom in an area where fish are moving through. You will typically catch lots of sharks and other fish even when tarpon don’t bite, so it is usually a string-stretching trip.

Quick Report: North Georgia Fishing Aug. 14, 2014

Here’s a quick report for North Georgia waters…

Feeding at the Burton Fish Hatchery.

Feeding at the Burton Fish Hatchery.

For those planning to river float fish this weekend, refer back to our Upper Chattahoochee access points. Also check out our tips for catching summer river stripers.

Lanier on top, early.

Downlining on Lanier,  Allatoona, or Carters.

Try these stocked mountain trout waters: Johns, Holly, Cooper, Wildcat, Tallulah, and Hooch on the WMA.

The Hooch Tailwater is fishing very well.

Toccoa Tailwater may also provide success (floating only). Watch the TVA water releases carefully, given ongoing dam repairs.

Also try small lakes at dawn or dusk.

Go Fish Georgia this weekend, and good luck!

Categories: Fishing

Southeast Georgia Fishing Report: Aug. 13, 2014

By: Bert Deener, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist

(Deener’s reports can also be found in the Waycross Journal Herald on Thursdays)

Kason Buie of Brunswick caught this giant pickerel (jackfish) from an oxbow lake off the lower Altamaha River last weekend.

Kason Buie of Brunswick caught this giant pickerel (jackfish) from an oxbow lake off the lower Altamaha River last weekend.

The Altamaha River is the river to fish. Check out the Wayne County Grand Slam Tournament this weekend if you like fishing tournaments (more information below under Altamaha River section). Saltwater has been hit-and-miss, and ponds have been steady. Last quarter moon is August 17th. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.

Altamaha River – The water level should be perfect for the Wayne County Grand Slam Tournament held this weekend, Aug. 16-17. They will be paying out $3,000 for the biggest aggregate weight of three species and thousands more for various categories. For more information, visit http://www.waynetourism.com. My prediction is that it will take 62 pounds to win the aggregate prize. I’m guessing that will be comprised of a flathead catfish, a bowfin, and a bass. Connie at Jaycee Landing Bait and Tackle reported that quite a few flathead catfish were caught by those using goldfish over the weekend. Some bream and redbreasts were caught by those pitching crickets. Several folks have been catching gar on rope lures. The odd thing about fishing for gar with rope lures is that the lure does not have a hook on it. When a gar bites, you let slack in your line so that the fish shakes its head and gets its teeth all tangled in the rope. After a few seconds, you just tighten up and reel the fish in. Gar are hard fighters, and they often jump. Connie has the lures in stock at the tackle store at Jaycees Landing in case you want some for the tournament this weekend. Dannett from Altamaha Park said that the flathead bite has been on fire. Goldfish have fooled most of the big catfish, and most of the whiskerfish have been between 15 and 40 pounds. Lots of bream and warmouth were caught this week, as well. The river level was 2.5 feet and falling (87 degrees) at the Baxley gage, and 4.2 feet and rising (85 degrees) at the Doctortown gage on Aug. 10

Satilla River – With the low water, wading was a great way to approach the river this week. Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross said that redbreasts were caught in good numbers on crickets by bank anglers and those wading the river. Anglers reported catching some big “roosters” out of the deeper holes. Topwater plugs and buzzbaits caught quality bass. The river level at the Waycross gage was 5.5 feet and rising (83 degrees) and at the Atkinson gage was 3.4 feet and falling (86 degrees) on Aug. 10.

St. Marys River –  Redbreasts continued eating crickets well this week, and some were caught by those pitching topwater flies to shady areas. Catfishing was good for those fishing pink worms and shrimp on the bottom. The river level at the MacClenny gage was 2.8 feet and falling on Aug. 10.

Local Ponds – Michael Winge said that bream continued hammering crickets late in the evenings. The bite was great after pop-up thunderstorms this week. The crappie bite continued for those dragging minnows over the deepest water in the pond. Bass were caught with shiners and ZOOM Trick Worms.

Okefenokee Swamp – The warmouth bite was excellent for those fishing (primarily from the bank) below the Sill on the west side. Bullhead catfish and warmouth were caught in the swamp. On the east side, anglers reported catching fliers in huge numbers. Pitching pink or yellow Okefenokee Swamp Sallies was the best approach for fliers.

