Audubon Florida News

Topic: Central Florida,Everglades,North Everglades,Water Issues

Advocates Stand Up for the Kissimmee River and Kissimmee Chain of Lakes

Kissimmee river picRecently, Florida’s environmental advocates demanded that the South Florida Water Management District fully protect water for the Kissimmee River Restoration project and its remarkable natural system. The message was clear. Don’t give water needed for restoring the natural system to utilities or other consumptive uses.

The meeting was held by the SFWMD to move forward a water reservation to protect water for Kissimmee River restoration project. A water reservation is a tool under Florida law to protect water for fish and wildlife or public health and safety. Once the rule is developed, it will legally protect the quantity and timing of water flowing into the Kissimmee River, Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, and floodplain for the natural system.

Our team attended with Kissimmee Valley Audubon, Orange County Audubon, Audubon of the Western Everglades, and other allies like the Everglades Foundation and One Florida Foundation.

After two decades of work and over $900 million in public investment, the precedent setting Kissimmee River Restoration Project is now over 90% complete. This project transforms miles of the drained Kissimmee floodplain and channelized river to a winding river and wetland paradise.

The River and its Chain of Lakes support diverse wildlife. Over 98 species of wading and wetland dependent birds live there, including Swallow Tailed Kites, Whooping Cranes, and Audubon’s Crested CaraCaras.

Failing to protect water for Kissimmee restoration through this legal tool could have a domino effect on the entire ecosystem from Kissimmee Valley to Florida Bay and coastal estuaries. Getting the right amount of water at the right time is extremely important to support life throughout the ecosystem.Kissimmee Snail Kite

Now, there is pressure from water supplies in the Central Florida area. Utilities and water managers are considering tapping up to 25 million gallons per day from the Kissimmee Basin for water supply. Audubon and our environmental allies demand that water for the restoration project is fully protected. We request that the water management districts increase water conservation methods  to promote a more sustainable use of water in the region.

We will keep you updated on the progress of the rule. There will be several more public meetings and we’ll need your voices to speak up for Florida’s birds!

For additional information, please see the following news clips:

Water Management at Disney World: A Behind the Scenes Look

posted on January 31, 2014 in Central Florida,North Everglades,Water Issues

The following blog post was written by Audubon Everglades Policy Manager Jane Graham:

OttersThis week, Audubon Florida board member Jud Laird and I had the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at water management and natural lands management around Disney World, thanks to Bill Warren, Eddie Snell, Mike Crikis, and Kate Kolbo of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The first surprise I encountered on the tour was the extensive natural areas throughout the Disney property that host a wonderland of bird life and other wildlife. The Reedy Creek watershed includes several tributaries that flow into Kissimmee River, including Cypress Creek, Bonnet Creek, Reedy Creek. There is a greenway throughout the property, with nearly 8000 acres in permanent conservation. On our behind the scenes tour, we saw otters and alligators, and a plethora of birds, including Wood Storks and Black Vultures, Great Blue Herons, and Ibis. Mike showed us that upwards of 124 bird species have been catalogued on the property. Here’s a picture of an alligator lounging around.

rcid gatorThere were also improvements on the property that may seem mundane and small, but made a difference for water quality. Special stormwater drains that resembled upside-down Mayan pyramids (like Mexico in EPCOT) captured pollutants, gasoline, sediments and decaying leaves from the road to prevent it flowing into the drain and harming natural areas. We learned that all the grass throughout Disney world is watered with highly treated reclaimed water, and if fertilizer is used (with the exception of the baseball field), it does not contain phosphorus. These are examples of urban “best management practices” that RCID uses to help improve water quality and help prevent pollutants from flowing into the Kissimmee River and south into the Greater Everglades.

