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Give wildlife a chance
Georgia DNR's Nongame Conservation Section receives no state funding to conserve nongame wildlife, native plants and natural habitats. We depend on contributions, grants and fundraisers. Meaning we depend largely on you!
How to help?
* Buy a conservation license plate.
* Contribute to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund tax checkoff.
* Donate directly to the Nongame Conservation Section, even online.
* Use GoodSearch for your Internet searches (enter "Georgia Nongame Conservation Fund" under "Who do you GoodSearch for" and click "Verify").
* Join TERN, the Nongame Conservation Section's friends group.

WILD Facts
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse" – you hope. ... That holiday saying may make you wonder if mice, rats or squirrels are living in your house. Rodents seek out shelter from the cold in the winter, so that noise from above may not be from reindeer landing on your roof. Although this season is one of giving, most people don’t like the idea of an animal chewing on electrical wires and leaving fecal “presents” in the attic. Sealing off points of entry, especially at the corners of your roof and along the eaves, is the key to preventing these unwelcome guests.
In education
For a warm way to learn about Georgia's amazing diversity of fishes, visit the Go Fish Education Center. The newly opened center in Perry features more than 80 species of native fishes, 170,000 gallons in pools and wall tanks, a two-story waterfall, theater, alligators and other aquatic wildlife, and displays exploring watersheds and pollution impacts. The center, just off Interstate 75 on the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter grounds, is open to the public Friday through Sunday and to school groups Tuesday through Thursday.

Shinyrayed pocketbook
Up close
Shinyrayed pocketbook
Hamiota subangulata Lea
Previously used scientific name: Lampsilis subangulata
Family: Unionidae
Description: Medium-sized freshwater mussel with a glossy outer shell surface colored yellow to dark brown, often with prominent dark to emerald rays. Reaches maximum length of 3.3 inches. Elliptical in shape. Nacre, or inner shell surface, is white or salmon-colored.
Similar species: Florida sandshell (Lampsilis floridensis) and southern rainbow (Villosa vibex, pdf).
Habitat: Typically occupies medium-sized streams to large rivers in sandy to muddy substrates with slight to moderate current.
Diet: Diets of unionids are poorly understood but are believed to consist of algae and bacteria. Some studies suggest diets may change throughout life of a unionid, with juveniles collecting organic materials from substrate though pedal feeding and developing the ability to filter-feed as adults.
Life history: Females are known to brood glochidia over winter and release superconglutinates late spring and through summer. The superconglutinate is comprised of a long gelatinous string with several glochidial packages. The superconglutinate floats in water currents, resembling a small fish. (See these amazing conglutinate "lure" videos!) Females also exhibit a display in which they flutter their mantle while positioned with their posterior margin exposed. This display may be used alone or with the superconglutinate, possibly to attract host fishes during periods of extreme drought. Predatory fishes serve as hosts for the glochidial. Glochidia of shinyrayed pocketbooks have successfully transformed on largemouth and spotted bass.
Range: Species is endemic to eastern Gulf slope of Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Historically known from the Apalachicola and the Ochlockonee river basins. In Georgia, shinyrayed pocketbooks occurred in the Chattahoochee River basin as far north as Atlanta and to the headwaters of the Flint and Ochlockonee rivers. The Chattahoochee population now appears restricted to Sawhatchee and Kirkland creeks, while the species appears to occur widely throughout the Flint and its tributaries. There also have been several collections from the Ochlockonee.
Threats: Habitat fragmentation may isolate populations and prevent fish movement, limiting distribution of host fishes carrying glochidia. Construction of impoundments may further fragment populations and inundate suitable habitat. Excessive water withdrawals in lower Flint basin coupled with severe drought could cause species to become extirpated from Georgia. Excess sedimentation due to inadequate riparian buffer zones also covers suitable habitat and can suffocate individuals.
Conservation status: Federally and state-listed as endangered.  Global conservation status ranking is G2 (imperiled; at high risk of extinction).

