It has been an exciting year thus far for the Everglades. Restoration projects and project agreements are moving forward. Audubon’s Everglades team has been hard at work requesting increased protections for Lake Okeechobee’s water quality and the quantity of water available for wildlife such as the endangered Everglade Snail Kite. As we continue to keep a close eye on restoration progress, including moving forward the discussion of operating structures and completed projects to provide maximum benefit for the ecosystem, we hope you will join us in our efforts by continuing to take action on important decisions. Please also consider making a contribution so our team can maintain its diligent efforts to protect and restore America’s Everglades. We appreciate your continued support!
Help Audubon protect the four corners of the Everglades.
Our Everglades team of science and policy professionals works tirelessly throughout the year in the four corners of the Everglades. In the Northern Everglades, Charles Lee advocates for water quality improvements through partnerships involving landowners to store water to filter pollutants on their lands. Julie Hill-Gabriel, Megan Tinsley and Jane Graham work toward restoring the Water Conservation Areas, Southern Everglades and Florida Bay as Brian Moore works to get Everglades projects funded from Washington D.C. Brad Cornell leads the fight for issues impacting the health of the Western Everglades, while Eric Draper, Julie Wraithmell, and Mary Jean Yon head up our efforts in Tallahassee. Audubon’s science experts are stationed in various locations to inform us about the needs for the health of the Everglades: Dr. Paul Gray near Lake Okeechobee, Dr. Jerry Lorenz and Peter Frezza based in Tavernier, and Ed Carlson and Jason Lauritsen at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
Our State of the Everglades Report provides updates and highlights on the progress toward restoring the Everglades.
Conservation News for the Northern Everglades
Ranchers and other landowners will be compensated to leave portions of their land in natural conditions. Photo by Mac Stone.
Audubon applauds the announcement by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that $100
million will be utilized to fund land conservation in Florida through the Wetlands Reserve Program
(WRP). The goal is to compensate
ranchers and other landowners who leave portions of their land in natural
conditions and retain water on those lands while continuing their agricultural
activities. Interested landowners are
still in the midst of the application process, and the focus is on
approximately 24,000 acres in the Northern Everglades.
This will complement the WRP
allocation of $89 million last year in the Fisheating Creek watershed, as well
as the proposed conservation easements pursued by the Department of the
Interior in the Everglades Headwaters Conservation Area, and efforts to expand
and conserve land near the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. Audubon has been advocating for funding
dispersed water management, and promoting conservation through easements by contacting
landowners and urging them to investigate and consider participating. This
comprehensive approach to utilizing wildlife corridors and cost-effectively
providing water management and water quality improvements can show demonstrable
Innovative Northern Everglades Private Partnership Projects Gain
succeeding in its efforts to champion Dispersed Water Management, the cost
saving program that promotes private landowners in the Northern
Everglades to store and clean water on their land for payment. Despite
the unprecedented $128 million cut to their FY 2012 budget due to Senate Bill
2142, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) continued to
encourage this innovative program by increasing funding by $5.7 million,
totaling $14.5 million for FY 2012. This is in addition to our victory last
year when funds for these projects were doubled. For the next few years, funds
have been reserved for this program to continue the exciting momentum. Audubon
plans to continue our work with landowners to advocate further enlargement of
this popular program.
Everglades Headwaters Conservation Area Plans
Check back with Audubon in the coming weeks for ways you can help the proposed Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by RJ Wiley
The U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service is nearing an announcement (likely in September) of the
proposed plan for establishment of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife
Refuge and Conservation Area. Conceptually proposed to consist of 100,000 acres
of conservation easements and 50,000 acres of full acquisition, this proposal
has become extremely attractive to landowners in the Kissimmee River basin.
Several major landowners, including one of the largest- the Latt Maxcy
Corporation- have indicated an interest in selling easements or land. We
anticipate that the proposal will concentrate on several large ranch tracts
from known willing sellers and contain specific assurances that the Florida
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will manage any lands open to public
hunting and fishing. Watch for future Restore
announcements of public meetings and the opportunity to comment. A strong positive response from Audubon
members and chapters will be needed!
Connect With the Birds of the Everglades on Facebook
The Audubon Everglades team has been vigorously advocating for
improved water quality protections in the Lake Okeechobee
watershed. Over the past six months, Audubon actively worked with the SFWMD,
Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Department of
Agriculture and Consumer Services throughout the Lake Okeechobee Protection Plan
2011 update process.
