It’s hard to believe it’s October already and that the end of 2023 is in sight! We’ve had a busy summer, with lots of activity in our research, education, and conservation programs. We hope you enjoy this sampling of what we’ve been up to lately. 
Searching for Ichauway’s River Giants 
For three weeks every summer, the Herpetology Lab is on a mission to capture the largest and most prehistoric-looking freshwater turtle in North America, the alligator snapping turtle. Alligator snapping turtles occur primarily in rivers of the southeastern US and in Georgia, more specifically in Coastal Plain river systems that drain into the Gulf of Mexico. Alligator snapping turtles can be distinguished from common snapping turtles by the three prominent keels on the upper shell, the triangular shaped head with strongly hooked jaws, and laterally positioned eyes that are not visible from above. Male turtles may have shell lengths that reach 31 inches and can weigh up to a whopping 250 pounds.

These turtles were heavily harvested for food in Georgia through the late 1980s. A 1989 survey on the Flint River revealed extremely low capture rates, which resulted in Georgia listing this species as threatened and closing harvest in 1992. Our follow-up study, 25 years later in 2014 and funded by Georgia Department of Natural Resources, yielded similarly low capture success, suggesting the population had not recovered despite 22 years of harvest closure. Alligator snapping turtles have since been proposed for federal listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
In conjunction with our 2014 survey on the Flint River, we trapped alligator snapping turtles on Ichawaynochaway Creek and found capture rates were nearly 3.5 times higher than those on the lower Flint, which suggests turtles on Ichawaynochaway Creek were less exploited than those on the Flint River. Our largest turtle captured weighed 80 pounds, although most were much smaller (average of 45 pounds). Since 2016, when conditions permit, we have monitored this species on Ichawaynochaway Creek annually to track its status.

To catch alligator snapping turtles, we deploy large, five-foot-diameter hoop traps that we anchor to cypress knees adjacent to deep bends in the creek, and bait with delicious but smelly catfish nuggets. As part of our monitoring effort, we measure, evaluate age and sex, mark, and release any turtles captured. Over time, we hope to determine if our population is stable, increasing, or decreasing. In recent sampling years (2017, 2019, 2022, and 2023) capture success has been extremely low with only three turtles captured (0.01 catch per unit effort).

Understanding the current status of alligator snapping turtles after three decades of harvest closure is critical given the proposed federal listing of the species. In the future, we hope to estimate the lower Flint River population and to investigate the resilience of alligator snapping turtles to altered stream flows and other land use and climate-related factors. 
Assessing Wild Pig Removal Techniques
Wild pigs cost at least $1.5 billion annually in management efforts and damage to the agricultural and timber industries in the United States. In 2020, the Jones Center embarked on a 3-year project to measure wild pig damage and effectiveness of wild pig control techniques. The work was carried out in collaboration with the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District, the University of Georgia, and USDA APHIS Wildlife Services. NRCS provided the grant as part of a larger effort that supported 34 pilot studies across the Southeast.

This project supported two graduate students both co-advised by Drs. Mike Conner at the Jones Center, and Michael T. Mengak at the University of Georgia. Justine Smith, who defended her master’s degree in June, deployed 147 passive camera traps to measure the impact of wild pigs on white-tailed deer and eastern wild turkeys and assess wild pig behavioral response to gunning from a helicopter. Justine found wild pigs and white-tailed deer interaction varied based on habitat; in some places they appeared to share habitat and in other places pigs may have excluded deer. Meanwhile, wild turkeys avoided areas with wild pigs present. Helicopter gunning caused a rapid decline in wild pig detections after operations ceased, indicating success of removal efforts. However, pig detections in closed canopy forests increased during and after gunning, suggesting pigs moved into closed canopy forest to avoid the helicopter.
Faith Kruis, an MS student who will defend her thesis in November, used GPS collars on wild pigs to assess the Judas technique (tracking a collared pig to a group of pigs for targeted removal) as a removal method. Faith’s research indicated both males and females were equally effective as Judas pigs. She also used these animals to measure wild pig habitat preferences. Pigs preferred to be near water, and during the growing season preferred agricultural fields. Pigs generally avoided paved roads but were often found near unpaved roads and field roads.

Throughout the duration of the project, our Aquatic Ecology Lab, led by Dr. Stephen Golladay with Chelsea Smith and Caitlin Sweeney, collected water samples to assess wild pig impacts on water quality as well as determine the presence of wild pigs through detection of small amounts of DNA (aka, environmental DNA, or eDNA. Overall, eDNA concentrations were variable, but when paired with other water quality information and measures of pig activity (below), appear to be useful for detecting wild pig activity. They also found elevated levels of suspended sediments which are general indicators of disturbed soils and erosion of streamside areas. Inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus, indicators of fertilizer runoff, were not elevated. High levels of total solids were likely due to wild pig rooting soil in riparian areas.

