Audubon Florida News

Everglades Funding at Stake in SFWMD Board Vote

posted on July 30, 2015 in Everglades,State Government,Water Issues

The deeper parts of Okeechobee’s marsh are in wonderful condition for fish and wildlife, including Everglades Snail Kites.On July 16, the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District (the agency responsible for managing the state’s Everglades restoration effort) did the courageous thing and voted to keep their tax rate the same as last year. Click here to read our latest fact sheet on this issue.

Thank you to our chapter partners for joining us at the public meeting to advocate for the funding to keep Everglades restoration on track. By keeping the tax rate the same, the District will gain an additional $21 million in revenue that can be used towards protecting imperiled habitat and the wildlife that live there.

Now the Governing Board is under pressure from Tallahassee to undo their vote and cut the tax rate instead of keeping it the same.

This Friday, July 31, the board will vote to either keep the tax rate the same or cut the rate to a lower level and Audubon will be there. If the board votes for the cut, the savings would be small but the costs to the environment would be high. The owner of a $200,000 home would save less than $6.00 a year and would come at the price of defunding already slow restoration efforts.

Click here to read a recent Sun Sentinel editorial.

Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Everglade Snail Kites, and other iconic Florida birds depend on the Everglades ecosystem for survival. Restoration projects designed to repair this important habitat need funding to stay on track.

Click here to take action and ask the SFWMD Governing Board to hold the tax rate and protect Everglades funding.

UPDATE: 

BREAKING: The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has reversed a previous vote to maintain millage rate at same level as last year — now District will collect $21 million LESS for Everglades restoration work this year.

THANK YOU to our inspiring Everglades Advocates for emailing the SFWMD Governing Board about this issues AND to our Chapters and Allies for attending today’s meeting and making public comment. Your voices are vital to the Everglades restoration process.

Audubon Florida Decries Florida’s Challenge of Wetland Protections

posted on July 7, 2015 in Water Issues

Wetlands by Chad JohnsonAudubon Florida is disappointed at the June 30 action by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi joining 26 other states suing the Obama Administration over a new rule clarifying which wetlands and streams are protected under the federal Clean Water Act. Their complaints assert the new U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers rule usurps the states’ authority to protect and manage their own waters.

Audubon Florida strongly supports the new rule which was made necessary by two muddled Supreme Court cases on wetlands in 2001 and 2006.  Audubon and other agencies have clearly documented the alarming acceleration of wetland destruction – the first since the 1980’s – since those earlier Court rulings confused the issue of what is a federally protected wetland or water resource.

Florida has now lost over half its wetlands, so it makes no sense for the State to challenge a necessary, science-based wetland clarification while it is also spending hundreds of millions of dollars on restoring wetland ecosystems like the Everglades.

Wetland destruction is why over 90% of the Everglades’ wading birds have vanished – from an estimated 2.5 million birds in 1900 to less than 100,000 today. Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s iconic Wood Stork rookery has only produced chicks in only 2 of the last 8 years.  Without protection and restoration of wetland ecosystems that these and many other wildlife species depend on, these dire trends will continue.

Audubon Florida will continue to vigorously support this reasonable new rule and hope it survives these short-sighted legal challenges.

Audubon Florida Presents Sustainable Rancher of the Year Award for 2015 to Lykes Ranch

posted on June 22, 2015 in Land Conservation,Press Releases

Audubon Florida presented its Sustainable Rancher of the Year award to Lykes Ranch at Florida Cattlemen’s Association annual banquet held at Champions Gate near Orlando on the evening of June 18.  Accepting the award for Lykes Ranch was Charles P. “Charlie” Lykes Jr., President & Chief Executive Officer of Lykes Bros. Inc. Also present was Linda McCarthy Senior Ecologist at Lykes Bros, Inc, along with numerous members of the Lykes Ranch Staff.

Lykes Ranch, comprising 338,162 acres in Glades, Highlands and Polk Counties, is a leader in ranch based wildlife habitat conservation and water management innovation.

