A lot of us got by with a little help from animals during the lockdown.
Even if your cat or dog interrupted your Zoom meeting or class, being able to pet and hold them throughout the day was a benefit of working remotely. As the months progressed, delightful videos of sheep, goats, penguins and other wild animals wandering deserted streets also helped lighten the mood.
Unfortunately, and fortunately, the animals have been replaced by people again now that lockdowns are being lifted, but you can still find wildlife if you look for it. Last week I saw a vole drag a wriggling earthworm under a hydrangea and yesterday I discovered a small praying mantis on a flower.
If animals make your world whole, you will enjoy the Rome-Floyd ECO Center at Ridge Ferry Park and its Speaker Series. The series, which is in its third year, hosts nature experts monthly between March and October.
I arrived early for May’s presentation about Georgia Fisheries so I could look at every animal. The fish, amphibians and reptiles living in an assortment of tanks and containers are representative of the animals we live with here in the ecosystem of Rome and Floyd County.
The acronym ECO in the center’s name does double duty as an abbreviation suggesting words like “ecosystem” and “ecology” while standing for the three rivers around us: the Etowah, Coosa and Oostanaula.
Jackson Sibley gave May’s presentation. He is a young Fisheries biologist with the Wildlife Resources Division of Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources.
When I called Mr. Sibley after the talk, I learned his grandfather was John A. Sibley, for whom the John A. Sibley Horticultural Center at Callaway Gardens had been named. Jackson told me that his grandfather had been a friend of the Callaway family, a conservationist and a land steward. Jackson Sibley grew up with nature on his grandfather’s land in Northwest Georgia and on a working farm next to two wooded acres next to a river — all things inducive, he told me, to not growing up to work indoors!
Jackson Sibley’s tan is evidence he has found work that keeps him outside a lot of the time. His talk about Georgia Fisheries left me impressed by our state’s freshwater fishing resources.
Georgia has 155 boat ramps and 11 public fishing areas that are maintained by the Fisheries Division. There is a free fishing tackle loaner program at 25 state parks.
Fisheries workers monitor our freshwater fish populations and improve fishing areas with native plants and artificial reef-like structures to attract bait and trophy fish. There are ongoing projects combatting invasive species of plants, fish and invertebrates.
Mr. Sibley and his colleagues also provide aquatic education through talks, and more than 300 kids’ fishing events a year. He asked how many of us had been to the Go Fish Center in Perry and a few people raised their hands.
Check out this amazing place: GoFishEducationCenter.com. You can take your toddler fishing, send your 7- to 15-year-olds to fishing day camp, take tours and go on scavenger hunts.
On top of all of this, Fisheries runs 10 hatcheries across the state that produce 12 species of 6 to 10 million fish a year. The hatchery project most familiar to people in this area is probably the effort to reintroduce lake sturgeon to the Coosa River system, which started in 2002.
Members of the audience remembered that some area kindergarten students assisted with the initial release of sturgeon hatchlings into the Coosa River. Ben Winkelman, the ECO Center director, said from time to time those children, now grown, will wonder aloud about how their sturgeon are doing! So far, the sturgeon seem to be doing well, but Mr. Sibley said it will be decades before we will know for sure that this ancient fish is coming back from near extinction. If you happen to catch one, please release it as soon as possible!
We are fortunate to have Jackson Sibley and others like him taking care of our state’s natural and wildlife resources. You can help our Fisheries Division by buying a fishing license and not littering while fishing. Find out more about fishing in Georgia at GeorgiaWildlife.com.
You can find out about upcoming Speaker Series topics at RomeFloydEcoCenter.com. Trina Morris from the DNR will give July’s talk, “Bats Are Back” on July 22. Call the Center (706-622-6435) to reserve your space.