Audubon is gearing up to deliver maximum support to the largest major proposal to expand federal conservation land in Florida to be announced in 20 years.
Important public meetings on the proposed “Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area” will be held January 26 in Kissimmee, February 4 in Sebring, February 9 in Okeechobee, and February 10 in Vero Beach (times and locations below).
Kissimmee Civic Center
201 East Dakin Ave
Kissimmee, FL 34741
Sebring Civic Center
355 West Center Ave
Sebring, FL 33870
Okeechobee High School
2800 Hwy 441 N
Okeechobee, FL 34972
Vero Beach High School
Main Campus Cafeteria
1707 16th St
Vero Beach, FL 32960
Audubon was one of the leading groups to champion restoration of the Kissimmee River which had been channelized by the Corps of Engineers in the early 1960’s. While that restoration job, accomplished at a cost of approximately a billion dollars, is nearing completion, Audubon believes that the Refuge and Conservation Area is an absolutely essential step to put the ecosystem back together.
Regarding the new Refuge, Audubon of Florida Director of Advocacy Charles Lee said, “As one who has been involved in Audubon’s efforts in the Kissimmee watershed advocating restoration of the river since the late 1970’s, I can say categorically that the “missing link” in the plan to restore the river has always been lack of certainty about protection of the ecosystem around its headwaters.”
Last Friday, US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar proposed an expansion to the scope of Everglades restoration by announcing the creation of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. The refuge would protect a large portion of land south of Orlando to the north end of Lake Okeechobee, protecting our great lake from further pollution.
Audubon has long advocated for additional measures to help property owners manage their land for the benefit of water and wildlife. Our leadership in the creation of the state program called the Rural and Family Lands Protection Act helped create a new form of easement for working lands. That program – pioneered in Florida – has now caught federal attention and there may be an upcoming opportunity to obtain federal farm bill funds to help underwrite easements on thousands of acres of working ranches in the Everglades system. From a wildlife perspective, this should help habitat for Snail Kites, Crested Caracara, Sandhill Cranes and Grasshopper Sparrows.
The creation of a third refuge located between the already established Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in the Southwest and the new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge is a future goal – to create a corridor for species such as the endangered Florida Panther to roam freely across a large portion of the state.
The flight barn was built in 2001 through the volunteer efforts and sponsorship of Walt Disney World and was in need of roof repair, pressure cleaning, replacement of food boards, prey boxes and re-wrapping the very large perches that are in the flight enclosures. The barn contributes to the conservation and rehabilitation of raptors such aseagles, hawks, owls and ospreys, so they can ultimately be released back into the wild. Over the years, this structure has played an important role in conserving and protecting wildlife by helping thousands of birds build up their strength and stamina so they could return to their natural habitats.
“Disney has worked with Audubon in a variety of ways over the years. We are excited to pitch in this weekend to help spruce up the Center for Birds of Prey which provides so many services to both community and wildlife” states Nancy Gidusko, Director of Community Relations, Walt Disney World.
This event kicked off the Center’s third year of TogetherGreenVolunteer Day events. TogetherGreen is a nationwide Audubon initiative designed to connect people with ways to make a conservation difference in their local communities. Projects are about engaging people to make a difference by acting today to shape a healthier tomorrow. Upcoming Volunteer Day events include Project FeederWatch, wetland clean ups, birdhouse bonanza and more.
Wes Skiles, photographed at Ginnie Springs in 2001, shortly before departing to co-lead a National Geographic-sponsored expedition to Antarctica to document and photograph the largest iceberg in history. Photo by John Moran.
By John Moran
World-class explorer and image maker Wes Skiles, 52, died July 21 in a reef-diving incident in Palm Beach County, where he had been working on assignment for National Geographic.
Wes was best known for his work in educational and adventure science films and for his pioneering exploration and documentation of Forida’s springs. His death comes days before publication of his cover story on the Blue Holes of the Bahamas in the August National Geographic.
Over the past 20 years, Wes created and produced more than a dozen films for major networks including PBS and was a pioneer in the field of high definition imaging, employing innovative techniques as both an underwater and topside shooter. In addition to his acclaimed Water’s Journey series of films, he directed the IMAX film “Journey into Amazing Caves” and led a major National Geographic expedition to Antarctica to film the largest iceberg in recorded history. His primary goal was to focus public attention on the earth’s most important resource, water.