The Lykes Ranch has been the most effective and innovative large scale participant in the South Florida Water Management District’s Dispersed Water Management Program. This year, the 16,000 acre Nicodemus Slough project became operational, providing temporary storage for 34,000 acre feet of water drawn from Lake Okeechobee. This is available to release into the lake or the Caloosahatchee River during times of need.

The Lykes Nicodemus Slough project was preceded by the “West Waterhole Marsh” project, a 2,370 acre facility on the C-40 canal in the Indian Prairie Basin. In 2014, over 6.8 billion gallons of water were pumped into the marsh. 88% of the phosphorus pumped into the marsh, or 10.3 metric tons, was retained in the marsh. 56% of the nitrogen pumped into the marsh (48.8 metric tons) was also retained. Click here to read the detailed independent study.

Lykes Ranch is planning the construction of a new large-scale (8,200 acres) storm water storage and treatment area known as “Brighton Valley” also in the Indian Prairie Basin. This project has been incorporated in the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan and is essential to meeting the plan’s goal for reducing phosphorous pollution. The BMAP projects a 7.7 ton phosphorus reduction from the Brighton Valley project, and it is scheduled to be constructed in FY16 and to be operational shortly after.

Lykes has also committed substantial portions of the ranch to perpetual wildlife habitat management through existing conservation easements, including:

  • A 41,606 acre conservation easement at Fisheating Creek
  • 7,578 acres of Gopher Tortoise Relocation Mitigation Sites
  • 3,008 acre Rainey Slough Wetland Reserve Program conservation easement.

Lykes Ranch is actively pursuing applications to state agencies for the purchase of additional conservation easements, including:

  • A 6,859 acre conservation easement protecting the 11 mile long, one mile wide tract known as Chaparral Slough through the Florida Forever program.
  • An 886 acre easement at Squirrel Island through the FDACS Rural and Family Lands program.

Finally, Lykes incorporates an integrated approach to wildlife management throughout the ranch. The most notable example is long history of vigilant voluntary protection offered by Lykes to the largest communal migratory roost of Swallow-tailed Kites (Elanoides forficatus forficatus) in North America. This Roost occurs annually on Lykes Ranch near Fisheating Creek, where as many as 3,000 birds congregate prior to migrating to Central and South America.

Working with ranchers to achieve conservation of wildlife habitat, and to encourage restorative water management projects on their lands is a priority for Audubon in the Northern Everglades.

To learn more about this effort, see the updated Audubon video by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

Audubon Advocates Keep Pressure on the Army Corps to Protect the Southern Everglades

posted on June 16, 2015 in Everglades,Florida Bay,Water Issues

spoonbill_bill_swindamanThree vital restoration projects in the Southern Everglades – Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park, C-111 South Dade, and the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project – are nearly complete. How these projects are operated will determine how they impact the ecosystem. Operations that move freshwater to the right places at the right time of year will help revive Everglades National Park, improve conditions in Florida Bay, and bring back birds, fish, and other wildlife that depend on these special places.

The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a series of incremental tests. During these tests, freshwater will be moved through restoration projects and into the Everglades. Data will be collected to determine the final operations plan for the Southern Everglades. The goal of these projects are to restore the flow of water that will in turn restore habitats in the Southern Everglades and Florida Bay.

The first increment of testing will start this summer and will slightly increase water flowing into Shark River Slough in Everglades National Park. In order to satisfy the vocal agricultural community worried about the impacts of restoration on their land, this test will also allow some water to be diverted away from Taylor Slough and Florida Bay which will reduce ecological benefits in those areas.

Audubon will continue working with the agencies responsible for Everglades restoration to stress that restoration projects achieve the promised ecological benefits for birds and other wildlife.

Miami-Dade Rallies for Water and Land Conservation Amendment

posted on in State Government

miamidaderally_amendment1_tallOn Saturday May 30, thousands of citizens rallied across Florida in support of Amendment 1 in anticipation of the special Florida legislative session.

