CREW Work Never Ceases

By Allison Vincent – CREW Trust – 5/20/2022

Partners, SFWMD and FWC clear fallen trees off the designated hunting trails

SFWMD – Shredding at CREW Flint Pen Strand Trails

At first glance, shredding – or mechanically grinding a wider path – may seem like a drastic step in the wrong direction. Walking the uneven ground the land management machines leave in their wake, it’s easy to focus on the current destruction instead of the intended long-term benefits. So, give it some time, and much like the rest of the changes we’ve observed at CREW Flint Pen Strand Trails (FPS), this too will lead to a more environmentally resilient ecosystem. 

Since its opening in 2018, we’ve seen remarkable changes at CREW Flint Pen Strand Trails as this newest network of trails has grown and evolved. We know that connecting four (including the CREW Bird Rookery Swamp) parking lots may seem like a bit much, and maybe it is, but what those connections create in terms of accessibility is truly great. A substantial part of land management is to ensure accessibility. This involves widening the trails to allow others to wage the never ending battle of keeping them trimmed and mowed. This in turn helps create firebreaks to contain inevitable outbreaks of fire and ensures that first responders can reach those in need.  

One of the coolest things about the FPS trail system is the constant change that can be observed when we slow down long enough to pay attention to how the trails are always evolving. Return in ten years and you will likely find this trail system to have undergone the most changes of any within CREW. From the changes that wildfire brings, to the hydrologic restoration project, and the connection of the Purple Trail to CREW Bird Rookery Swamp, nothing ever stays the same at FPS!

FWC – Designated Trail maintenance at FPS

There are trails here for all levels of hikers and for every conceivable user group. Not unlike the waves of wading birds and alligators that populate FPS in all their wild ways; bikers, equestrians, long-distance hikers, wildflower seekers, photographers, birders, geo-cachers and hunters all flock to FPS. 

We’ve intentionally kept the hunting area separate from the trails for all user groups to enjoy their chosen pursuit of nature to its fullest. Far ahead of the hunt season, CREW FWC biologists hang “Designated Hiking” signs with a different color/shape to designate the hunting trails from the CREW hiking trails; they update hunt brochure policy and survey the huntable area by swamp buggy to ready the lands for this active user group. That includes a whole lot of trail trimming work as these areas of CREW rarely see a vehicle. 

CREW Trust volunteers aid in trail maintenance

SFWMD – Culvert installation at BRS

Future endeavors are on the horizon at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail, which has experienced natural degradation over the course of its public access history. The trail itself is historically significant, as a former logging road used to haul out old-growth cypress. The second-growth trees we now enjoy surround the old logging tram, with some of its original construction. 

It’s no wonder that some of the infrastructure has begun to crumble under the weight of bikers, hikers, bears, panthers and most significantly, land management trucks and heavy equipment. If you’ve hiked far enough, you’ve likely noticed the lack of trail upkeep on the far western banks of the trail. That’s simply because mowing contractors have not been able to traverse the broken down culverts desperately in need of replacement. That will all change in the coming months! 

The diligent South Florida Water Management District personnel assigned to look after CREW, have purchased several huge new culverts to install before the rainy season kicks into high gear. You can expect to see a temporary closure of the tram section of the trail in the next few weeks so that SFWMD personnel and contractors can complete the project as quickly as possible. The portion of the trail to remain open will include the parking area and boardwalk. 

In Sum

Keep an eye out for all these improvements by visiting CREW trail systems regularly. The CREW Land & Water Trust works to keep you informed about water and wildlife through guided walks, strolling science seminars, information kiosks and this series of blog posts. The hard work is handled by our partners, SFWMD and FWC, who keep our trails navigable and safe for humans and wildlife, and most importantly they protect and maintain our watershed. We owe them our thanks. 

Panther Capture Season at CREW

by Allison Vincent

photo by Thomas Reinert of FWC

Staged and ready after months of planning stands a congregated group of biologists waiting for a call. They shiver outside the CREW office field station, enjoying the unusually cool temperatures and wide open view from the pole-barn near a utilitarian series of land management buildings used to manage the CREW lands. They’re waiting for word from the houndsman, still out searching for signs of Florida’s big cat, the Florida panther, and our smaller wild felid, the bobcat. 