Wes successfully filmed where no one had before. His unstoppable spirit of adventure led him to exotic destinations and fantastic voyages. At ease with both motion and still photography he divided his time working on assignment for National Geographic Magazine and with television’s top producers of science, adventure and natural history programming.
Wes’s devotion to the study and protection of Florida’s springs led him to serve as the education chairman of the Florida Springs Task Force. His work in exploration and survey within Florida’s groundwater systems has been widely published in scientific journals and publications. He established both Karst Environmental Services and Karst Productions in order to pursue a career centered on his primary interest.
His bio goes on and on, with tales of escaping shark attacks and collapsing caves and dodging hurricanes over many years, all the while making fantastic pictures and managing to come home in one piece. Skiles’s life story reads like a screenplay from a Jules Verne movie.
So how did he get this job? This is my favorite part of Wes’s story. He’d be the first to tell you that in spite of an early love of science, he barely made it out of high school, and never went to college. He enrolled in the School of Life and pursued a degree in “curiology,” as he called it. Shortly thereafter he had a boat and was running a diving business in Haiti, setting the stage for a life of adventure to follow.
Along the way he developed sound business acumen and figured out how to actually get paid to shoot the pictures he loved to shoot. Wes’s adventures took him all over the world but his first love, apart from his family, was exploring the waters of Florida: the rivers, lakes, coasts, swamps and especially the springs. The writer Loren Eisley said that if there’s magic to be found on the planet, it is to be found in water. Eisley and Skiles would have found much in common.
Wes was about more than just adventuring for the sake of a good time. He was a man on a mission, and his mission was to educate and to inspire the people of Florida; to show us and teach us about our remarkable array of water resources and how each of us has a role to play in safeguarding this precious resource.
Wes largely directed his efforts to reach out to people who generally paid little attention to the environment, and was equally at ease talking to schoolchildren, dairy farmers and governors. He knew his work made a difference when he got letters such as the one that read, “You’ve done for the springs of Florida what Jacques Cousteau did for the oceans.”
Wes was a towering inspiration. His work took us places we could never imagine, and helped us to see and appreciate the world in a new light. His impact lives on. And for that, Wes, on behalf of my grandchildren yet unborn, and for all the people of Florida who never had a chance to personally acknowledge the important work you did, I say thank you.
Audubon of Florida applauded the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) announcement at a press conference in Kissimmee today that it will dedicate funds to help restore a substantial tract of privately-owned wetlands north of Lake Okeechobee.
The largest undertaking in the history of the Wetlands Reserve Program, USDA will provide funding for agricultural landowners to store water and restore wetlands on their properties. One of the greatest challenges to restoring Lake Okeechobee’s health, preventing harmful estuary discharges, storing enough water for droughts, and cleaning water, is finding enough beneficial places to store valuable rain water. This project funds such storage capacity in the area of the Fisheating Creek tributary, truly a monumental effort.
“This is a pioneering approach to achieving ecological benefits in a cost effective way, without displacing agricultural interests,” said Charles Lee, Audubon of Florida Director of Advocacy. “By restoring these wetlands with the assistance of USDA, we create healthy habitat and stimulate abundant wildlife populations even when public conservation land acquisition is not an option.”
Fisheating Creek is the last free-flowing tributary to Lake Okeechobee—and home to some of the most pristine habitats in central Florida. The Wetlands Reserve Program will help enhance and protect the region and serve to connect lands in a wildlife corridor between inland natural areas and coastal natural areas, including conservation lands in Babcock Ranch.
“Redirecting government agency efforts to restore the hydrology and water quality of the Northern Everglades has long been one of our goals,” Lee said. “Cooperative projects with landowners and the acquisition of easements is more cost effective, and more likely to receive broad public support, than conventional efforts to manage water through large engineered public works projects in this area.”
USDA’s easement purchase coupled with nearby efforts of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to establish a cooperative dispersed storage project with Lykes Brothers on 16,000 acres of Nicodemus Slough will help re-establish a more natural water table and restore wetlands on nearly 45,000 acres on the northwest shoreline of Lake Okeechobee. Audubon and other Everglades advocates celebrate this important partnership between USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy and the SFWMD to restore and manage the property.
John C. “Johnny” Jones, Executive Director of the Florida Wildlife Federation during the 1970’s and 1980’s, passed away Sunday, July 11 2010. He was 77.
Jones was the individual most responsible for the successful campaign to restore the Kissimmee River in Central Florida. As a youth, Jones had spent much of his free time hunting and fishing in the Kissimmee River and watched as the Corps of Engineers destroyed the river through channelization. He vowed to reverse the process and convinced the conservation community, including Audubon, to make Kissimmee restoration a major priority.
