Audubon Florida News

Topic: Land Conservation

H‏álpata Tastanaki Preserve Saved From Pipeline

posted on October 11, 2014 in Land Conservation

H‏álpata Tastanaki Preserve from SWFWMDThe 8,146 acre H‏álpata Tastanaki Preserve in Marion County has been saved from serious impacts threatened by the Sabal Trail Natural Gas Pipeline. The original route for the pipeline would have passed directly through the preserve lands owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD).

Audubon Florida and Marion County Audubon Society urged SWFWMD to stay firm in the agency’s objections to the pipeline route across the tract. Audubon also contacted Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Governor’s office, urging support for SWFWMD’s staff positon.

The 8,146 acre H‏álpata Tastanaki Preserve contains one of the most robust populations of the endangered Florida Scrub-Jay in the state, and the original pipeline routes would have threatened this habitat.

After a meeting on October 10th with representatives from DEP, SWFWMD, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff, and both Audubon Florida and Marion County Audubon, the Sabal Trail Pipeline agreed to change the pipeline route to skirt the edge of H‏álpata Tastanaki tract, avoiding any significant impact. Pipeline construction will also be coordinated with the construction of a multi-use trail planned for the Cross Florida Greenway.

Many thanks to SWFWMD, DEP, and the Governor’s office for protecting these important conservation lands!

Advocates Stand Up for Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

posted on September 30, 2014 in Coastal Conservation,Land Conservation,Wildlife

topsailhill_map_arrowCongratulations to all the advocates for Topsail Hill Preserve State Park who packed a special hearing of the Walton County Commission last night!

Despite the fact that Topsail Hill’s main entrance never runs at capacity, commissioners were considering sending a request to the Florida Park Service to provide a new, unstaffed boardwalk access into one of the most undisturbed parts of this important preserve. This boardwalk would have benefited a small number of neighborhood residents at the expense of public tax dollars and imperiled natural resources including federally endangered Choctawhatchee beach mice and state Threatened Snowy Plovers.

In a tremendous show of civic engagement, Walton County advocates packed the chamber and defenders of Topsail outnumbered boardwalk advocates more than 2 to 1 in testimony. Ultimately, the board voted not to file the request with the Florida Park Service, especially citing the fact that the proposed use of Tourist Development dollars to create a boardwalk to benefit a limited number of residents was inappropriate.

Congratulations to the dedicated advocates of Walton County whose time and dedication produced this terrific result for Topsail. The high, windswept dunes, beach mice and shorebirds thank you!

You can view the commission hearing and advocates’ impassioned testimony online by clicking here.

Unanimous: St. Johns County Commission Says NO to Road Through Conservation Lands

posted on May 22, 2014 in Land Conservation

12 Mile Conservation Area RoadIn 2001, Governor Jeb Bush and the Cabinet joined with the St. Johns River Water Management District to purchase the 12 Mile Swamp Conservation Area, over 20,000 acres of mixed wetlands and uplands under forestry management just west of St. Augustine. The conservation area is one of the most important segments of intact wildlife corridor lands in North Central Florida and the headwaters of six stream systems.

Three of these streams, Turnbull Creek, Mill Creek, and Sampson Creek, discharge into the St. Johns River. Two others, Moultrie Creek and Red House Branch, discharge into the Matanzas River. Stokes Creek discharges into the Tolomato River.

The habitat on this tract consists of Pine Flatwoods, Mesic Hammock, Basin Swamp, Depression Marsh, Floodplain Swamp, and Blackwater Streams. Much of the 12 Mile Swamp Conservation Area is important habitat for wading birds.

In April, the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) published a map with a new proposed 4 lane highway through the middle of the 12 Mile Swamp Conservation Area. The road alignment was apparently put there quietly at the behest of the St. Augustine Airport Authority and a group of landowners who envision it opening up their properties to development. The new 4 lane highway would link the St. Augustine Airport to Interstate 95. The TPO acted to place the road on its “2040 Plan” map without even consulting with the landowning agencies, St. Johns Water Management District, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Audubon Florida, led by former Board Chair John Hankinson and Director of Advocacy Charles Lee joined with other conservation groups including the Florida Wildlife Federation and St. Johns Riverkeeper to ask the St. Johns County Commission to vote to express opposition to the proposal. Although the item was not on the May 20 Commission agenda, a letter from Audubon and the appearance of numerous speakers convinced the Chairman of the Commission to add a special agenda item.

After an hour of discussion, the Commission voted unanimously to ask the TPO to “Take the road off its map”. The Commission also asked for more time to submit detailed comments, and for a more transparent process at the TPO.

Its time to thank the St. Johns County Commission for their swift action to protect this special place.

Audubon Florida Joins Florida Cattlemen’s Association for Tallahassee “Lobby Day”

Commissioner Adam PutnamAudubon Florida joined with the Florida Cattlemen’s Association in their “Lobby Day” effort in Tallahassee on March 12th. Audubon and Florida Cattlemen’s Association are working together in support of a $25 million appropriation to fund the Rural and Family Lands Program, which purchases conservation easements from willing farm and ranch owners. These easements are a major tool in preservation and restoration of Northern Everglades Habitat.