Bobcat (left) and Florida panther (right)

When the call comes in that a bobcat has been tracked and treed, they load up the warmed-up swamp buggies and rendezvous with the houndsman in a remote area of the CREW lands. This time, they’ve tracked another male bobcat, not a target for collaring this season, given the biologists’ interest in females who might produce a litter of kittens that could provide developmental information about the feline leukomyelopathy (FLM) affliction. If they track a panther, they plan to collar it regardless of the sex.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have collected varied tissue samples from all FLM positive animals to analyze with a wide array of tests in order to attempt to decipher the root cause of the disorder.

The dogs respond to the houndsman’s signal and regroup, alert for the next search. The houndsman Cougar McBride, contracted by the FWC, is a second generation tracker and has worked throughout the Americas as far south as Paraguay, South America capturing jaguars. Here in Florida, the aptly named houndsman works collaboratively with biologists to safely track our endangered Florida subspecies of Puma concolor to supplement biological research and improve the chances of restoring the historic population of this important endangered species.

A major component of the panther program is radio collar data which tracks the range of these native predators. Using game cameras as a preliminary step, the panther team has a general idea of capture zones. This season they chose the CREW lands because of frequent game camera footage of panthers, including one that happens to have no ears – an indication of his age and survival skills. Capture zones where panther kittens were observed on the game cameras were avoided to prevent any conflict between the hounds and kittens. Safety of these wild felids is of the utmost importance and biologists will often walk away from a capture if the conditions are not right. 

It’s still early in this year’s capture season and it’s an ongoing saga that we’ll report back on in future blogs. The research and understanding these seasons bring to our collective understanding of this elusive animal cannot be overstated. Their status as an endangered species serves as an umbrella to protect other wildlife and wildlife corridors throughout their range. In the years to come, the story that emerges from our understanding of their expanding range and recovering numbers will affect all Floridians.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Panther:

Wildlife Alert: some Freshwater Turtles face spreading virus

Healthy Softshell Turtle hiking trails

Your attention in this matter can go a long way to help freshwater turtle conservation in Florida. FWC is investigating the virus known as TBV, Turtle Bunyavirus, which may include all or some of the following noticeable symptoms: weakness, lethargy, swollen appendages, closed or sunken eyelids, discharge from the nose or eyes, and splotchy red discoloration on softshells. Turtles with TBV may appear to have difficulty breathing, be reluctant to flee, and swim irregularly in waterways. 

If you’re out on the CREW Trails, or even in your own backyard, keep an eye out for these freshwater turtles in particular: Softshell Turtles, Cooters, Yellow-Bellied Sliders and Red-Eared Sliders. While some of these species are non-native freshwater turtles, FWC would like to receive information about any turtle in distress – on or off the list above – as ecosystems overlap and it appears the illness may spread between species. 

FWC is asking the public for help by taking the following actions:

  • Report sightings of sick or dead turtles to FWC by calling the Turtle Hotline at 352-339-8597 or through the FWC Reporter App. Photos can be uploaded via the FWC Reporter App and will aid researchers in turtle species identification and condition.
  • Do not touch or attempt to move sick turtles.
  • To avoid spreading the virus, do not capture and transport freshwater turtles, even those that appear healthy, to release at new locations.
  • Do not eat turtles that appear sick or unhealthy.

Excerpt from the FWC website linked above:

“The FWC takes TBV seriously and is taking proactive steps to monitor and slow the spread of the virus. To reduce the geographic spread of TBV, and lessen potential impacts of this virus, the FWC has enacted Executive Order #21-19 which prohibits the take and transportation of the following species: Florida softshell turtles (Apalone ferox), smooth softshell turtles (Apalone mutica), spiny softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera), and yellow-bellied sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta). The virus is also known to infect Florida’s cooter species (genus Pseudemys), which are already prohibited from being removed from the wild, and red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans), which are a prohibited nonnative species. The EO will help to conserve native turtle species while biologists work to fully understand the impacts of TBV. The FWC is also soliciting sightings of sick and dead freshwater turtles of any species for further investigation.”