Jones transformed the Florida Wildlife Federation from a group of local hunting clubs into a powerful statewide conservation organization. Under his leadership, the Florida Wildlife Federation became a major actor in the successful effort to stop the construction of the Everglades Jetport, and the lobbying effort to convince Congress to pass legislation authorizing and funding the acquisition of the Big Cypress National Preserve.
In addition to restoration of the Kissimmee River, Jones will be remembered for his tireless efforts to obtain state support for Florida’s first major land acquisition programs, “Lands for You” the “Environmentally Endangered Lands” program, and the “Conservation and Recreation Lands” program. One of the most significant purchases ever was Jones’ special crusade to preserve the 60,000-acre Three Lakes Ranch wildlife management area in Osceola County.
With the passing of Johnny Jones, the conservation movement in Florida mourns the loss of one of its most important, dynamic, and powerful leaders. Read about it here.
Audubon Center for Birds of Prey experts and special guest Rob Yordi, Curator of Zoological Operations for Busch Gardens Tampa and representative for the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, released the 395th rehabilitated Bald Eagle back into the Florida skies at 11 a.m. on Friday, May 14, at Palm Cemetery in Winter Park.
Rod Yordi releases the Bald Eagle
“The SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund is proud to have provided $60,000 in grants to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey since 2004,” said Yordi. “The Center’s work to rescue, rehabilitate and release birds of prey and protect their habitat is vital to Florida’s ecosystem and the wide range of species population in the region.”
This adult Bald Eagle was rescued in January 2010 at Mary Schultz’s home on Miller Ave. in Winter Park near the Palm Cemetery. The bird’s injuries included puncture wounds and a fractured right coracoid, a bone in its right shoulder. Center specialists believe the bird was in a territory fight with another eagle. Audubon staff and veterinarians treated the eagle, which healed nicely but then contracted a fungal infection and other complications delaying her release until this month.
The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in central Florida is caring for two young bald eagles that were blown out of their nest over the weekend.
Officials at Orlando’s Greenwood Cemetery say strong winds caused the top of a dead pine tree, where the eagles’ nest was located, to break off Saturday afternoon. The nest was home to two adult eagles and two hatchlings that could not yet fly.
The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland reports that the young eagles are in good shape.
The nest had been popular with bird watchers for years, and the eagles will be returned to the city-owned cemetery once they are able to fly.
This Royal Tern chick was photographed by Linda Martino at Huguenot Memorial Park in Jacksonville in summer 2009. Audubon is working in Northeast Florida to protect these birds and others from human disturbance and to conserve their important beach habitat. Notice where the chick is standing: Young Royal Terns do not thermo-regulate well and so being able to sit undisturbed at the water’s edge helps them keep cool.
Statement of Audubon of Florida on the 2010 State of the Birds Report
The 2010 State of the Birds Report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Audubon and other leading conservation organizations shows that climate change will have an increasing impact on birds and their habitat—and the ecological and other benefits they provide to people. It issues an urgent call for sound energy policy that will reduce carbon emissions, and for strategic conservation investments that will help species adapt to a changing climate. If we can help the birds weather this unprecedented threat, we can help ourselves.
In Florida, some of the most threatened birds include coastal species, such as the red knot and royal tern. The Florida scrub-jay, our state’s only endemic species, as well as the ruby-throated hummingbird, prothonotary warbler and roseate spoonbill, are all at risk from climate-induced habitat changes.
“The report makes it clear that these birds will not survive the human-caused changes to our global climate,” said Eric Draper, Executive Director of Audubon of Florida. “Like canaries in a coal mine, the dangers they face warn of dangers to us as well. It’s up to us to reduce the threat.”
Everglades restoration that achieves ecological benefits, protection of our important beaches and coastal habitats, and putting meaningful renewable energy and energy and water conservation policies into place are all winning strategies that Audubon of Florida is working hard to achieve.
What Florida Audubon is doing complements innovative federal efforts to help species adapt; efforts that come with new investments that will create jobs and protect beautiful and sensitive habitats across America. And we’re part of ongoing Audubon efforts to pass ground-breaking climate and energy legislation to control the emissions that cause climate change while there’s still time to make a difference.”
As Glenn Olson of the National Audubon Society said at the news conference announcing the findings, “If you love nature and care about the health of our planet, there is no time to lose. This isn’t just about birds; it’s about our chance to shape our future.”
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