LeeAnn Adams SimmonsMatt Smith from the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey was present with Paige, the educational Bald Eagle. The visit by Paige reminded public officials and others at the Tallahassee reception held by the Cattlemen’s Association that Audubon and Florida ranchers partnered successfully, beginning in 1962, to establish voluntary Bald Eagle sanctuaries on the Kissimmee Prairie, an important stronghold for Bald Eagle populations. It is widely believed that the Kissimmee Prairie population of the Bald Eagle helped the species rebound from near extinction caused by DDT and other persistent pesticides during the 1960’s.

Wes WilliamsonToday, Audubon and ranchers in the Northern Everglades are working toward habitat and water resource conservation and restoration through the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge, the Rural and Family Lands Act, the Dispersed Water Management program of the South Florida Water Management District, and the United States Department Of Agriculture Wetland Reserve Program.

Huge Turnout to Save Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

posted on February 12, 2014 in Land Conservation,Wildlife

Merritt Island NWR by Sudhir Viswarajan.Over 500 people turned out at a hearing held by the Federal Aviation Administration concerning Space Florida’s proposal to build multiple rocket launch sites in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge at “Shiloh” on February 11.

Click here to see the Op-Ed in the Daytona Beach News-Journal by Audubon’s Charles Lee.

Most of the crowd and speakers were strongly opposed to disrupting the National Wildlife Refuge, Mosquito Lagoon, and Canaveral National Seashore for the project. Audubon led the drive to attract attendance to the hearing and many of the speakers were Audubon chapter leaders and Audubon members who regularly visit Merritt Island NWR for birdwatching. One of the threats posed by the new launch complex is closure of a major part of the refuge, Mosquitio Lagoon, and Canaveral National Seashore to public access for what could be many weeks during the year.

The proposed launch site is in an area under active restoration by US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for Florida Scrub-Jays. Habitat restoration has cost over $2 million in the past 5 years, and it is almost certain that even the restored habitat remaining outside the launch complex would be lost due to the fact that USFWS would be prevented from conducting necessary controlled burns to keep the habitat in place.

Florida Scrub-Jay by Lorraine Margeson.On Monday, February 10, U.S. Congressman John Mica held a House Oversight Committee hearing at Kennedy Space Center. Charles Lee, Audubon Florida Director of Advocacy was invited to testify. After Lee’s testimony, Congressman Mica and Florida Congressman Bill Posey asked Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana if there was room for Space Florida’s facility in the existing NASA launch area south of State Road 402. Cabana responded that ample areas were available, and indicated that NASA’s recently approved plan for future use of the NASA complex provided space for both commercial facilities such as Space Florida proposes, and government launch sites through the year 2031 without any intrusion into the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge north of State Road 402.

Both Congressmen then pointedly asked Space Florida representatives to provide supplementary testimony to the committee indicating what they would need from NASA to locate the Space Florida launch site there rather than at Shiloh in the heart of the public use area of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Audubon’s Testimony at the Congressional Hearing can be found by clicking here.

Take Action: Save Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

posted on February 6, 2014 in Land Conservation,Wildlife

Ibis Group, MINWRJoin Audubon at public hearings in New Smyrna Beach and Titusville to say NO to rocket launch sites in our refuge!

The greatest threat to any National Wildlife Refuge yet to emerge in Florida will be the subject of public hearings on February 11 in New Smyrna Beach and February 12 in Titusville. It is urgent that everyone who watches birds in the refuge, kayaks in Mosquito Lagoon, or visits the beaches of Canaveral National Seashore attend these important hearings. The meeting format will include an open house workshop from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will provide an overview of the environmental process from 6:00 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. followed by a public comment period from 6:15 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The threat to the refuge is being caused by Space Florida, a state economic development agency trying to stake its claim as a player in the U.S. Space Program.

Space Florida wants its own 200 acre rocket launch site some 10 miles north of the traditional NASA launch pads. It claims that private industry space companies can’t work with NASA, and won’t utilize surplus property sites already being offered by NASA to private space launch companies. Space Florida’s claims make little sense, since it is well know that SpaceX, the largest private space launch company, is already openly seeking to locate facilities at NASA’s old launch pads.

If established, a 200 acre launch site at the very north end of Merritt Island National Wildlife refuge would close much of the refuge to public access frequently during the year. The trajectory of rockets launched from that site (24 launches per year are projected) would cause rockets to fly directly over parts of the refuge where rocket launch trajectories have never caused public closures before. The closures would impact sports fishing in Mosquito Lagoon and access to Canaveral National Seashore beaches as well.

