Audubon Florida News

Topic: Coastal Conservation,State Government,Wildlife



FWC Establishes First New Critical Wildlife Area in Decades

posted on November 23, 2015 in Coastal Conservation,State Government,Wildlife

Photo by Dave Graff/Florida DEPLast Thursday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) voted unanimously to establish a new Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) at Second Chance Sandbar in southwest Florida. The new CWA will close the bar to vessel landings during the beach-nesting bird season.

Second Chance is part of a shoal system south of Collier County’s Cape Romano. It has supported the region’s largest Least Tern colony in past years, as well as nesting Black Skimmers and Wilson’s Plovers. Least Terns and Black Skimmers are both state Threatened and Wilson’s Plovers are a declining species of growing conservation concern.

These ground-nesting birds are easily disturbed when beachgoers and their dogs approach too closely, flushing parents from eggs and chicks who can perish quickly in the hot sun, at the mercy of predators, or underfoot. Second Chance is so narrow that despite the best efforts of its manager, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), to post the nesting areas, there simply isn’t enough room on the upland to provide an adequate buffer for the birds.

Commissioner Liesa Priddy—a southwest Florida resident who has visited the site—was an impassioned advocate for passage. Commissioner Ron Bergeron also endorsed the protection, saying that he has fished this region since childhood and marveled at its bird wealth. Chairman Brian Yablonski told the Commissioners that there has only been one other CWA designation in the state in the last twenty years, but to look closely because “we’re going to be seeing more of these.”

Special thanks to Collier County Bird Steward and wildlife photographer Jean Hall for traveling 16 hours round-trip to the meeting in Panama City and to Bay County Audubon co-president Ron Houser for their testimonies on behalf of the designation.

But most of all, congratulations to the staff of Rookery Bay NERR, FWC, and Audubon, and the many volunteers who give their time to protect these special places. Because of your efforts, Second Chance CWA now has a real chance at success.

Attorney General Pam Bondi Releases Audubon’s 525th Rehabilitated Bald Eagle

posted on November 18, 2015 in Birds of Prey Ctr.,State Government,Wildlife

Bondi Release_webAudubon Florida chose to honor Attorney General Pam Bondi with a Bald Eagle release due to her consistent action as a member of the Cabinet to assure purchase of conservation easements on ranchland in the Kissimmee River Watershed.

The Kissimmee watershed is the stronghold of Florida’s Bald Eagle populations. The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program operated by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services purchases conservation easements over ranchlands, preventing them from ever being developed. Attorney General Bondi has consistently acted to vote favorably on these conservation easement purchases.

The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey treats more than 700 patients annually with 12% being Bald Eagles.

FWC Adopts Audubon-Supported Panther Policies

posted on September 29, 2015 in Everglades,State Government,Wildlife

Florida Panther by RJ WileyIn June 2015, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) released a controversial plan to reprioritize state resources for Florida panther recovery. The proposed plan would have negatively affected collaboration with the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) on expanding panthers’ breeding range, an essential part of recovery.

Audubon Florida and many wildlife advocates strongly objected.

In response, FWC, led by commissioners Liesa Priddy and Ron Bergeron, revised the policy statement in a positive way. The policy statement now makes three vital points supported by Audubon: 1) the Service should greatly increase its role in panther recovery work, especially range expansion; 2) FWC will continue to collaborate with the Service on panther recovery, including range expansion in Florida; and 3) FWC, with the Service, will address human/panther conflicts, including impacts from panthers eating livestock on private lands, which is an increasing threat to recovery.

The FWC made significant progress on its first panther policy goal when the Service’s national director, Dan Ashe, southeast regional director Cynthia Dohner, and Florida supervisor Larry Williams attended the FWC Commission’s meeting in Ft. Lauderdale on September 2.  They made mutual commitments to work together on recovery of the Florida panther and other imperiled species.  The Service also committed to bringing more staff and financial resources to panther recovery.

Audubon was also encouraged to hear specific mutual commitment to an innovative program that incentivizes ranchers to manage their land for wildlife and panthers while running their commercial cow-calf ranches. “Payment for Ecological Services” (PES) programs that pay per-acre stewardship fees have excellent potential to resolve conflicts between landowners and panthers.

Audubon Florida, with these agencies, will continue to advocate on behalf of Florida panthers as part of the Service’s stakeholder-driven Panther Recovery Implementation Team. We will also remain engaged with major ranchers and farmers in occupied panther habitat as a partner in the Florida Panther Protection Program in southwest Florida.

Audubon is committed to the future success of the Florida panther. The vast habitat needed by these great cats also serves many other imperiled Everglades species.

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.