Sources: Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division protected species accounts, Georgia Museum of Natural History

   New DNR Commissioner Mark Williams said Georgia “is blessed with an amazing diversity of natural and cultural DNR Commissioner Mark Williamsresources” and he looks forward to ensuring “these resources are conserved for current and future generations.” The state representative and businessman from Jesup has served on the state’s Natural Resources and Environment and the Game, Fish and Parks committees, earning praise from some conservationists in south Georgia.
  Make a year-end gift to Georgia wildlife and get a break on your 2010 taxes. Contributing to the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund supports work to conserve nongame, rare plants and natural habitats across the state. Click to give online.
  DNR has scheduled eight public meetings in January to discuss a recent report by the Land Management Steering Committee. The document summarizes work and recommendations by the group charged with assessing marketing implications of the various names for DNR lands and the potential to recover costs associated with providing recreational services on Wildlife Resources Division properties.
Right whale and calf
    With calving season in full swing, the north Atlantic right whale count of the coast of Georgia and northern Florida is up to 19. The total includes four calves (the first spotted this season is pictured).
    The pending purchase of Oaky Woods covers the largest, most ecologically important yet unprotected tract in middle Georgia. The approximately 10,000 acres includes rare chalk or “blackland” prairies and related plants, the core habitat for the region’s bear population, and a section of the Ocmulgee River important to the state-endangered robust redhorse and rare mussels.
   Help watch this winter for white-nose syndrome, a killer of bats sweeping south and west from the northeast. DNR has posted monitoring and surveillance suggestions for cavers and others.
   Eastern indigo snakes released last summer in a reintroduction project at Alabama’s Conecuh National Forest are learning the landscape. One of the 17 juveniles produced by gravid indigos from Georgia moved nearly four miles away; several took up residence in a church camp, where staff welcomed them. In next month’s Georgia Wild: Cold-weather indigos.
   Barn-owl box builders wanted. Charlie Muise, state Georgia Important Bird Area Program coordinator, is heading a project in which you make the box – designs are online – and he reimburses the wood costs (no pressure-treated lumber, please). E-mail Muise for details. Also: Georgia IBA on Facebook.
   Five young whooping cranes finished their ultralight-led migration from Wisconsin to Florida this month, overnighting in southwestern Georgia before continuing to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The other five whoopers making the trek will fly from St. Marks to Chassahowitzka NWR, all part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership project reintroducing the imperiled cranes to eastern North America.
Read Bob Kornegay’s "fly-over" column in The Albany Herald.
    Of the 105 whooping cranes in the wild in the East, some are spotted migrating on their own through Georgia. Four were reported in late November in Lowndes County, near Valdosta. Report sightings. Crane updates by blog, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter.
   Your top turtle photo could earn a spot in the online 2011 Year of the Turtle calendar. Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation will include monthly winners and runner-ups as part of a yearlong campaign for conserving turtles, more than 40 percent of which face the threat of extinction.
   Georgia K-12 educators can apply for $1,000 grants from the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia for environmental education/performing and visual arts projects. The grants honor late environmental educator Petey Giroux, described as a master at using performing and visual arts to support her teaching.  
    For bird lovers who aren’t school teachers, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is accepting applications for “mini-grants” to fund neighborhood events that promote an appreciaton for birds and nature. The Celebrate Urban Birds grants average $250-$500.
   Dan Ashe is being promoted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director from deputy director. Upon confirmation, the 15-year agency veteran will succeed Sam Hamilton, who died in February 2009.
   The 100-plus-pound exotic African spurred tortoise found living in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert is an eye-opener in more ways than its size. The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s turtles project coordinator called the discovery a reminder of the threat of exotic species, which – in this case – could spread diseases and out-compete natives such as the Sonoran desert tortoise.