Miami was one of 9 locations to host a rally. On a sunny Saturday morning in beautiful South Miami, over 70 people from all corners of southeast Florida, gathered to ask the Tallahassee leadership to finish the job and honor the Constitutional Amendment passed by 4.2 million voters.

Rally speakers included South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, representatives from Miami-Dade County Commissioners Rebeca Sosa and Daniella Levine Cava, and Audubon Florida’s Everglades Policy Associate Celeste De Palma. Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez sent a statement of support to be shared with rally attendees.

Mayor Stoddard opened the rally by calling for the Florida Legislature to honor the voters and focus on funding Florida Forever, funding Everglades restoration and acquiring land south of Lake Okeechobee, as well as protecting our Springs. A statement from Commissioner Sosa commended all who gathered that day “to present a united front towards calling upon the state to finish the job,” as she stated the importance of the Everglades to all of Florida, and to Dade County in particular. Commissioner Suarez’s statement echoed Sosa’s words and added that “Miami-Dade is ground zero for sea level rise in Florida. Acquiring the land and building the capacity to send water south from Lake Okeechobee is our best defense against saltwater intrusion.”

To make it even more clear that Miami-Dade County is a strong ally in advancing Everglades restoration, a representative for Commissioner Levine Cava shared the exciting news that a resolution sponsored by the Commissioner urging Legislators to allocate $150 million from Amendment 1 to Everglades restoration, as well as $500 million dollars to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee, would be coming up for a vote at the June 2 Board of County Commissioners meeting. That resolution was voted on and passed by the Board of County Commissioners, lending further support to the Water & Land Coalition’s efforts.

However, despite the evident local support from elected leaders, rally attendees were frustrated with the Legislature’s inaction. South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard was quick to add that “it is never too late to change the minds of elected officials. As our voices get louder, they pay attention,” and before closing the rally, Everglades Policy Associate Celeste De Palma reminded rally attendees that people do have the power to make change happen in their communities, “if you believe you have no influence in Tallahassee, let me remind you that we the People just changed the Florida Constitution!”

Indeed, 4.2 million voters believed investing in conservation lands was the right thing to do. It is clear that our job isn’t done, and it will take continued pressure from the people to get our Legislators to honor the Constitution and fund water and conservation lands.

We did it once, and we can do it again. You have the power to make it happen. If you haven’t yet contacted your legislator about the importance of honoring the intent of Amendment 1, you can do so now. Then contact Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner & House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and ask them to finish the job we sent them to Tallahassee to do.

Watchful Officer Takes the Lead to Protect Least Tern Colony

posted on June 10, 2015 in Coastal Conservation

1.	Mark Rivadeneyra (FWC), Chris Farrell (Audubon), and Chris Angel (FWC) posting the Least Tern Colony.A handful of flying seabirds caught the attention of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Officer Lee Lawshe in early May while he was patrolling Matanzas Wildlife Management Area. He recognized the birds as Least Terns, a State-designated Threatened species, and quickly realized they were nesting nearby. The terns were using a flat, sandy, open area within a Florida Inland Navigation District “spoil” site for their nesting. Officer Lawshe informed Lieutenant Steve Zukowsky about the colony, who in turn reached out to FWC’s biologists in the region, Alex Kropp and Anna Deyle.

Within hours, people were working to protect the new colony. 

Sign alerting people to the presence of the colony.Late spring through summer is a busy time for biologists who work along the coast – it’s beach-nesting bird season. Unfortunately, many of our sea and shorebirds are facing tough times. Coastal habitats are increasingly lost to development or are transformed by dredging, beach renourishment, and other activities. To make matters worse, nesting birds are raising their families on the same beautiful beaches where people want to recreate with their families.  To help reverse population declines in coastal bird species like the Least Tern, Audubon staff and volunteers work through “shorebird partnerships” with FWC and other organizations to manage and protect the birds where they choose to nest each year.