RCID monitors water quality throughout the property. At the RCID environmental lab, there werenstruments that could measure the amount of certain pollutants (such as from pesticides and herbicides) to a part per trillionth. There were also instruments that detected phosphorus and nitrogen to the part per billion. The bulbs (or sensors) in this photo act as “eyes” to detect the presence of nitrogen in trace amounts in water samples.  instrument rcid

It was interesting to see all the work it takes to manage water throughout Disney World. RCID’s urban stormwater management is a good model for other municipalities throughout Florida- especially those in the Northern Everglades watershed as we embark on reducing the amount of phosphorus through the region in  the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan.



Take Action to Protect our Rivers and Lakes: December 12 and 13

posted on December 10, 2013 in Central Florida,North Everglades,Water Issues

St. Johns River by Ed JurgensenThe Central Florida Water Initiative will hold an important public workshop December 12th from 4-7 p.m. at the Clermont Community Center, 620 W. Montrose Street, in Clermont.

The purpose of this workshop is to allow citizens to comment on rapidly developing proposals to shift the regional public water supply in Central Florida from groundwater toward a greater reliance on other sources of water. We need your voices to object to proposals that will tap water from our treasured rivers and lakes of Central Florida.

The St. Johns, Southwest Florida, and South Florida Water Management Districts, as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection now officially recognize that groundwater in Central Florida’s subsurface aquifers is running out. The Central Florida Water Initiative is a collaboration between these entities to plan for the region’s water future. Water demand is going to increase to 1.1 Billion gallons per day by 2035 – yet the aquifer will sustain only 850 million gallons per day (mgd) in pumping for water supply use. There is only about 50 mgd available before that cap is reached.

The draft plan includes a set of “surface water” projects that propose to suck about 250 mgd from our rivers and lakes– including over 150 mgd from the St. John’s River and up to 25 mgd from the Kissimmee River basin, costing in the ballpark of $1.8 to $2 billion! It may also impact Lake Apopka, the Ocklawaha River, Withlacoochee River, Peace River and the Clermont and Upper Kissimmee Chains of Lakes. To see the new plan that presents these threats to our rivers and lakes, click here.

Tell the water planners “NO!” Tell them that strong programs requiring measurable and mandatory water conservation, and water resource development projects that do not harm our natural resources must be used rather than draining our rivers and lakes dry.

Rivers like the Withlacoochee and Ocklawaha, and the Clermont chain of Lakes already suffer from dry-outs. Some portions even go completely dry today without additional water withdrawals. The Kissimmee river – restored at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $1 billion-  is going to need sufficient water to allow the natural river to flow.

Public comments can also be provided at the Central Florida Water Initiative Steering Committee meeting on December 13, 2013 at 9:30 a.m at TOHO Water Authority, 951 Martin Luther King Blvd., Kissimmee, FL. Comments can be provided writing by January 10, 2014 to Tom Bartol at the St. Johns River Water Management District, 4049 Reid Street, Palatka, FL 32177, or email to

Orange County Wants to Save Lake Apopka Lands from Surplus Decision

posted on December 19, 2012 in Central Florida,Chapters,Land Conservation,Wildlife

Bittern by Adam KentResponding to the recent action by the St. Johns River Water Management District to consider possible surplus sale of 529 acres at the Lake Apopka North Shore Restoration Project, the Orange County Commission yesterday voted unanimously to tell SJRWMD to slow down surplus decisions and that Orange County itself may want to take over the property for uses related to environmental restoration and ecotourism.

The Orange County environmental staff and representatives from the Orange Audubon Society and Ocklawaha Valley Audubon Society told the commission that the lands were at risk for the possible expansion of a small airstrip into a jet airport that could threaten the whole restoration project. Ideas for use of the land as an ecotourism center to benefit public access to the restoration project for birdwatching were also mentioned. While SJRWMD had already voted to require that any possible surplus of the land not include any “incompatible uses” and several SJRWMD board members opined at a recent board meeting that they would not support airport expansion, the Orange County Commission action represents another major step toward securing an appropriate future for this 529 acre area.

