Red-cockaded woodpeckers (RCW), a federally-endangered species, were last observed at DuPuis in 1989. The FWC, in conjunction with the South Florida Water Management District and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, developed a plan to reintroduce RCWs to the area. Since 2006, there have been 92 RCWs relocated from public lands in Florida and Georgia to DuPuis. An average of 45% of these woodpeckers has stayed in the area at least one year.
In addition, we have seen the number of breeding pairs and young produced increase. The graph shows this population growth from 2006 - 15. The 2015 breeding season was our most successful, with 12 breeding pairs producing 17 fledglings. During the breeding season, clusters are monitored for nests, nestlings are banded, and fledging success determined. The FWC and SFWMD conduct habitat management activities to enhance RCW habitat.
The successful relocation of RCWs at DuPuis has established an important new population in southeastern Florida as part of the Federal Recovery plan. The only other community of RCWs in southeastern Florida is at the Corbett Wildlife Management Area. Valerie thinks that it has been very rewarding to be part of the effort to successfully reintroduce RCW’s to DuPuis and watch their population grow.
The Florida Freshwater Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) scientists work with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to manage and monitor the wildlife at DuPuis. Valerie Sparling has been with the FWC for 17 years as a Biological Scientist and leads all the wildlife studies conducted at DuPuis’ 21, 875 acre property. Valerie earned a B.S. from Rutgers University in Natural Resources Management in New Jersey. She continued her studies to earn a M.S. from the University of Georgia focusing on Wildlife Ecology.
Valerie’s favorite project is the Red Cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) reintroduction and monitoring study. It has been the most rewarding because we have been able to reintroduce an endangered species into an area where it had disappeared. She also has a lot of fun flying in the helicopter during deer and eagle surveys. Valerie says that she loves getting out in the field to observe animals and how they interact with their habitats. She enjoys educating visitors about the natural resources found at DuPuis, so they are able to appreciate natural surroundings wherever they go.
Valerie’s advice for students interested in a career in wildlife biology is that it is very competitive. Employers are looking for people with good communication skills, as well as specialized field experience. Students should try to find jobs or volunteer positions while still in school, so they get a head start on discovering what interests them. They should try to meet people that could help guide them on their career path.