5.	Chris Angel (FWC) installing sign along Matanzas River shoreline.Anna Deyle organized a team consisting of FWC staff (Mark Rivadeneyra, Chris Angel, and Heather Hillard) and Chris Farrell, Audubon’s Northeast Florida Policy Associate, to visit the site. The team installed symbolic fencing and signage (provided by St. Johns County) around the nesting tern colony and along a stretch of land leading to the colony from the sandy shores of the adjacent Matanzas River. It was a large area to post, but experience and teamwork helped the work go quickly. Fencing a buffered area around beach-nesting birds protects the eggs and chicks from accidental harm by unknowing beachgoers and also provides an opportunity for people to learn that some birds don’t nest in trees – they lay their eggs right on the bare sand!

Posting along the Matanzas River (southern end of site).The threat to sea and shorebirds is real and immediate, but dedication and collaboration through regional shorebird partnerships can produce meaningful results. Thanks to Officer Lawshe’s knowledge and observations, and the quick response of FWC and Audubon Florida, 34 Least Tern nests and two Wilson’s Plover nests were found, surveyed, and posted within just a few days.

Nicodemus Slough Project Now Online

posted on May 28, 2015 in Everglades,Water Issues

nicodemus2_nrThis may be the fastest startup ever for an Everglades related water management project. Nicodemus Slough is now storing water from Lake Okeechobee, providing relief from high-water discharges and now discharging water at the right time to help the river and estuary.

This 16,000 acre project can store and dispense around 34,000 acre feet of water and was online in about 3 years from proposal. It will cost the South Florida Water Management District $28 million if its full term lease is utilized, just a tiny fraction of the cost big reservoirs under engineering or construction on the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River.

Built by Lykes Brothers Ranch on their own land with the company taking the risk, Lykes has stepped out in front with a real winner here. Ten years from now, when the government-built reservoirs are just starting operation, this project will already have a decade of performance behind it. This shows what private-public partnerships can do.

Audubon Florida is proud to have had a role as an advocate of this great project.

For more information, please click here.

SWFWMD Staff Removes H‏álpata Tastanaki Preserve Tracts From Surplus List

posted on April 29, 2015 in Land Conservation

After meeting Friday, April 24 with Audubon’s Chalapata_swfwmdharles Lee and others concerned with protecting conservation lands in the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Ken Frink, Director of the district’s Operations, Lands & Resource Monitoring Division announced that the 47 acres of recovering Scrub Jay habitat at Halpata would be removed from the surplus list.

Frink also indicated that Pine Island, a conservation tract in the Braden River in Manatee County would be recommended for transfer to the county (which is actively managing the island) instead of surplussing the tract. Other tracts in Hillsborough County, including tracts adjacent to the Alafaya River will be considered for transfer to Hillsborough County rather than being surplused and sold on the open market.

While this is a good outcome for those tracts of land, others still hang in the balance. Over 1,500 acres of land in the Green Swamp is proposed for surplus with the district retaining a conservation easement. For most of this acreage, provided that the conservation easement is appropriately worded, this will make little difference as much of the surrounding land is already held in conservation easements rather than owned outright by SWFWMD and other state agencies.

However, two tracts totaling 338 acres are located immediately adjacent to the Van Fleet State Trail. Converting those tracts from fee ownership by the district to a conservation easement will deprive the public of the ability to utilize those tracts. Particularly because this trail is part of a trail complex where $60 million is being spent in this year’s budget to complete the “Coast to Coast” trail, it is inappropriate and short-sighted to remove the possibility that these tracts can be used in the future by the growing recreational constituency on the Van Fleet State Trail.

Other tracts, such as 39 acres just north of SR 44 at Flying Eagle Preserve cry out for an answer “WHY” when it comes to surplus. If the district’s mission is truly “Water Resources” then retaining tracts such as the piece of Flying Eagle at risk seems to be a straightforward and rational decision. The Flying Eagle tract is at least 99% deep wetlands consisting of cypress swamp and open prairie marsh. See the tract by clicking here.