Saltwater (Georgia Coast) – Scout Carter and Josh Alvarez fished with a friend at the St. Marys Jetties over the weekend, and the bite was slow. They pitched Assassin Sea Shads rigged on Jetty Jigheads toward the rocks and bounced them back to the boat. They caught two keeper trout and a giant whiting, along with several big black sea bass, and several other random species. They saw some tarpon (their target) at high tide, but were unable to get them to eat their artificial offerings. Gynni Hunter of Waycross caught a couple of nice flounder while fishing on St. Simons Island on Sunday evening. Her flatfish ate finger mullet. Flounder fishing in the Hampton River and around the St. Marys Jetties has also been very good this week. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said that from the pier the flounder bite was tops again this weekend. Both jigs and mudminnows fooled them. The whiting bite was fair this week for those fishing shrimp on bottom. Spanish mackerel were still prowling around the pier, and they ate Gotcha plugs cast near them. Spadefish and sharks were caught in big numbers. Some trout hit curly-tailed grubs and live shrimp – one of the trout caught Friday weighed 6 pounds!

Best Bet – The Okefenokee is my top pick this week. The flier bite is the deal on the east side (Folkston entrance), while warmouth and catfishing should be tops at the Sill and in Billy’s Lake on the west side. Don’t hesitate to pitch a sally around the expansive lily pads in Billy’s Lake for fliers, as there are lots of them at all the entrances. If you want to fish for tarpon, they are thick in the Altamaha Sound and St. Andrews Sound right now. They are also starting to move into their more inshore haunts in the saltwater rivers.

New Nongame Conservation Chief: ‘We’re In It for the Long Haul’

Nongame Conservation Section Chief Dr. Jon Ambrose

Nongame Conservation Section Chief Dr. Jon Ambrose

Q&A with Jon Ambrose

Dr. Jon Ambrose is an old hand at wildlife conservation in Georgia.

The new chief of the Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section started with the agency as an ecologist in 1986, with later promotions to assistant program manager, program manager and, most recently, Nongame Conservation’s first assistant chief.

Ambrose is a 2011 National Conservation Leadership Institute graduate and chair of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Wildlife Action Plans Committee.  He co-authored with Drs. Leslie Edwards and L. Katherine Kirkman the new benchmark guide The Natural Communities of Georgia. In another benchmark, he led creation of Georgia’s first State Wildlife Action Plan, an effort he is leading again as the original 2005 plan is being revised.

From this perspective of experience, here’s what Ambrose see in store for the agency.

What are some of the things Nongame will focus on?

We’ll continue working on at-risk species, ones that have the potential for federal listing or may be considered for listing, as well as others that are imperiled or declining in Georgia.

That’s a big part of implementing the State Wildlife Action Plan. A lot of what we do is basic research and surveys. As a result of these efforts, we often find that populations are better off than we thought previously. And sometimes we find that populations are not doing well and additional protection may be needed. Our work helps fine-tune management of these species.

Another focus is on natural communities in the state – conducting field surveys to identify the best examples and working with conservation organizations to determine ways to protect that habitat. Over the years we’ve worked with many organizations, whether it’s on the coast with the Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative or in northwest Georgia with the Open Space Institute and land trusts. Going forward, we will continue our statewide conservation focus as well as contribute to regional conservation initiatives.

It’s important to work at a variety of different geographic scales, centered on the most critical areas to conserve and using a variety of tools, from management agreements with private landowners to conservation easements and acquisitions. A lot of the conservation that needs to be done needs to happen on private lands, and that’s where the education and outreach part of our section comes into play.

What challenges does the agency face?

One is dealing with the impacts of invasive species on native species and their habitats. There are very few easy fixes. Fortunately, we have a lot of partners in this effort. The Georgia Invasive Species Strategy developed in 2009 set the stage for future cooperative efforts. In many cases the hardest thing is setting priorities and determining where control actions are going to have the most positive impact.

Georgia’s patterns of growth also create some challenges – such as limited opportunities for prescribed fire in the Piedmont, where a lot of infrastructure is centered. With seasonal burn bans and air quality issues, if you’re trying to maintain a fire-adapted natural community near a metropolitan area, it’s a challenge.