Our team has advocated for a more in-depth and robustly funded
dispersed water management program, improved agricultural and urban nutrient
source controls north of Lake Okeechobee, and cost effective water treatment in
the Northern Everglades. In addition, Audubon presented our recommendations at
the SFWMD February Governing Board meeting, along with a letter signed by hundreds of citizens
across the state regarding the need for increased protections for our great
lake. Thank you for your support!
Audubon Campaigns for
Water Conservation for Wildlife Habitats During Droughts
Okeechobee’s wildlife needs greater protections during the dry
season. We continue to advocate for the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE)
and SFWMD to make lake management decisions that conserve water in the lake to
protect critical habitat for the Everglade Snail Kite. The lake’s Minimum Flows and Levels rule,
intended to protect the lake from significant harm, was in violation for
the first time in July 2011. Audubon has requested that recovery measures be
implemented quickly to emphasize further water conservation. Audubon’s
leadership on this issue has gained attention from the agencies and the public,
and we continue to vigorously campaign for solutions.
Everglade Snail Kites are known as an indicator species for the health of the Everglades. Photo by RJ Wiley.
Low Water Levels Place Everglade Snail Kites at Risk
Audubon was saddened to report that the extremely low water levels in Lake Okeechobee caused endangered Everglade Snail Kites on Lake Okeechobee to leave their nests stranded. The Kite’s success is one of three system-wide indicators for the health of the Everglades. Baby Kites were abandoned in the nests by parents in search of food, and those that did fledge had little suitable habitat remaining. We await final reports on young Kite survival this year but the projections are bleak. Lake Okeechobee remains perilously low and without sufficient tropical weather, the severe drought will extend until next summer.
Managing Water Better
to Benefit Wildlife in the Water Conservation Areas
Because the Everglades
is divided by canals, roads and levees into different compartments, managing water
levels in these areas is a challenge. Inflows are often limited by competing water uses, leaving areas such as
Water Conservation Area 3A (WCA-3A) parched in extremely dry years, such as
this. More water storage and treatment
options, as well as improved water management upstream, are needed for water
releases to the environment in dry years. And until restoration projects such as Tamiami Trail bridging and the essential project to remove dams and levees called Decompartmentalization come online, outflows from WCA-3A will continue to be
limited, leaving water in wet years to pond at the southern edge and degrade
nesting habitat for the endangered Everglade Snail Kite.
Audubon supports efforts by the
ACOE and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Everglades Restoration
Transition Plan to approach managing water levels in WCA-3A to benefit multiple
species of wildlife until we have more capability for true restoration. In addition to providing critical habitat for
Snail Kites, WCA-3A is also utilized extensively by nesting wading birds,
including Wood Storks, and it is important Everglades
habitat that needs improved management.
Restoration of the
St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon Ready
Indian River Lagoon is one of the most productive estuaries in the nation.
The contract awarded in July to
build part of the Indian River Lagoon Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan
(CERP) project marks the newest rung to be cleared on the Everglades
progress ladder. The ACOE awarded the $32,420,192 contract to Phillips &
Jordan, Inc., to build the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area (RSTA)
component of the project, which will begin reducing nutrient loads and improving
salinities downstream. The project is expected to break ground in October and
this phase of construction is scheduled for completion in 2013.
The St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon are two
of the most productive estuaries in the nation. Achieving the most ecologically sound balance of fresh and salt water in
the estuary and lagoon, while improving water quality, will bring ecological
and economic benefits to the region. Moving this project forward is the newest success in restoration, which
also demonstrates the need for continued commitment while we are on the brink
of demonstrable results.
Southern Everglades and Florida Bay
The C-111 Spreader Canal is expected to begin operations in the second half of 2011. Photo by Mac Stone.
Two CERP projects are moving forward,
with the promise of delivering increased freshwater flows to parched southern
estuaries. The C-111 Spreader Canal
project construction is virtually complete and is set to begin baseline
operations later this year. Along with
the C-111, the SFWMD also expedited the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands project
and construction on two of the three project components has begun.
Audubon celebrated the beginnings
of both projects and maintains that their operations are critical to their
success. Raising water levels at
appropriate structures is how the C-111 project will be able to deliver the
volumes of freshwater flow to Taylor Slough and Florida Bay
necessary to begin to reverse current degradation. Adjusting current water management practices
that lower groundwater levels in the south Dade region annually will allow for
Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands project features to deliver increased
benefits. As Everglades
restoration projects move from planning to construction and finally completion
phases, progress on appropriate operations is critical to ensure projects
deliver their full ecological benefits.
Photo by Mac Stone.