Redhead by J.S. JourdanLake County Commissioners had already voted to ask SJRWMD to hold off surplussing and avoid dealing with the possible airport until a regional summit with Orange County is held. The Orange County action also contemplates a summit focused on the environmental issues surrounding these lands. While the 529 acre area itself has never been part of the restoration plan, the future of these lands are critical to the success of adjacent marsh restoration projects.

Motivating the restoration is the possibility of establishment of a new National Wildlife Refuge to encompass an area long known as one of the most important “hot spots” for migratory birds and resident species anywhere in North America.

The record highest Christmas Bird Count for any inland location in North America occurred at Lake Apopka. The cumulative list of species observed tops 350.  See the list of Birds observed at Lake Apopka by clicking here.

Audubon Florida will be continuing to press public officials for decisions which enhance, rather than harm, the restoration of marshes at Lake Apopka. Thanks to the Orange County Commission for taking a great step in the right direction.

Boy Scouts Erect Chimney Swift Tower at Orlando Wetlands Park

posted on May 29, 2012 in Central Florida,Chapters

A Chimney Swift tower was recently constructed and installed at Orlando Wetlands Park (OWP) in Christmas, Florida, by members of Boy Scout Troop 125Robert Grieger, an Eagle Scout candidate, and his fellow scouts and troop leaders erected the tower next to the environmental education building at OWP.  This was a cooperative project with Orange Audubon Society (OAS) and OWP.

The tower has insulation, durable components, predator guards and more.  Chimney Swifts in North America are very dependent on man-made chimneys; of course, far fewer are available nowadays than in the past.  This tower was designed so that it can be outfitted with a webcam at some time in the future so that people will be able to observe the activity in the tower.  Keep your fingers crossed that Chimney Swifts will start using the structure.  OAS plans to get additional towers built, especially since Chimney Swifts are usually single-brooded—there will be only one active nest in any structure regardless of the size of the site.

Thank you Boy Scout Troop 125 and Orange Audubon Society for their dedication to protecting Florida’s natural heritage!


Take Action: Speak Up for Florida Scrub-Jays

posted on February 26, 2012 in Birding,Central Florida,Land Conservation,Wildlife

Florida Scrub-Jay

Your voice is needed on Tuesday, February 28, in Brooksville

The Southwest Florida Water Management District will hold a public hearing on February 28 concerning the question of whether, and under what conditions, four of its preserve tracts under environmental land management should be opened to public hunting.

While Audubon Florida does not oppose hunting generally, one of the four tracts is Hálpata Tastanaki Preserve, one of only a few state conservation lands where populations of endangered Florida Scrub-jays have increased in the last decade.

Audubon of Florida is concerned that opening H‏álpata Tastanaki Preserve to the hunting activity and first-time allowance of privately owned vehicles on its internal road system will impose unnecessary disturbance on the Scrub-Jay population and habitat. Further, the eventual management expense of keeping up roads so they can be safely open to private vehicles within the preserve will “compete against” more important uses of the very limited funds of SWFWMD. Money spent to grade roads won’t be available to be spent for controlled burns and other habitat management necessary for the Scrub-Jays.

H‏álpata Tastanaki PreserveFinally, the Preserve has always been closed to private vehicles driven by all other visitors – such as birdwatchers – throughout the year. Is it fair to open roads to one class of users only? We think not. That is not to say we want the roads open to birdwatchers either. Good management requires these roadsremain closed to all but official vehicles.

Every user ought to be treated the same and respect the environment by non-motorized entry only.

If hunting is allowed at all on this 8,146 acre preserve, Audubon Florida recommends it should be restricted to the area west of “Fort Izzard Road”, outside the viable Florida Scrub-Jay habitat. Further, Audubon recommends that private vehicles remain excluded from the fragile system of narrow unpaved roads within the H‏álpata Tastanaki Preserve. Hunting should be conducted on a “walk-in-only” basis, as it is often practiced on other tracts of land in Florida and around the nation, including other SWFWMD properties.