Thank you to all our CREW Trust readers and supporters in our collective efforts to protect land and water for wildlife! 

CREW and You, part 3: WHEN

This is part 3 of a 6-part series on the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of the CREW Land & Water Trust.

CREW Marsh Trails observation tower, overlooking the 5,000-acre sawgrass marsh

This year the CREW Land & Water Trust is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary. The “when” of our story started 30 years ago and we’ve been working hard ever since to preserve the water, land and wildlife within the 60,000-acre CREW Project.

We are proud of our history and our role in the CREW Project and encourage you to read about it in full on our HISTORY page.

It’s pretty difficult to condense all of our history into one infograph, especially considering the many names that have written this history. From founder Joel Kuperburg and our first executive director, Ellen Lindblad, to our longest-serving volunteer, Dr. David Cooper, our history includes volunteers, members, friends, land managers, biologists, students, professors, residents and visitors. We are thankful for everyone who has had a hand in the success of our nonprofit and look forward to working with you all in the years to come to preserve our watershed and its most important natural resource – water.

Egret Rescue at Bird Rookery Swamp

On Friday, visitor and photographer Bill Grabinski noticed an egret that was entangled in fishing line.

Fortunately, Kathleen Smith, FWC biologist for the CREW Project, was on site at Bird Rookery Swamp and was able to assist. She noted that someone had cut their fising line and the hook was on the bird’s leg, and the line was entangled on the shore. When the bird would attempt to fly away, it would be yanked back. She was able to untangle the bird from the line and release it.

Mr. Grabinski captured the rescue in the photos below.

If you see wildlife that needs assistance while hiking the CREW Trails, contact the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922 to speak directly to an FWC representative.

CREW FWC Biologist Kathleen Smith honored as Resource Manager of the Year

From FWC Press Release 8/15/2018

photo from FWC flickr account


Kathleen Smith, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), has been honored with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Resource Manager of the Year award for her work at the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed Wildlife and Environmental Area in southwest Florida over the past six years.

The award, presented to her at the Governor and Cabinet’s Aug. 14 meeting in Tallahassee, recognizes outstanding resource management achievements by the hundreds of resource managers who protect state properties.

Smith was recognized for her passion and commitment to conserving wildlife while working in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District that co-manages this WEA, which is in Lee and Collier counties. One focus has been work on the federally endangered Florida bonneted bat. Smith has shared 240,000 acoustic bat call signatures she collected, and then analyzed the data used to develop monitoring and permitting protocols for this rare native species.

She also recognizes the CREW WEA is not just important for listed species but is a popular recreational destination. She has worked hard to maintain public access when hydrological restoration projects caused closures to roads and areas within the WEA.

“It is abundantly clear that Kathleen accepted the position of the CREW WEA area biologist with the aim to expand its duties, and to greatly enhance the research, monitoring and restoration of the species and habitats that make CREW WEA such a unique treasure to the region,” said her supervisor Daniel Mitchell, who nominated her for the award. “Kathleen’s impact on conservation goes beyond the footprint of CREW, as she has assisted with conflict wildlife issues in the area involving bears and panthers. She has a great ability to communicate with the public and goes the extra mile – like translating information into both Spanish and Creole languages to communicate better with Farm Workers Village residents in Immokalee on wildlife issues such as beingBearWise.”

“Kathleen possesses all the traits of an exemplary resource manager, including a strong work ethic, leadership ability, tremendous organizational and interpersonal skills, and dedication to going above and beyond her regular job duties,” said Kipp Frohlich, Director of the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Management. “We are so proud that she is being recognized for her great work and we are truly fortunate to have her on our FWC team.”

Smith’s work ethic and dedication might have been best exemplified last year when her housing was significantly damaged by Hurricane Irma.

“The hurricane didn’t slow her down one bit,” said her supervisor. “Despite personal hardship, she worked tirelessly on clearing trails, preventing further damage and coordinating repairs at CREW WEA.”

Visit and click on “Wildlife Management Areas” to learn more about the FWC’s WMAs and WEAs throughout the state.

2018-2019 Hunting Season starts Saturday

Cypress Dome Trails – hunters should expect wet trail conditions with mud in many areas.


The 2018-2019 hunting season begins Saturday, August 4 with archery season, which ends August 14.