This spring, Audubon launched a virtual laboratory website- RestoreFloridaBay.org -where visitors can uncover the interaction between the components of a healthy Florida Bay. Four visually stunning videos introduce the Florida Bay ecosystem and the data collection efforts of Tavernier Science Center research biologists.
Analysis of water quality, aquatic vegetation, and fish community data that Audubon has collected in the southern Everglades for decades will more conclusively identify specific restoration targets for Florida Bay. It is a critical time to provide feedback to decision-makers as the C-111 Spreader Canal project is close to completion and must be operated appropriately to deliver ecological benefits to Florida Bay.
Visit RestoreFloridaBay.org today to pledge your support for restoring this incredible estuary and to share stories of your experiences visiting this special place!
Florida Supreme Court Victory for Everglades and Water Resource Protections
Audubon was thrilled to hear the recent news that the Florida Supreme Court agreed with Audubon’s position and overturned Governor Scott’s executive order that suspended all state rulemaking. Audubon filed a “friend of the court” brief in a case brought by Rosalie Whiley, a blind woman whose application for food stamps was put on hold by Scott’s rule suspension. Audubon’s brief argued that Governor Scott acted contrary to Florida’s laws on rulemaking and the effect of his actions included halting an important rule proposed to protect freshwater flows in Biscayne Bay. The court’s ruling puts the public back in the rulemaking process. Progress can now resume on vital protections for the precious water resources of Biscayne Bay, the Caloosahatchee Estuary and the Kissimmee River.
More Good News for Everglades National Park
Everglades advocates make a difference for our one-of-a-kind wetlands!
The enduring push to remove portions of Tamiami
Trail to restore more natural water flows into Everglades National Park
continues to be an example of how when Everglades advocates speak with a
persistent, united voice, the rewards of restoration progress are bound to
follow. The wave of progress that has
accompanied these efforts continues.
First, after twenty years of setbacks, interested
parties came together to support construction of a one-mile bridge, set to be completed in 2013, to begin reconnecting the habitat so critical for
the endangered species that need these improvements for population
Then, with the help of many
Audubon activists, the National Park Service developed and approved plans for
the additional bridging of 5.5 miles that will increase habitat connectivity by
500% while providing economic benefits to Everglades
National Park and Florida Bay.
The next step is to achieve approval from
Congress, and important victories have already occurred. When the Appropriations Committee of the
House of Representatives passed a bill that funds the Department of the
Interior and Environmental Protection Agency, approval of the 5.5-mile
bridge project was included. Keep a
close eye on upcoming Restore action
alerts to help make sure this language is included by the full House of
Representatives and the US Senate.
Army Corps and Water Management District
Break Ground on Next Phase of Picayune Strand
The Obama Administration makes the message clear: Everglades restoration is a top priority.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
made the message crystal clear: restoring the Everglades
remains a top priority. The groundbreaking
held February 18 for the Faka-Union Canal Pump Station and Spreader Canal,
along with road removal and plugging of canals, make the Picayune Strand
restoration project a big Everglades success
story. When complete, the project will
reclaim 55,000 acres of over drained subdivision and recreate cypress sloughs,
marshes, tropical hammocks and wet prairies, while re-establishing sheetflow to
the Ten Thousand Islands estuaries. “We
cannot stop now,” said Salazar. Audubon
and its allies are working to secure funding for the final phase of restoration
for the Miller Canal.
Restoration Partners Committed to Controlling Exotics
Invasive exotic species pose some of the biggest challenges to protection and restoration of South Florida’s unique environment. This spring, a huge victory took place in the battle to control threats from exotic plants including melaleuca, lygodium and Brazilian pepper, which is a goal of CERP and an important part of the equation for restoration efforts. Audubon of Florida and local chapters celebrated as construction began on a facility that will raise insects to control the populations of these exotic plants.
This cooperative project, made possible through a joint effort of the ACOE, SFWMD, University of Florida, US Department of the Interior and US Department of Agriculture, will raise, release and monitor these “biocontrol” agents which can decrease plant size, flower and seed production and increase leaf mortality. The insects will be cultivated to specifically impact the targeted plant species and tested to ensure they are safe for release with no unintended adverse impact on the ecosystem. This joint effort is the biggest such effort to advance in the Everglades.
parallel GEPI refuge proposals in the Northern Everglades
and Fisheating Creek watersheds, the Panther Refuge expansion would feature
collaborative work with ranchers, predominantly using easements.
The Florida Panther is an
indicator species for progress on Everglades
restoration – success should be reflected in recovery for panthers and the host
of wildlife sharing its expansive habitat. Audubon expects public hearings on
this in the fall. Stay tuned to the Audubon of Florida News blog for the latest information.