Meeting and Directions

February 28, 9:00 AM

Southwest Florida Water Management District

2379 Broad Street, Brooksville, FL 34604 (Google map)

For additional info, contact LuAnne Stout, (352) 796-7211, ext. 4605

To learn more about the possible opening of SWFWMD tracts to hunting, please click here.

To send comments to the SWFWMD concerning the hunt proposal, please click here.

Florida’s Special Places: Stand Up for Lake Apopka

posted on December 9, 2011 in Central Florida,Events,FL Special Places

Birders and other wildlife enthusiasts should be very interested and concerned about possible outcomes from the upcoming Lake Apopka Restoration Summit, being held December 14 at Lake Sumter Community College, Clermont campus from 8:30am-6pm.

The Lake Apopka area, one of Florida’s Special Places andImportant Bird Area, is one of the foremost birding spots in Florida. At least 348 species have been seen there and during the 1998 Christmas bird count (CBC), 174 species of birds were identified, the highest species total for an inland count in the 100-year history of the annual CBC.

After years of slow but now steady progress in restoring the lake and wetlands after decades of abuse, there are proposals afoot to reduce funding for continuing the restoration and suggestions that could result in decreased lake and bird habitat quality. Learn more about the meeting by going to the Friends of Lake Apopka website.

Thank you to Audubon of Florida Board Member Robert StampsOrange County AudubonOklawaha Valley Audubon, and Seminole Audubon for their leadership on this important issue. Please share this message with others who care about Lake Apopka as much as you do. Together we can make a difference, so bring a friend or family member and we’ll see you Wednesday!

Lake Apopka Restoration Summit

December 14, 2011: 8:30am-6pm
Lake Sumter Community College 1250 N Hancock Rd.
Clermont, FL 34711-5931

Lake County Commission Denies Sludge Factory Permit

posted on August 29, 2011 in Central Florida,Water Issues

On Tuesday August 23, the Lake County Commission voted 5-0 to deny a zoning decision to allow a composting factory for sewage sludge to be constructed near Lake Apopka. The proposed facility on the land of longtime Apopka vegetable grower Long and Scott Farms would have composted sewage sludge into Class “AA” material to use as fertilizer.  Ocklawaha Audubon and “Friends of Lake Apopka” joined dozens of nearby residents to urge the County Commission to reject approval of the facility.

Lake Apopka, perhaps Florida’s most polluted body of water due to long term nutrient pollution, is just now in early stages of restoration. Nearly 15,000 acres of farms on the north shore of Lake Apopka were acquired by the St. Johns River Water Management District to halt agricultural runoff into the lake and a “flow through marsh” now operates to gradually clean the lake water itself.  Processing sewage sludge and septic tank waste into fertilizer, and then using it on the remaining farms near Lake Apopka was seen as a new problem for the lake’s recovery.

Local residents also were concerned about the potential for foul odors from the windrows of sludge that  would be piled up to dry. The Ocklawaha Valley Audubon Society suggested that an Audubon-recommended process involving gasification and energy gas production from sludge and septic tank waste be used instead. Maxwest Energy, a company located in Sanford, Florida, has been successful in converting the City of Sanford’s sewage treatment plant to add a process that completely eliminates the need for landspreading of sewage sludge, instead turning the energy in sludge into a useful product that helps the sewage treatment plant’s operations.

Audubon of Florida believes that sewage sludge is a statewide problem, particularly impacting nutrient-challenged bodies of water like Lake Okeechobee and Lake Apopka, and believes landspreading should be replaced by processes that turn sludge into energy.

Click here to download a

Audubon Applauds US Department of Agriculture Investment in Northern Everglades

posted on August 17, 2011 in Central Florida,Land Conservation,North Everglades

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 without disturbing wildlife to continue agricultural use of the land while providing environmental benefits. Landowners who wish to participate are still in the midst of the application process, but the focus is on approximately 24,000 acres in the Northern Everglades.  This will complement the WRP allocation of $89 million last year for conservation in the Fisheating Creek watershed.