Nongame in the news
Naple (Fla.) News: "FWC works to protect livestock from panthers," agency stresses vigilance in wake of panther depredations. (Dec. 21)
Athens Banner-Herald: "Scientists: Reservoirs not solution," UGA research team says more impoundments won't meet water needs. (Dec. 20)
SaportaReport: "Saving ‘Georgia’s Amazon’," roles of Robert Woodruff Foundation and The Nature Conservancy of Georgia in protecting 14,000-plus acres along Altamaha. (Dec. 17)
The (Anderson) Independent Mail: "Trustees of multimillion-dollar PCBs settlement name Hartwell projects," $6.9 million will go to projects ranging from shoreline restoration to an event center. (Dec. 16)
The (Swainsboro) Forest Blade: "Youth returns to Ohoopee Dunes," group learns conservation helping outplant rare plants at natural area. (Dec. 15)
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "State OKs $28.7 million for Oaky Woods," State Properties Commission vote follows DNR Board approval for purchasing approximately 10,000 acres. (Dec. 13)
Georgia Public Broadcasting: "DNR looking for frog enthusiasts," skilled volunteers sought for annual statewide survey. (Dec. 7)
Savannah Morning News: "First right whale calf of the season sighted off Sapelo Island," adult whale No. 1604 produces first calf of 2010-2011, fourth recorded for her. (Dec. 7)
The Florida Times-Union: "Jekyll Island conservation plan calls for fixing badly damaged beach," panel and public discuss draft plan. (Dec. 6)
The Locust Fork News-Journal: "Endangered whooping cranes fly into Georgia," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service releases charts birds' touch-down in Clay County. (Dec. 9)
The Savannah Morning News: "Sapelo's South End House celebrates 200 years," marking two centuries at R.J. Reynolds Mansion. (Dec. 2)
The Florida Times-Union: "Sturgeon spawn area considered in the St. Marys," outlook for river as feds consider endangered status and critical habitat for Atlantic sturgeon. (Nov. 26)
Coastal Courier: "Teams across Ga. prepare for prescribed burns," DNR and partners train for Rx fire season. (Nov. 22)
Mobile Press-Register: "Tree-killing beetle found in Alabama," redbay ambrosia beetle documented for first time in state. (Nov. 17)

Jan. 3-6: Eight public meetings set by Ga. DNR across state for input on “Report of the Land Management Steering Committee." Report; meeting locations and dates.
Jan. 3-6: Public meetings for development of 2011-12, 2012-13 Georgia hunting seasons. Locations, dates.
Feb. 4-5: Weekend for Wildlife (Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund fundraiser), Sea Island.
Feb. 25-26: Georgia River Network Weekend for Rivers, Roswell.
Photo credits (from top)
* In masthead: Loggerhead shrike. Charlie Muise/Georgia IBA Program
* DNR Nongame Conservation Section botanist Jacob Thompson at work on coastal habitat mapping. Ga. DNR
* Dry hickory maritime forest. Ga. DNR
* Shinyrayed pocketbook in southwestern Georgia's Spring Creek. Jason Wisniewski/Ga. DNR
* Dogwood berries. Terry W. Johnson
* First north Atlantic right whale calf of 2010-2011 calving season. Photo by EcoHealth Alliance, NOAA permit #594-1759
* Nongame Conservation Section senior wildlife biologist Nathan Klaus (kneeling) helps bag native grass seed collected at Panola Mountain State Park this fall. Ga. DNR
* Swamp sparrow. Charlie Muise/Georgia IBA Program
* Northern harrier. Jim Fairley
* Nongame Conservation Section intern Carrie Radcliffe shows a teen how to outplant rare plants at Ohoopee Dunes Natural Area. Ga. DNR
* Weyerhaeuser's Real Estate Development Company donates $2,500 to The Environmental Resource Network for the 2011 Youth Birding Competition. Ga. DNR

Georgia Wild
volume 3, issue 12

This is: A free monthly e-newsletter produced by DNR and focused on nongame. Subscribe or see previous issues.

Nongame: Wildlife not legally trapped, fished for or hunted, plus native plants and natural habitats.

We are: The Wildlife Resources Division's Nongame Conservation Section. Our mission: Conserve and protects Georgia's diversity of native animals and plants and their habitats through research, management and education. It's worth repeating that we depend on grants, donations and fundraisers such as nongame license plate sales, the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund state income tax checkoff and Weekend for Wildlife.

Buy a tag: Nongame license plates – the eagle and hummingbird – are available at county tag offices, by checking the wildlife license plate box on mail-in registration forms and through online renewal.