Even though the district is proposing to surplus the tract with a conservation easement, its difficult to understand what a private buyer would want it for – unless it is to later challenge the easement and the regulatory process with a controversial effort to fill and develop it.  This tract (and other similar ones) ought to be kept in the district’s inventory – we will fight for that.

The District’s Governing Board will meet on May 19 to reach a final decision on this round of surplus.

Audubon Florida staff will be meeting with District staff and contacting board members in advance of the board’s final decision.

For additional coverage in the Ocala Star-Banner, please click here.

Shorebird Research Spring Update: American Oystercatchers in the Spotlight

posted on April 28, 2015 in Coastal Conservation

Audubon_AMOY_Friel_banding_1Spring has arrived on Florida beaches with warmer temperatures and shorebirds beginning their yearly nesting cycle. The Audubon/Florida Park Service partnership team is conducting weekly nest surveys at three state parks in the Florida panhandle: St. Joseph Peninsula, St. George Island and Bald Point State Parks. These parks include some of the last remaining undeveloped barrier islands and coastal beaches which are also critical for beach-nesting shorebirds. The five main species monitored at these parks include: Snowy Plovers, Wilson’s Plovers, Least Terns, American Oystercatchers and Black Skimmers,

Following recent banding events, we are highlighting the American Oystercatchers breeding at these three state parks. The banding efforts are part of a long-term research program, in collaboration with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the American Oystercatcher Working Group, assessing nest success and reproductive performance, survival and movement patterns.

But first, what is an American Oystercatcher? It is a large “crow-sized” shorebird with black and white plumage, pink fleshy legs, a bright reddish-orange bill and bold yellow eyes. As their name implies, oystercatchers are adept at prying open oyster shells to feed. They spend the majority of their time foraging and roosting around oyster bars. Right now, those oyster bars are the battling grounds for adult oystercatchers attempting to find the best mates, the best nesting locations and optimal foraging hotspots. Oystercatchers are frequently spotted on oyster bars across from the boat launch at St. George Island State Park near Goose Island, especially during low tide. To see the birds, binoculars or a spotting scope are recommended as they allow observation without scaring the birds away. American Oystercatchers are sensitive to human disturbance since they view us as potential predators and a respectful distance should always be maintained.

Audubon_AMOY_Friel_banding_2At the beginning of the breeding season, oystercatchers scratch shallow depressions in sand or shells to make pre-nesting scrapes before choosing the best one for their nest. Once eggs are laid, they are incubated for 30 days until hatching, and the parents care for the semi-dependent chick for another 30 days until the chicks are flight capable. These are two critical months the birds have to avoid predators and disturbances, human activities and storms that threaten their survival. Following fledging, juvenile oystercatchers must survive an additional two years until they are capable of breeding.  Most oystercatchers do not reproduce until they are at least 3 years old.  However, it is a tough life and few nests survive to hatch, few chicks survive to fledging and few survive to reproduce as part of the adult population.

Pre-nesting scrapes have already been observed this spring during our weekly surveys. Once the scrapes are found, we mark the area with temporary posts and signs to inform the public that birds are using the area for breeding. Posting is a way to protect nesting birds from human disturbances that can cause these threatened species to abandon their nests or lead to indirect predation by opportunistic predators such as laughing gulls. By preventing human intrusion, we hope to increase the odds that nests will survive to hatch, and more chicks will fledge. We recently added new interpretive signs to educate park visitors of beach-nesting shorebird areas and hope this effort will contribute to a reduction in human disturbance.

Along with conducting breeding surveys and protecting breeding habitat, we have the unique opportunity to band some of the birds. Why do we band individual American Oystercatchers? Currently in Florida, their population numbers are low and they are considered state threatened. By banding oystercatchers, we have the opportunity to monitor the movements of individual birds within the nesting territory and to their wintering grounds—which can be in a different part of the state, country or even continent! Banded individuals can help us monitor how long oystercatchers survive at the state parks and if they move to a different nesting territory and or continue to use the same location year after year. Over time, as we monitor nests and breeding adults, we have the chance to observe and document the field-readable codes uniquely identified to each individual. Throughout the course of the breeding season, resighting banded individuals will help us identify each territory as well as individual nesting success and in turn dictate the overall productivity and health of the population.

