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Friday, September 21, 2012

Gopher Tortoises+Prescribed Fire=Increased Biodiversity

Gopher tortoises are ancient reptiles that are known to inhabit Florida’s uplands. They can live to be 40 to 60 years old in the wild, and they are very well known for digging deep burrows, which house over 350 other species of animals. Some examples of other species known to inhabit gopher tortoise burrows are burrowing owls, Florida mice, indigo snakes, opossums, rabbits, the gopher frog, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, and gopher crickets. These burrows maintain a fairly constant temperature and humidity throughout the year, and so they are able to provide all of the inhabitants with protection from heat, cold, drought, predators, and forest fires.  These burrows are usually about 15 feet long and about 6.5 feet deep, although the largest known burrow is over 47 feet long! Because they influence such a large amount of other living organisms, they are known as a keystone species. The gopher tortoise is listed as Threatened in Florida and both the tortoise and its burrow are protected under state law.

The gopher tortoise lives in well-drained sandy areas with sparse tree canopy where low-growing vegetation is abundant.  Without natural fires in pine forests, the dense vegetation that grows there can impede on the specific herbs and plants that tortoises like to eat. This limits their food supply, thus fire is critical in maintaining the populations of these keystone species.

Brooker Creek Preserve is home to one of the three largest remaining gopher tortoise populations in Pinellas County.  George L. Heinrich of Heinrich Ecological Services will introduce the important role played by this keystone species during this family-oriented presentation. If you want to learn more about this keystone species and its impacts our environment free registration for the class is available here. The free class will be held Saturday, October 6, 2012 from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM at Brooker Creek Preserve Environmental Education Center.  

Stay up to date on news and information affecting our environment by following your Pinellas County Natural Resource Extension Agent on Twitter.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project at Science Center on September 22

Free energy saving kit
for class attendees
Don’t miss the free 60 minute class in advanced energy saving while attending the sustainability night at the Science Center of Pinellas County. Learn how much energy is wasted in the home every day, around the clock. Participants receive free equipment and materials to help cut energy costs, and save money each month.

Located just west of the Tyrone Square Mall on 22nd Avenue North, the Science Center is now the Science + Technology Education Innovation Center (STEIC). The Saturday sustainability event will culminate at midnight to celebrate the start of National Plug-In Day. Visitors will see the STEIC’s new electric car charging station and a home charging station will be given away at midnight. Visit the STEIC web site for more information, or call 727-384-0027.

Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project is a grant-funded educational program of Pinellas County Extension. Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age, disability, religion, or national origin.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ways to Reduce Food Waste and Save Money

Ramona Madhosingh-Hector,
Urban Sustainability Agent
It’s a fact that Americans enjoy a disposable way of life. From cups to paper towels to cans and bottles, we are a throwaway culture. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there, we also throw away a lot of food. Did you know that reducing food waste saves money and resources?

The “food-print” analysis of the average American reveals that on average, a family of four will spend about $190 a week on food and throw away 40% of it. That’s a loss of $76 a week or $3,952 a year!

Feeding the still growing U.S. population requires an enormous amount of land and resources. If you consider the added costs for water and fuel to produce and transport food, you’ll realize that billions of dollars are lost when we throw away food. Last month, the Natural Resources Defense Council estimated that almost $165B is set aside to produce food that will be thrown out! These staggering statistics should encourage us to be more mindful of what we purchase, how much we actually consume, and how much gets thrown out.

To reduce food waste, try one of the tips below.

Shop wisely (at the grocery store) – Avoid “impulse buys” and definitely don’t buy more than what you need. If you see items on sale, perishable or not, and you “stock up” but don’t use the item and the food is thrown away, then your “potential” dollar savings is also thrown away.

Use Leftovers – If you eat out, be sure to take home your leftovers, they’ll make a good second meal for lunch or dinner the next day. You can also freeze it if you don’t plan to consume immediately. I recommend removing the leftovers from the restaurant packaging and placing in a freeze-proof container. Better yet, take your own container to the restaurant for your leftovers.

