Audubon Florida News

New Restaurant Steps Up For Panhandle Wildlife

posted on August 11, 2015 in Coastal Conservation,Volunteering

Culvers Crew volunteering at Navarre Causeway colonial nesting site.What does a colonial nesting seabird colony and a new restaurant have in common? In most cases, not much. But in Navarre Beach, it’s the same caring people.

Culver’s, a new chain restaurant based out of Wisconsin, has a new location opening up in Navarre beach. Prior to opening, the owner, Randy Smith, brought the staff he was training out to help at a volunteer opportunity hosted by Audubon Florida.

Volunteers installing chick fencing at Navarre causeway.Audubon Florida oversees the management of a nesting seabird colony with Black Skimmers and Least Terns. Currently 100 Black Skimmers and over 200 Least Terns have made this site their nesting spot for the summer. Part of the management for this site is to set up chick fencing along the shoulder of the road to prevent unflighted chicks from running into the road. This is quiet an effort and over 30 people showed up to help including the Culver’s crew.

One of the families being protected by volunteer efforts on the Navarre causeway.Thanks to all of those who came out including Randy and his staff and Kenny Wilder for calling on legion of dedicated Navarre citizens. Thank you to Kenny Wilder “Master Naturalist” for the photos.


Audubon Establishes “Reid Hughes Marsh Sanctuary” in Nassau County

posted on August 7, 2015 in Land Conservation,Wildlife

Seaside SparrowThe Florida Audubon Society has added nearly 200 acres of pristine Nassau County marshland to its system of wildlife sanctuaries thanks to a generous donation from Reid B. Hughes of New Smyrna Beach. Hughes serves as a member of Audubon’s Board of Directors and is a past member of the Governing Board of the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Audubon will name the new sanctuary the “Reid Hughes Marsh Sanctuary” in honor of the donor.

Tree island SW property - Copy (Medium)The new Audubon sanctuary tract is located on the Bells River, which branches from the St. Marys River separating Florida and Georgia. The sanctuary is just offshore of the Pirates Wood subdivision near Yulee and consists of deep marsh with some tree islands. Audubon is increasing its efforts to protect the marshlands in the Northeast Florida area, as these marshes are vitally important habitat for both resident bird species and migratory species on the Atlantic Flyway.

The “Reid Hughes Marsh Sanctuary” is ideal habitat for Threatened Wood Storks, ibis, herons, egrets, many types of shorebirds, as well as the MacGillivray’s Seaside Sparrow and Worthington’s Marsh Wren, a Species of Special Concern in Florida.

Woodstork on sanctuary property“The Reid Hughes Marsh is a great addition to the Florida Audubon Society’s sanctuary system. It provides exactly the kind of habitat we are looking for to sustain important coastal bird species that are under increased threat from development and climate change,” said Eric Draper, Audubon Florida Executive Director. “Private environmental land donations have become ever more important in recent years because of reduced state land purchases. Individual donors, like Reid Hughes, are stepping up to make a positive impact for Florida’s imperiled birds and wildlife.”

For information on Audubon conservation efforts in Northeast Florida, contact Chris Farrell, Policy Associate, Northeast Florida (904) 325-9940.  For information on donating conservation land to the Florida Audubon Society, contact Charles Lee, Sanctuary and Land Manger, at (407) 620-5178.

Update: SFWMD Vote to Reduce Millage Rate Means Less Money for Everglades

posted on August 5, 2015 in Everglades,Water Issues

An Everglade Snail Kite surrounded by eggs from an exotic apple snail.Thank you to all our Audubon Advocates for making your voices heard on behalf of the Everglades. On Friday, Audubon Florida joined representatives from the Audubon Society of the Everglades, South Florida Audubon,Tropical Audubon Society, Emerge Miami, and Engage Miami to support Everglades funding at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).

Unfortunately, in an 8-1 result, the Governing Board voted against maintaining the tax millage rate from last year. This was the second time the Governing Board voted on this issue in the past month. Friday’s vote reversed a courageous decision from earlier in July when members elected to keep the tax millage rate the same.

Despite calls from prestigious organizations such as National Academy of Sciences to increase the rate of restoration, Friday’s vote means that the SFWMD will collect $21 million less for Everglades work this year. This year marks the fifth year in a row of millage rate reductions even as the need for stable and consistent funding grows more urgent.

Thank you again to everyone who spoke for our birds and wildlife. Only together will we be successful in our shared mission to protect and restore America’s Everglades.

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.


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.

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