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DNR botanist Jacob Thompson

Coastal habitat
nearly mapped

Effort part of larger initiative to help
chart conservation, growth in 11 counties

   After three years, dozens of trips to the field, hundreds of hours in front of the computer and at least 20 collaborative meetings, a simple idea that grew into a full-blown multi-agency project is approaching the finish line.  
   A comprehensive habitat mapping and assessment project coordinated by the Nongame Conservation Section of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division will be completed this month, providing up-to-date information on the location and condition of natural communities in Georgia’s 11 coastal counties.
   The vegetation mapping project is part of the larger Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative. The collaborative effort between the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Conservancy and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia is aimed at preserving critical coastal lands and promoting sustainable growth and development in the state’s coastal region.  The coastal assessment was outlined as a priority conservation action in the State Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy that guides Wildlife Resources and DNR efforts to conserve biological diversity.
   To complete this massive mapping project within three years, the coastal counties were divided into two tiers. Georgia DNR botanists Eamonn Leonard and Jacob Thompson took the lead on the first six -- Camden, Glynn, McIntosh, Liberty, Bryan and Chatham. Here, Leonard and Thompson mapped natural communities at the association level, the most detailed level in an international vegetation classification system developed by NatureServe, a nonprofit conservation organization.
Dry hickory maritime forest
   The other five counties, Effingham, Long, Wayne, Brantley and Charlton, were mapped at the ecological system level by Matt Elliott, a Nongame program manager, and Dylan Severens, a DNR GIS intern.  While the ecological systems level is coarser in resolution, associations are nested within ecological systems in the NatureServe classification scheme, providing a common basis for conservation planning and regional assessments.  
   Jon Ambrose, assistant chief of the Nongame Conservation Section, said the products of the mapping project “represent an unprecedented data set that will be used in conservation planning for years to come.”
   DNR and its conservation partners will use the information to identify high-priority conservation lands in the coastal region through the Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative.  Leonard said the work also illustrates to county planners, other biologists and the public “the richness of natural communities and resources that make up the Georgia coast.”
   The ecological communities of the coast represent a diverse set of natural resources that provide habitats for many rare plant and animal species, while also supporting basic ecological functions on which people rely.  For example, the barrier islands and associated intertidal salt marshes help reduce the impact of storm surges on adjacent habitats, homes and developments.
   The coastal assessment and mapping project resulted in several notable discoveries.  Seven previously undescribed plant associations have been documented and added to the international database of plant communities.  
   Thompson said botanists had to create names and descriptions for those natural communities. “For me, that was one of the more rewarding parts of the job," he said.
   Efforts to define and protect globally rare natural communities will continue as a focus of the project in years to come.