The Cypress Dome Trails and Caracara Prairie Reserve are locations where hunting takes place during hunting season. Signs will be posted at the trailheads to inform other user groups about the current hunting dates. Hunting also takes place within the Flint Pen Strand unit but the trails are not yet complete and the parking lot is not open at this time. Hunting season does not take place on the CREW Marsh Trails or in Bird Rookery Swamp.

There are several quota hunts within the CREW WEA each year :

Archery – August 4-12, 2018

Muzzleloading Gun – September 1-3, 2018

General Gun – November 17-25, 2018 

Small Game Season – December 1-30, 2018

Spring Turkey – March 2-5 and 6-10, 2019

Please check for updated information during the 2018-2019 season.

Hunting on the CREW Wildlife and Environmental Area (WEA) is regulated by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Hunting is an important management tool, helping to control potentially devastating wild hog populations and maintaining healthy populations of other game species.

For more information about current hunting regulations for CREW, getting quota permits, and season dates, check the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. To learn more about and sign up for FWC Hunter Safety Courses, visit

Trail Conditions 

Information and directions to the CREW Trails

2018-2019 CREW Wildlife and Environmental Area Hunting Brochure





You saw a panther! Now what?

I received a text yesterday from a neighbor who had a photo from another neighbor of a possible panther in our neighborhood.

Now, I’ve known since I moved here that my neighborhood, which borders on the CREW Project, had possible panther activity. It’s the reason I purchased a game camera at last year’s silent eco-auction, and I take note of panther sightings posted on our neighborhood Facebook page Seeing a Florida panther in the wild is on my wildlife bucket list, so I would much rather prefer to see one a the CREW Marsh Trails than in my backyard but – any panther sighting would make my heart race with sheer joy.

Why? Besides the fact that panthers are one of our two big cat species, they are also endangered – and seeing them and reporting them is an important part of citizen science.

A Florida panther within the CREW Project. Photo by game camera monitored by volunteer Tom Mortenson.

From MyFWC.Com:

  • Florida panthers (Puma concolor coryi) are an Endangered Species.
  • Counting panthers is difficult because they are solitary, elusive and wide-ranging animals rarely observed in the wild. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) panther biologists estimate there are 120-230 adults and yearlings in Florida.
  • Reporting your observations can help FWC biologists address panther conservation needs by identifying the areas used by these large cats.

I learned last year during a hike that many people don’t know that, if you see a panther, you should report it online to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. So, if you do see a panther – first up, congratulations, and second, here are the steps to report this rare sighting.

  1. Snap a photo if you can of either the panther or its tracks.
  2. Using Google maps or your compass on your phone, take note of the latitude and longitude of the the sighting. You can drop a pin on your location on the Google Maps app to mark where you saw the panther and check that pin later for your GPS coordinates.
  3. Go to to report the sighting.
  4. Enter the latitude and longitude on the form or drag the red pin onto the map on the web page to mark the location.
  5. Enter the date of the sighting along with your information and any notes.
  6. Upload a photo if you have one.
  7. Submit your sighting.

And, if you happened to spot the panther at one of the CREW Trail Systems, let us know! We’d love to share your panther story.

Anne Reed

Trail Tech

Ready to hit the trails this season, but looking for a few fun new tools? Check out these apps for your smartphone  that can help take your trek to the next tech level.

You can use your phone for more than selfies, Mr. Bear.

IveGot1: This app from FWC is for reporting sightings of non-native invasive animals, like pythons, which have been spotted within the CREW Project. Get as much information as you can, including photos of tracks. Just remember when taking a photo to place something, like a coin or a pen or a tube of chapstick next to the track to help with noting the size. (

WeatherBug: This app has a program within the app called Spark which will show how close lightning is to your location. When should you find shelter and get far away from lightning? We say follow the pool rule – if lightning is within ten miles, get to shelter. Florida is the lightning captial of the United States and it is always better to be safe than sorry.

PlantNet: Can’t remember the name of that pretty purple flower? You can jog your memory with the use of this app and maybe correctly identify the plant. This is part of a global project so, if your plant isn’t in the app, you can help by adding it! Check out this shot of a flower I took by our office, then searched for, and quickly identified!

Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab: This app lets you load bird packs (birds in your area) so you can tailor the app to where you are, or where you are travelling to.

Peterson Bird Identifier & Field Guide: They had me at field guide. This includes over 800 species of North American Birds and looks enough like your hardcover field guide that you’ll feel right at home.

Audubon Bird Guide: Reviews say it is the best free bird field guide available and it lists nearby observations. You can log your sightings and connect to a social community of birders. And, if you love owls, check out the Audubon Owl Guide app.

AllTrails: This app is one we are starting to use ourselves to get our trails out to the world! This app lets you explore trails and check out reviews. It’s also helpful if you are looking to explore more trails in the area (and more of our trails) or heading out of town on vacation and want to scope out the local landscape.


What is black and white and flies all over?

Swallowed-tailed kite birds growing up

Swallow-tailed Kites are some of the most graceful and beautiful birds gliding and soaring through the skies over Southwest Florida from February through August during their nesting and pre-migration roosting seasons. They are also very popular: drawings of Swallow-tailed Kites are featured elements in the CREW and Great Florida Birding Trail logos.

Swallow-tailed Kite nest monitoring is currently being conducted in CREW and its adjoining Swallowed-tailed kite birds growing up lands in order to better understand the habitat needs for their nesting and foraging success in Southwest Florida.

Swallow-tailed Kites once nested in 21 states. Records from the 1800s show nesting pairs as far north as Minnesota and Wisconsin. Then the population underwent a sudden decline. By 1940, the kite’s range had shrunk to seven states from coastal South Carolina to eastern coastal Texas and all of the Florida panhandle.

Currently, fewer than 2500 nesting pairs are believed to exist in the United States (*ARCI 2016). Hence, the need for monitoring and research so that land managers can understand  the optimal conservation approaches to preserving the habitats that sustain the kites.

A number of factors contribute to the vulnerability of Swallow-tailed Kites.

They have high mortality during their summer migration between the southern United States and southern Brazil when they fly across the Gulf of Mexico and again when they fly back to the United States the following spring. They do not usually begin breeding until  they are three to four years old, and nesting adults and their young are subject to predation by Great Horned Owls. Plus, there just aren’t very many of them.

Habitat loss is also a factor in their decline. Freshwater forested wetlands and cypress swamps, where the birds nest, have been dwindling for centuries. Since the 1700s, about half the nation’s wetlands have disappeared, threatened by agriculture, development, logging, dams, dredging and invasive species, as well as natural disturbances like hurricanes. The rate of wetlands loss has wavered, but it hasn’t stopped: A 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report found that wetland losses were outdistancing gains, especially in those freshwater forested wetlands the kites need.

Habitat is more important for kites than some other species because Swallow-tailed Kites are one of the very few social raptors. They forage in groups, nest in “neighborhoods,” and roost in groups. That makes them especially vulnerable; being social ties large groups of them to a single place. If those places where they forage, nest, and roost are not protected, the population will decline further.

This spring, FWC biologists and CREW volunteers have been monitoring 10 different nests in and around the CREW lands. Those nests have produced 12 known kite fledglings, and four more are suspected to have fledged.

Data about the nest locations, habitats, and activities are housed at the CREW office. They will be added to FWC’s Habitat and Species Conservation migratory bird database once it is complete. In addition, the CREW data is available for use by the FWRI (Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the branch of FWC that conducts wildlife research) and by the Avian Research and Conservation Institute which monitors kites nationally.

Locally, the data will be used in a couple of ways.

First, FWC is interested in collecting data on which avian species are breeding on the CREW Management Area property and what type of success these species have from year to year.

Second, using the nests discovered this year, a finer model of CREW’s kite nesting habitat can be created by using the data collected at the nest tree and surrounding habitat. Then, desirable habitats can be maintained and created.

However, preserving habitat for kites is not as simple as just figuring out where the birds are nesting right now. It’s also necessary to determine where they could thrive in the future. That information will be crucial for land managers throughout the kite range.

*For more information about Swallow-tailed Kites, visit the Avian Research and Conservation Institute (ARCI) web site at


Written by CREW Trust volunteer Dick Brewer


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