Audubon_AMOY_Friel_decoyTrapping oystercatchers requires reading behavioral cues and plenty of patience. Using our oystercatcher decoy “Woody” and an audio playback call causes a pair of territorial oystercatchers to react to and try to chase off the intruder from their territory. This behavior provides an opportunity to catch individuals.

We banding Oystercatchers by placing red bands with vertical white numbering on each upper leg and a USFWS metal band applied to the lower right leg. We also collect of the bird’s physical characteristics and then they are released to reunite with their mate.

Already, Red 72 has been re-sighted foraging on the opposite side of Goose Island and it appears that American Oystercatchers are very localized when foraging. After banding Red 73, a scrape was found during a survey near the original banding location. We will continue to monitor these birds for the rest of the year, and hopefully, for the rest of their lives.

More information on resighting American Oystercatchers and banding schemes that are used by different states can be found at the amoywg.org. More information on American Oystercatchers populations throughout their range can be found by clicking here.

Beach-Nesting Bird Season Has Begun

posted on in Coastal Conservation

Snowy Plover and Newborn Chick by Jim UrbachBeach-Nesting Bird season has officially begun! This is when life really starts gets exciting on our beaches and coastal areas!

Reports from the Panhandle on the first-of-season Snowy Plover nests are coming in.  Phipps Preserve had a first full nest of 3 eggs on March 13 and Dog Island had its first egg on the 11. Reports of nest activity have come in from St. George Island State Park and Navarre Beach.

The Snowy Plovers have been pairing up, selecting mates and making scrapes, which is their pre-nesting breeding behavior, since early February. The American Oystercatchers have also been pairing up and making scrapes. Their nests will be active any time now. On paper, the official season is Mid-February thru August, but birds don’t read! So we all adjust accordingly if needed.

Over the Winter:

Red Knot in Northeast Florida by Pat LearyWhile bitter sweet, a congratulations is in order to USFWS for declaring the Rufa Red Knot as a threatened species under the ESA. Keep this link handy as we’ll be updating it throughout the season with additional news. You can also read about the efforts of Panhandle Rooftop Coordinator Michele Landis and her volunteers and staff, making nesting safer for rooftop nesting birds throughout the panhandle.

We’ve conducted workshops and reached out to law enforcement, sea turtle and beach mice professionals, state park personnel, and lifeguards – all professionals who work on our beaches.  Our goal is to help educate on behalf of beach-nesting birds and share ideas on how to help these species that are in trouble. We’ve also been providing educational walks, articles, new species identification signs and public speaking engagements in communities across the panhandle. Finally, the winter has provided us the opportunity to focus on non-breeding bird surveys as well as some habitat restoration and enhancement.

Staff, partners and volunteers have been busy getting sites posted under FWC guidelines and it’s looking good. We all started our weekly breeding surveys at sites across the Panhandle and we report our data into the Florida Shorebird Alliance Database. www.Flshorebirdalliance.org   This FWC link is a good resource for bird stewards and offers lots of information on beach-nesting birds.

Upcoming:

We’ll soon need Bird Steward volunteers at nesting areas from Pensacola to Bald Point SP! On beaches and rooftops. This is your time to see those cute little birds, have an excuse to get to the beach, conduct citizen science and provide a critical component in the coastal bird management plans.  Your efforts often help determine the success of our breeding birds. Without this direct protection and educational outreach to beachgoers, nesting sites will often fail. This is especially true on summer weekends and holidays. If you are new and wish to volunteer, contact FLConservation@audubon.org.

Coastal bird walks for shorebird migration and beach-nesting birds will also be conducted by Audubon staff. Contact: BSamuelsen@audubon.org if you are interested.

Next »