Out my backdoor
Wrapped in red:
a gift from nature
By Terry W. Johnson
    Nothing makes a youngster’s eyes sparkle on Christmas morning more than presents wrapped in brightly colored paper. I’d venture to say that most presents underneath your tree this year will be lovingly wrapped with paper adorned with at least some red. No, I’m no mind reader: Red is simply the most popular color used at Christmas.
   I must admit it is indeed an eye-catching color. As such, it should come as no surprise that Mother Nature also wraps many of her most nutritious fruits and berries in red. These gifts of nature provide many of our wildlife neighbors with much-needed food throughout the holiday season and the rest of the winter.
 Dogwood berries  Unlike Santa, who leaves his presents beneath the Christmas tree, Mother Nature likes to scatter her holiday gifts. Many are red berries and fruits found in your backyard, along brushy fencerows, in open woodlands and along roadsides.
   Here are five of these valuable winter food plants.
   American holly: Of the plants listed here, none is more inexorably linked to the holiday season. That’s because the American holly’s dark green, spiny leaves and bright red berries are often used in Christmas decorations, as well as being mentioned in holiday songs and featured on Christmas cards.
   What you probably didn’t know is that more than two dozen birds including the wild turkey, quail, cardinal, mockingbird, robin and bluebird eat American holly berries. While they might not devour them early in the winter, when food gets scarce later, the berries are sought out by hungry birds and other wildlife.
   Yaupon holly: This small, native tree or shrub is sometimes called Christmas berry. Indians used the leaves to concoct a ceremonial potion that induced vomiting. Today, this dual-purpose plant is used to create attractive hedges. The plant’s red berries are also choice foods of cedar waxwings and mockingbirds. Even wild turkeys and quail eat them.
   Possumhaw: Since possumhaw drops its leaves in winter, you might not recognize it as a member of the holly family. This small tree or shrub is most often seen growing in fencerows. Fortunately, in recent years it has been incorporated into home landscapes. Some of the new varieties being sold at nurseries include Warren Red and Reed. Each produces an abundance of berries.
   Possumhaw’s scarlet berries are easy to spot at this time of the year. The berries remain on the plant long after Christmas. Each berry-like fruit contains several seeds eaten by songbirds. Deer will forage on the plant’s twigs.
    Smooth sumac: Although not often associated with Christmas, smooth sumac should be. Early in the fall, long before the most zealous store displays its Christmas decorations, the leaves of this small tree or shrub turn as bright red as a bow on a Christmas wreath. In addition, its fruits have a red velvet-like covering reminiscent of the cloth used to make Santa’s suit.
   Look for this plant along overgrown fencerows and in abandoned fields, power line right of ways and backyard borders. Deer like to munch on its leaves and twigs. Cottontails nibble on the bark and fruit. Many birds relish the fuzzy sumac fruits, including quail, blue jays, robins, bluebirds, wild turkeys and gray catbirds.
    Flowering dogwood: My list of red berries and fruit-bearing plants wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the flowering dogwood. Across the state, you are just as likely to spot this small tree growing beneath tall trees in open woodlands as in yards. It is one of our most beautiful trees, producing a profusion of greenish white blossoms in spring and shiny red berries intermingled with crimson red leaves in the fall.
   Like a child not wanting to wait until Christmas to open their presents, many wildlife species gobble up most dogwood berries long before Christmas. More than 60 species of wildlife eat dogwood berries including the wood duck, wild turkey, quail, Eastern cottontail, cardinal, Eastern chipmunk, gray fox, red-headed woodpecker, mockingbird, bluebird and summer tanager.
   All of the plants mentioned make great additions to any home landscape. Add them if you want to beautify your yard while providing the wildlife living there with winter food. You will be giving your wildlife neighbors and yourself gifts that will continue giving as long as little girls and boys go to sleep on Christmas Eve listening for the pitter-patter of reindeer feet on the roof.
    Terry Johnson is a former Nongame program manager with the Wildlife Resources Division, a backyard wildlife expert, and executive director of TERN, the friends group of the Nongame Conservation Section. Read his full column here! Request permission to reprint it.

A helping of holly
A woman once told me she put branches of American holly festooned with berries in her window boxes as winter decorations. Late one blustery winter day, she was surprised to see that a flock of hungry bluebirds had descended on the holly boughs. Before they left later in the day, the bluebirds had stripped every berry from the branches.