Another challenge is a lack of understanding of wildlife behavior and habitat needs among some members of the public. As we expand our areas of development, we take more habitat away from wildlife, and some species suffer population declines as a result. At the same time, some wildlife species are very adaptable and able to live in close proximity to humans, and these can be viewed as nuisances. We should not be too surprised or alarmed when, in a suburban setting, we have a fox crossing our backyard.

Related to that issue is how we can help Georgians who invest time and other resources watching wildlife – 2.4-million-plus people and more than $1.8 billion in expenditures statewide – make the connection between the wildlife they see in their backyard and the agency focused on conserving that wildlife.

Last, the challenge of maintaining habitat for native species provides a great opportunity to work with local governments and other groups at the local level to support conservation planning efforts. I think that has been one of the successes of the Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative, not just the mapping of habitats but also meeting with local planners, developers and others about what habitats are there and the value for communities.

What role does the State Wildlife Action Plan play in all of this?

The development of the Wildlife Action Plan provided a great opportunity for organizations to come together, discuss statewide priorities, and identify individual projects the organizations will work on.

We are revising the plan now, updating it to reflect the current state of knowledge of species and habitats and their conservation needs. The revised plan will outline priorities for the next five to 10 years, but will be flexible enough to allow us to take advantage of new opportunities as they become available.

What changes have you seen within the Nongame Conservation Section?

We’re working more with private landowners. Part of that is due to the development within the Wildlife Resources Division of a Private Lands Program. Nongame’s work with the Game Management Section, particularly on private lands issues, has been an area of growth.

Originally, our ability as a section to do a lot of hands-on management was very limited. While we have added staff, we have also helped train others and collaborated in efforts such as the Interagency Burn Team. It takes a lot of time, equipment and training to do prescribed fire right. Through the burn team, and the training conducted, we’re increasing efficiency and effectiveness.

Another example is the development of partnerships for rare plant conservation, partnerships such as the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance. The alliance includes everything from volunteers who keep an eye on rare plant populations to those who help control invasive species or do other habitat restoration work.

What conservation successes would you point to?

Over the years DNR has been able to protect some key habitats through acquisitions at sites such as Paulding Forest Wildlife Management Area, Sheffield WMA, Crockford-Pigeon Mountain WMA, Silver Lake WMA and several tracts along the lower Altamaha River. Other examples include conservation projects we’ve worked on with the Department of Defense, such as acquisitions or easements near Fort Stewart and Fort Benning.

Another example of work that has paid off involves the Georgia aster and the whorled sunflower. For the Georgia aster, partners’ teamwork in developing a conservation plan has kept it off the Federal Endangered Species list. And while the whorled sunflower is will soon be federally listed, because of the discovery and follow-up work done by botanists, the Coosa Valley prairie habitat where the plant is found in Georgia is already protected through a conservation easement held by The Nature Conservancy.

Also, right now we are working with partners in Georgia and neighboring states to implement a regional conservation strategy for the gopher tortoise. The hope is that we can document and protect enough viable populations of this species over the next several years that there will be no need to add the gopher tortoise to the endangered species list. That will be a huge conservation success.

There are many other signs of success – the delisting of the bald eagle, the downlisting of the wood stork from endangered to threatened. And then you have the loggerhead sea turtle, a species that has seen a statistically significant increase in nesting in Georgia over the years. That recovery has involved many aspects – requiring turtle excluder devices on shrimp nets, monitoring and managing nests, and controlling nest predators such as feral hogs.

These successes came about through decades of work , pointing out the fact that for some of our imperiled species, you’re just not going to see a rapid comeback.

Not everything we do is an instant success. We’re in it for the long haul.

What do you want people to know about the Nongame Conservation Section?

That we’re focused on the 90-plus percent of species that are not game animals or sport fish, as well as their habitats. That we work with a variety of partners to get conservation in place, a big part of which is education and outreach. That we have a funding network of support, one that depends on fundraising and grants. And that we’re part of the Wildlife Resources Division and work with other sections in the division on efforts such as land acquisition, habitat management and public recreation.

Ambrose and his wife, Dana, live in Watkinsville. They have an adult daughter and son.

Categories: Conservation
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