For those who live in or visit the Florida Keys for an extended length of time, the sight of a miniscule Key Deer wandering about might not be so unusual. But what about the Lower Keys marsh rabbit, Bartram’s hairstreak butterfly, the Key Largo woodrat, the Key Largo cotton mouse, the Miami Blue butterfly, the Key tree cactus, the Stock Island tree snail, or the American Crocodile? Have you ever happened upon any of these creatures? Did you know they’re federally listed as endangered or threatened?
If you’ve spent some time in the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges, you may have been fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of some of these unique species. If you haven’t, now’s your chance; On Saturday, March 11th through Saturday, March 18th, the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex celebrates their second annual Outdoor Fest with a full week of family-friendly, mostly free outdoor adventures and hands-on activities co-hosted with their Friends group FAVOR (Friends And Volunteers Of Refuges). Held in National Key Deer, Crocodile Lake, Great White Heron, and Key West National Wildlife Refuges, the Fest aims to educate and encourage participants in enjoying the refuge complex in a fun and wildlife-friendly way.
“Education and awareness is key,” says Refuge Ranger Kristie Killam. “As is stewardship— planting native plants, responsible pet ownership, not feeding wildlife, ethical wildlife viewing, and leaving no trace— these are just a few ways people can do their part.”
Over time, the loss of natural native habitat and other human impacts have had their negative effects on the creatures now on that federal list. Sometimes it’s other parasitic creatures that do their devastation; Last Fall, the Refuge Complex team, their Friend’s group, local, state and federal partners, and a bounty of community volunteers worked together feverishly to help stabilize a critical epidemic of invasive screwworm parasites that left 135 of the 800-1000 endangered Key deer dead, “most of them males who injure themselves competing for females during the breeding season,” says Killam. The team plans to continue to monitor and treat deer until they are optimistic they are moving to a point of safety and away from the screwworm infestation.
Focused activism like this may have likely saved the species from extinction. While many may not have the time or resources to commit as demonstrated by these wildlife heroes, the simple effort of learning all one can about our wildlife and refuge complex system can go a long, long way. The Outdoor Fest is a great place to take advantage of that, offering something for all ages and interests— from a children’s Nature Photography Workshop to the “Run with Deer” 5K run/walk on Big Pine Key – Saturday, March 18th, 2017, a race that wanders through rural roads within National Key Deer Refuge, with proceeds to support new nature center exhibits, kids programs, habitat restoration, education and outreach, and many other projects hosted by FAVOR in the four Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges.
“People need to know that their efforts and actions can make a huge difference in ensuring that wild places and wildlife are around for their kids and grandkids to appreciate,” says Killam.
The Outdoor Fest is brought to you in part by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. For more information about the refuges, FAVOR, and the list of events, visit www.favorfloridakeys.org/outdoor-fest or contact Kristie Killam at 305.304.9625 or email Nancy or Jan at firstname.lastname@example.org.