February 11, 2014
5:00pm to 8:00pm
New Smyrna Beach High School Gymnasium,
1015 10th Street,
New Smyrna Beach, Florida 32168

February 12, 2014
5:00pm to 8:00pm
Eastern Florida State College, Titusville Campus
John Henry Jones Gymnatorium,
1311 North U.S. 1,
Titusville, Florida 32796

Beyond the issue of public closures, serious impacts to important habitat for over 500 species of birds, fish, and wildlife, some 66 of which are listed by federal and state governments as endangered, threatened, or otherwise imperiled. The rocket launch site would likely wipe out efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct controlled burns to manage habitat for Florida Scrub-Jays. The extensive investments already made for in habitat restoration for Scrub-Jays in the northern part of the refuge would likely be wasted.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued extensive comments documenting the dangers to the refuge, public access, and wildlife habitat, click here for more information.

Please help us save Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Mosquito Lagoon, and Canaveral National Seashore from this destructive and totally unnecessary proposal. Your comments at the hearings are urgently needed – please share this important alert!

Thank You Rep. Holly Raschein for Standing Up for the Florida Keys

posted on September 26, 2013 in Land Conservation,State Government,Wildlife

Rep. RascheinThank you to State Representative Holly Raschein for helping to remove 17 important Florida Keys parcels from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s proposal to surplus public lands.

Remnant parcels in the Keys provide critical migratory bird stopover habitat and help keep the area from being overdeveloped.

Audubon greatly appreciates her leadership.

Speak Up for Florida’s Conservation Lands at an Upcoming Public Hearing

posted on September 25, 2013 in Land Conservation,State Government

wekivariverMake your voice heard at an upcoming land surplus hearing! Everyone who has responded to our recent alerts on the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Land Assessment process can be proud that their efforts have had big results.

The original surplus list containing 169 sites and roughly 5,300 acres has been reduced to 90 sites and 3,500 acres. Thanks to Audubon Advocates like you expressing your concerns to DEP, a lot of important wetlands, submerged lands and open water, and good wildlife habitat have come off the surplus list.

However, among the 90 sites and 3,500 acres remaining, there are still ecologically important lands – lands vital to the protection of water resources that need to be removed from the list. There is no way that many of these sites can be determined to be “no longer needed for conservation”, as required by the Florida Constitution and statutes.

Audubon Florida staff have identified 29 remaining sites which (at minimum) need to come of the list to protect important habitat, water resources, and natural areas. You can see Audubon Florida’s formal comments to DEP by clicking here. Of the tracts listed in our comments, only the Florida Keys tracts, John C. and Mariana Jones Wildlife Management Area, and Blue Springs State Park tracts have so far been removed.

In addition to the comments provided by Audubon Florida staff, you may be able to identify important natural resources on the other sites listed. To see the whole list, please click here.

GreenSwamp_pdIt’s time to turn up the heat and turn out a crowd!

Public hearings will be held beginning September 30 in Pensacola. Additional hearings will be held in Ft. Myers on October 3, Viera in Brevard County on October 8, and Orlando on October 9. The times and address for each hearing are listed below.

You will make the difference whether critically important tracts of land, such as 2,600 acres of the Green Swamp Area of Critical Concern (Hilochee Wildlife Management Area), the Wekiva springshed, and Cayo Costa and North Captiva Islands are preserved or put on the “auction block” for developers to buy.

Please make plans to attend one of these hearings, and let your voice be heard! If you plan on attending, let us know. Send an email to

Public Hearing Schedule

Audubon Voices Concern Over Military Training in Blackwater River and Tate’s Hell State Forests

posted on September 20, 2013 in Land Conservation,Wildlife

Tate's Hell State ForestAudubon Florida has weighed in with comments on the U.S. Air Force proposal to conduct extensive military training exercises in Blackwater River State Forest and Tate’s Hell State Forest, two important areas of wildlife habitat in Northwest Florida. Among many other species, these sites contain prime habitat for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

For about a year the Air Force has been developing a plan for use of the state forests including aircraft, motorized vehicles, and troop movements. The proposal also includes the location of “emitter” sites, which are stations for electronic facilities that require a clear “line of sight”, which could mean removal of a swath of forest vegetation.  The Air Force proposals can be seen in detail by clicking here.

While military training operations may be compatible with disturbed areas in Blackwater River State Forest and Tate’s Hell State Forest, Audubon is concerned that the proposal as currently described may be too disruptive for the habitat and traditional public use and enjoyment of these ecologically valuable sites.

Please see Audubon’s comments by clicking here.

Audubon’s Letter to DEP Regarding Conservation Land Assessment Now Available

posted on September 12, 2013 in Land Conservation,State Government

GreenSwamp_pdAudubon’s letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection regarding the state’s conservation land assessment is now available to download by clicking here.

Audubon Florida has produced these comments and recommendations concerning the Draft Surplus Lands List as last updated on September 6, 2013, produced as a result of the Conservation Land Assessment. We have directed our comments herein to specific tracts identified on the list to which Audubon Florida has objections to a declaration of surplus.

Tracts not specifically mentioned in the letter are tracts that Audubon Florida either has no objections to, or tracts which Audubon does not have sufficient information about at this time to support substantive objections to inclusion on the proposed Surplus Lands List.

Click  here to download Audubon’s letter.

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