Along with our supporters, Audubon is advocating for the funding dispersed water management, 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. This comprehensive approach to utilizing wildlife corridors and cost-effectively providing water management and water quality improvements can show demonstrable near-term benefits for Florida’s one-of-a-kind environment.

Check out this video explaining the deal produced by the USDA:

You can help – stay connected to learn how!

Dr. Paul Gray: Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park Sparrow Drive

posted on February 22, 2011 in Birding,Central Florida

A Crested Caracara flew over our banding crew several times carrying nesting material by Dr. Paul GrayAbout 30 volunteers joined Paul Miller, biologist for the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, for a “sparrow drive” on the Preserve on January 29, 2011.  It was a beautiful winter morning with highs in the 70s and the group included park visitors from Ohio, New York, Wisconsin, and various places around Florida.  Participants also included biologists from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Archbold Biological Station, Florida Institute of Technology, and myself, Paul Gray from Audubon (what do biologists do with their time off?).

Brian Rolek, a biologist from the Archbold Biological Station, measures the bill of an Eastern Grasshopper Sparrow (a migrant from up north) by Dr. Paul GrayAt more than 50,000 acres, the Preserve holds the largest remaining tract of Florida’s endemic Dry Prairie ecosystem, and also the largest remaining population of one of our most imperiled birds, the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow.  The estimates are maddeningly uncertain, but we think there are only a few hundred sparrows remaining, in three distinct populations (the Preserve, Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, and Avon Park Air Force Range).  Part of my Audubon work concerns another endangered bird, the Snail Kite.  Unlike Snail Kites, who have many fans and a fairly steady stream of funding and attention, these attractive little sparrows seem quietly lost in remote native grasslands,  almost unknown to citizens and policy makers alike.  The managers of the “sparrow properties” work very closely together, but troubling gaps remain in our understanding of sparrow biology, and what kinds of management actions help these birds the most.

Following the rope and driving sparrows to the nets by Dr. Paul GrayOne of the purposes of the sparrow drive is to band Florida Grasshopper Sparrows for on-going studies.  But most of the sparrows captured are other species, of interest on their own. On Saturday, we captured 3 Bachman’s Sparrows, one Eastern Grasshopper Sparrow (a migrant from up north), and an Eastern Meadowlark.  This day, we didn’t get the prized Florida Grasshopper Sparrow.

These dandies (Eastern Meadowlarks) usually can avoid the nets and was a treat for the group by Dr. Paul GrayThe drives are remarkably simple.  Sparrows don’t fly high, so mist nets (thin enough so birds don’t notice them and with pouches that catch the birds on impact) can be set.  Then we just walk toward them dragging a rope and clapping.  The sparrows flush ahead of us from the prairie grass and flutter into the nets.  A Sedge Wren went into the net and out the other side—they are so small.

Sparrow drivers gather around the banding table to watch a bird get worked up by Dr. Paul GrayOnce the birds are captured, the biologists band, weigh, and take various measurements before release.  This affords a great chance for people to see the birds up close, learn about their biology, and get photos.

There are drives being planned for February and March and if you want to attend, contact Paul Miller,, for scheduling.  The activity level is moderate and people can stop when ever they like.  And if you don’t’ want to walk the drives, you still can observe the banding.

The nets are about 10 feet high by Dr. Paul GrayPostscript:  And even if you are not interested in sparrow drives, the Preserve itself is just spectacular.  The wide grassland vistas astonish most Floridians.  The remote location makes the sky one of the darkest in central Florida, with no traffic noise detectable.  It has more species of plant per acre than anywhere in the United States.  In turn, the butterfly list (plant pollinators) is the longest in the state.  Audubon has had full time staff working in this region since 1936 and that long presence was pivotal in getting the Preserve established.

Next »