If you eat in and made extra portions for dinner, be sure to package for lunch or freeze for consumption later in the week or month.

Appearance Guilt – As consumers, we are often drawn to the perfect tomato, green pepper or apple but did you know that imperfect fruit and vegetables have the same nutritional value as their perfect counterparts? You may even be able to get a reduced price for these items at a farmers’ market because of the shape or size.

Shop your fridge or pantry – If you have items in your refrigerator that may be approaching the “use by” date or multiples of one item in the pantry, be sure to use these to create interesting new dishes. Visit the Solutions for Your Life website for new recipes.

Compost - To use your waste for a good purpose, start a compost heap to manage your food scraps. More information on the benefits of composting is available here.

For more tips on curbing food waste, check out the resources provided below.

Natural Resources Defense Council

United States Department of Agriculture

United States Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Program

No Cook Recipes 

Low Energy Cooking

Monday, September 10, 2012

Earthcache – A Fun and Free Activity

Lara Miller, Natural Resource Agent
Michael Barr, Brooker Creek Preserve Intern  

Looking for a fun new reason to get outside and explore nature? The Brooker Creek Preserve Earthcache is for anyone interested in a fun, family-friendly outdoor scavenger hunt and is a great way to experience some of the natural beauty that Pinellas County has to offer. The Earthcache is part of Geocaching, which is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants use GPS coordinates to navigate to a certain location and attempt to find the Geocache located there. An Earthcache, like the one located at Brooker Creek, is a special type of Geocache that does not have a physical “treasure” at the coordinates. Earthcachers learn about interesting natural features and unique Earth science lessons. Earthcaches are a great way to discover some beautiful and unique places that you wouldn’t normally visit and learn more about our amazing world.

The Brooker Creek Preserve Earthcache takes visitors on a tour of some of the wonderful natural sites found at the preserve. Brooker Creek Preserve is the largest remaining wilderness area in Pinellas County and consists of a wide variety of habitats and landscapes. The Earthcache includes a pleasant, shaded walk through the diverse ecological communities that are found at the Preserve including wetlands, pine flatwoods, and oak hammocks. Along the way, visitors will be able to observe the native plants and animals that take refuge within the preserve. Information on these habitats and wildlife is included on the Brooker Creek Earthcache page. Also included on the Earthcache are a series of scavenger hunt questions meant to teach visitors a little about these environments. The answers to these questions are found at three different GPS coordinates located at three different areas of interest along one of the trails at the preserve.

If you love experiencing and exploring nature, participating in an Earthcache offers an exciting new way to discover fascinating natural places. Brooker Creek Preserve is truly a special place that showcases the natural beauty of Florida. If you are interested in participating, the Brooker Creek Preserve Earthcache page can be found here.

Stay up to date on news and information affecting our environment by following your Pinellas County Natural Resource Extension Agent on Twitter.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ask Extension!

Mary Campbell,
Extension Director
and Urban Sustainability Agent
Do you want answers to your questions from a local source that you can trust? If you are looking for the ease of access that the internet provides, look no further than This online database of frequently asked questions provides answers to many questions that Extension hears all the time. With this tool, you'll get the quick and easy answer that you are looking for from one of our experts. UF Faculty at Extension have expertise in sustainable living, health and wellness, horticulture, energy, environmentally friendly practices, natural resource conservation, youth and much more.

Once you access the webpage at, click on the category drop down list and look for the subject that you are interested in. If you would rather search by key words, type them into the search box and the available questions and answers will pop up. What if you do not see your question? Look at the top navigation and click on Contact. A page will pop up that allows you to put in a name, e-mail address and your specific question. You will get an answer as easy as that! Don’t be shy – try it today.

It has never been easier to get science-based, factual information from a reliable source. Get the facts you need at the click of a mouse!

Please take the NEW SURVEY.