Restored grasslands pay
dividends in bird diversity
Results ‘very positive’ at Panola, Joe Kurz
   The sight of a northern harrier floating a few feet above a field is mesmerizing. It’s even more captivating at Joe Kurz Wildlife Management Area or Panola Mountain State Park, considering that the re-appearance of grassland hawks here highlights successful efforts to restore native grasslands.
   Nathan Klaus of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division said harriers had not been seen at the Joe Kurz restoration site in four years of monitoring before work began. A few weeks ago, he saw as many as four hunting one field.
   And they aren’t alone. “Even the more common birds are starting to show up in greater numbers,” said Klaus, a senior wildlife biologist with the division’s Nongame Conservation Section.
   Through regular bird banding at both sites, Georgia Important Bird Areas Coordinator Charlie Muise said he has charted increases in all sparrows, for example.
   From grasshopper sparrows to eastern meadowlarks and northern bobwhite quail, grassland birds have been in decline for decades. Habitat loss is key. Development, changes in agriculture and silviculture, and the spread of exotic invasive plants have decimated grasslands and throttled native grasses and forbs in Georgia and across North America.
   At Joe Kurz and Panola Mountain, earlier grasslands work was ramped up in 2008 through a $50,000 Georgia Ornithological Society grant and an already strong relationship with Muise, who had been banding birds at both sites before he became Georgia’s Important Bird Areas coordinator. The restoration focus at Joe Kurz in Meriwether County was converting more than 200 acres of bermudagrass pasture and old farm fields invaded by exotic plants to native, warm-season grasses. At Panola, in Rockdale County, researchers expanded the restoration of a small, wet grassland started by former assistant park manager Phil Delestrez with a few handfuls of seed collected from nearby roadsides – some of the only remaining native grasses in the area.
   Momentum has been building since.
   In early November, volunteers organized by Muise collected 31 pounds of grass seed at the park, stripping the seed heads of what is mostly yellow Indian grass into pillow cases. Muise said the five pillow cases full of seed will be enough to plant another 6 acres next spring or summer, providing more grassland habitat and preserving local plant genotypes.
   At Joe Kurz, the native grass seed used was bought. In a cooperative effort with the Griffin Quail Forever Chapter and Wildlife Resource’s Bobwhite Quail Initiative, the division’s Game Management Section handled the site preparation and planting, work that also involved creating pine savanna habitat.
   The bird banding effort at each area, which like the seed collection depends heavily on volunteers, is still gathering data for a statistical gauge of project success. “But preliminary results are very, very positive,” Muise said.
Northern harrier   For instance, he and Klaus mention the first loggerhead shrike and grasshopper sparrow documented at the Joe Kurz site – both were target species, Muise said – the regular occurrence of bobolinks at Panola, and a range of sparrows from vesper to Lincoln’s at both areas. Sharp-eyed and keen-eared watchers have also documented secretive black and king rails at the park. Bobwhite quail, another priority species in Georgia’s Wildlife Action Plan, are taking advantage of the Joe Kurz changes. So are wintering northern harriers, which prey on the small mammals found in the bunched stands of native grasses and largely absent from the turf-like habitat of bermudagrass and fescue.
   More than species and numbers are tracked. The banding effort yields details on everything from bird health to site fidelity – does a bird return to a place to breed or even over-winter. While helping answer questions such as what species use a site, plus when and in what condition, this information and other monitoring measure whether the restored habitats meet the birds’ needs.
   Muise said one male indigo bunting has been captured so often during the last three nesting seasons at Joe Kurz that “he’s an old friend” -- a friend biologists and volunteers hope and expect to see again next spring.

Grasslands at a glance

Wiregrass work
DNR is restoring native grasslands throughout the state, including wiregrass on state lands across much of south Georgia. Wiregrass is critical to the longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem.  It provides fuel critical for burning this fire-dependent ecosystem, as well as habitat for grassland birds and gopher tortoises (pdf), and greater plant diversity than any other ecosystem in North America.  Each fall, wiregrass is harvested by machine from donor sites such as Doerun Pitcherplant Bog Natural Area (“Answering need for seed,” December 2008). The seed and plugs are planted the following year.

Parting shots

Ohoopee Dunes Natural Area became a classroom again this month as a group of eight boys from the region helped Nongame Conservation Section botanist Mincy Moffett and intern Carrie Radcliffe (pictured) outplant pondberry and pond spice plants at the natural area near Swainsboro.  Although the boys had not heard of either rare species – both are threatened by the spread of laurel wilt disease – all were familiar with another plant in the same family: avocado, and the guacamole it’s known for. Ankle-deep in a sandhills-depressional wetland, Radcliffe showed them how to “massage the moss” to loosen the muck so the new plants' roots will take hold. At day’s end, one of the helpers was overheard saying, “This was so much fun.”
   Read the Swainsboro Forest Blade article.

Weyerhaeuser check presentation
Weyerhaeuser's Real Estate Development Company in Madison recently gave $2,500 to The Environmental Resource Network for the 2011 Youth Birding Competition. TERN will use the money to partially fund promotional materials, prizes and other expenses of the annual competition, set for April 16-17 at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center. Above, Sandy McLendon (center), Georgia project manager for the Weyerhaeuser company, presents a check to TERN Chairman Brock Hutchins and -- barred owl in hand -- Linda May, Wildlife Resources Division environmental outreach coordinator.


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