Project results have been presented at regional and national professional meetings and manuscripts are currently in review. When published, these papers will be available on our website.  
Ichauway Dog Days 5K for the Win
In late July, we held the 16th annual Ichauway Dog Days 5K race. We always try to wait for the hottest “dog days” of summer, and this year’s timing was perfect. Approximately 40 participants walked, ran, or biked the race route. For the third year in a row, the Baker County cross country team participated and went home with four of the six medals! Congratulations to our other medal winners: Lisa Gibson, niece of long-time Ichauway employee John “Pocket” Gibson, and Ichauway employee Gail Morris. The event raised $330, which was donated to the St. Francis Wildlife Association for their work with wildlife rehabilitation.
Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership
We were pleased to host our annual visit from the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership (IGEL) in July, and even more pleased to accommodate the group in our new guest housing facilities. Although the group delved into a range of natural resource issues in Southwest Georgia, having Ichauway as a home base gave them an immersive experience in the natural environment of our area. During their program at Ichauway, we focused on water use issues, learned about the importance of longleaf pine ecosystems, and visited wetlands to learn about the valuable ecosystem services they provide. We want to congratulate our friends Molly Nuttall and Beth Blalock as they step back from their leadership roles with IGEL and express our appreciation for their years of service to our state’s environment and our collegial working relationship. 
Exchanging Land Management Ideas with The Turner Foundation
It’s always a pleasure to share the rewards and challenges of managing large blocks of land for multiple objectives with others engaged in this pursuit. We were able to spend a couple of days with colleagues from the Turner Foundation, Troy Ettel (Executive Director) and Karl Halbig (Avalon Property Manager) on Ichauway this summer. Karl has recently assumed the position of manager at Avalon, a 30,000-acre property in north Florida east of Tallahassee. We enjoyed comparing notes on wildlife management, forest management, prescribed fire, equipment maintenance, and the full range of activities that make managing these types of properties fulfilling.
Busy Season for Aquatic Outreach Activities
Dr. Steve Golladay had a busy stretch this summer with education and outreach activities. First up was hosting a meeting of the aquatics group working on the revision of Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan. This plan is updated every 10 years and taxonomic focus groups are working diligently to prepare for the upcoming release of the new plan. Our annual freshwater mussel identification and conservation workshop was held in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in early August and explored different aquatic environments in Southwest Georgia that provide habitat for freshwater mussels. Dr. Golladay finished up his outreach season by hosting a meeting of the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream board of directors, on which he serves. Thanks to Steve for all his educational efforts! 
Assessing a Rare Plant
Lisa Giencke recently hosted a group of plant conservationists from the Southeast who are working on a Species Status Assessment for ciliate-leaf tickseed, Coreopsis integrifolia. This will provide information to help determine whether this species should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Ciliate-leaf tickseed grows in open areas along streams and wet roadsides. Threats to the species include stream impoundments and herbicide application on road rights-of-way. 
Immersed in Longleaf with Arkansas Tech
Dr. Mike Conner hosted a Forest Ecology class from Arkansas Tech University. The students received an orientation to longleaf pine and visited several sites around the Ichauway property. Topics covered included different types of longleaf pine sites, longleaf woodland restoration, and wildlife-habitat relations.
Ichauway Conservation Fellows: Past and Present
Former Ichauway Conservation Fellow Charles “Chaz” Oliver has recently accepted a new position as Fire Training Specialist with the National Interagency Prescribed Fire Training Center in Tallahassee, FL. Chaz has had a very successful few years as The Nature Conservancy’s North Florida Land Conservation Coordinator at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. Over the last ten years, Chaz has carried his experience as a Conservation Fellow into positions of impact in the natural resources profession and is exemplary of the influence we hope this program cultivates. Chaz has been on quite a roll lately, with a new baby and a new job! Congratulations!
Layne Richardson started his Ichauway Conservation Fellowship in August. He is from Wetumpka, Alabama and has a forestry degree from Mississippi State University. Layne is also a Mississippi registered forester and Certified Tree Farm Inspector. Jimmy Bullock, a member of the Jones Center’s Advisory Committee and Senior Vice President at Resource Management Service, LLC, has agreed to serve as Layne’s mentor. Layne has worked as a Conservation Technician at the Jones Center since May of 2022.
Deer With Chronic Wasting Disease Found Near Southwest Georgia
Chronic wasting disease is a fatal disease of white-tailed deer that has many significant implications on the management of the species. In June, this disease was detected in Holmes County, Florida, about 40 miles from the Georgia state line and 80 miles from Ichauway. Due to the proximity of this detection, Jones Center staff invited a group of 45 stakeholders to a meeting at the Jones Center in early August. Neighboring land managers, natural resource agencies, non-governmental organizations, deer processors, and university staff were present to discuss the issue. Invitees represented many properties in Southwest Georgia managing a total of well over 500,000 acres. Several organizations partnered with us to organize and present the workshop, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GA DNR), the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources (UGA Warnell), and the National Deer Association (NDA). The objectives of the meeting were to: 1) provide the current status, information, and research about chronic wasting disease (Dr. Gino D’Angelo, UGA Warnell), 2) provide perspective from the deer hunting community about chronic wasting disease (Lindsay Thomas, Jr., NDA), 3) share GA DNR’s current efforts to monitor chronic wasting disease (Brent Howze, GA DNR), and 4) discuss GA DNR’s response to any future detection of chronic wasting disease in Georgia and the state’s Deer Management Assistance Program (Dr. Emily Belser, GA DNR).