Miami-Dade Rallies for Water and Land Conservation Amendment

posted on June 16, 2015 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.

Audubon Rallies for Amendment 1 at the Capitol

posted on March 2, 2015 in State Government,Volunteering,Water Issues

rally_image_feb15Audubon Intern Brittney Deoliveira submitted this recap of her experience helping with the Rally for Amendment 1 & Clean Water on February 18. Thanks to Brittney joining the team that helped organize over 400 people in support of this very important issue. Enjoy!

On February 18, hundreds of Floridians gathered on the steps of the Old Florida Capitol building in Tallahassee to rally in support of clean water and Amendment 1, which 75% of Florida voted for on the 2014 election ballot.

As one of the many college students attending the rally on that cold, yet clear day, it encouraged me to see all ages peacefully united together at the Capitol. While volunteering at the Florida’s Water & Land Legacy tent and assisting rally attendees, I had the opportunity to speak with numerous constituents, many of whom traveled miles for this specific Capitol Day. A lot of networking occurred on the lawn, as well reencounters of past acquaintances.

Vehicles and trucks honked their horns as they passed by at the intersection of Monroe Street and Apalachee Parkway. The signs held at the rally not only showed creativity, but they each sent a certain message: “Save Our Springs,” “Buy The Land, Send It South,” and “Don’t Frack Florida”, amongst others.

After witnessing the optimistic passion of everyone, it became clear to me the motivation behind their presence at the rally and meeting with Senators later that day. Whether the interests were for Florida’s tourist economy, agriculture, the environment, or our children’s future, the preservation and conservation of Florida’s resources remains of essence in the hearts of Floridians, and they made it clear once again at the Capitol.

Help Support Habitat Conservation in the Northern Everglades

posted on December 8, 2014 in North Everglades,Online Advocacy,State Government

Northern_Everglades_LandscapeGovernor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet will consider two significant conservation easement purchases in the Headwaters of the Everglades on December 9.

A 1,536 acre Conservation Easement is proposed for purchase from Adams Ranch, and a 322 acre Conservation Easement is proposed for purchase from Camp Lonesome Ranch. Both of these ranch properties contain an assemblage of important and biologically diverse imperiled wildlife, rare native Florida prairie and range lands, and a landscape-sized wildlife corridor connecting other managed lands. These easement tracts contain wetlands and sloughs that drain into Lake Marion and eventually the Kissimmee River System and intact dry prairie/pine flatwoods habitats.

The purchases are possible due to the Rural and Family Lands program in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Audubon originally proposed this program in 2001, and has been campaigning to increase funding for the program over the past three years. Rural and Family Lands easements contemplate allowing compatible ranching activities to continue on properties, while assuring wildlife habitat protection by removing rights for other kinds of development. An advantage of the easements is lower initial purchase cost, minimal ongoing public management expenses, and working ranches will remain on the property tax rolls while the natural assets of the easement areas are protected.

The easement areas are both inside the boundary of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge, and established Florida Forever project boundaries for Adams Ranch and the Big Bend Swamp/Holopaw Ranch Florida Forever Project.

In addition to support for the easement purchases on the agenda, Audubon Florida is asking the Governor and Cabinet to support increased funding for the Rural and Family Lands Program and other programs that specifically benefit the Northern Everglades. See the letter from Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper here.

Please contact the Governor and Cabinet Members to support the easement purchases, and additional funding for the Rural and Family Lands program and related Northern Everglades efforts.

Fracking in Florida Update: August 2014

posted on August 4, 2014 in Everglades,Oil Drilling,State Government

takeaction_stopfrackinginfloridaLast spring, you added your name to Audubon’s petition to show the oil and gas industry that Floridians stand united to protect Florida’ water resources. Your strong voice helped defeat two controversial fracking bills poised for legislative action.

At the time, there were noplanned fracking projects in Florida, but there was deep concern about HB 71 and HB 157These two bills cut off the public’s right to know the details of what chemicals are used during the fracking process.

Much has happened since that time. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been at odds with the Dan A. Hughes Company over drilling operations in Collier County that crossed the line into exploratory fracking.

At the end of 2013, the company utilized a procedure called “acid stimulation” to increase the flow of oil coming out of their Collier Hogan well. Such extreme extraction techniques were not authorized by the DEP permit, triggering a train of legal actions and communication gridlock.

DEP ended the year by issuing a cease & desist order to the Dan A. Hughes Company, followed by a Consent Order which culminated in all of the company’s permits being revoked on July 18, 2014. Along the way, the Dan A. Hughes company resisted disclosing full and complete information about the chemicals used in this process, which was precisely Audubon’s concern about HB 71 and HB 157.

The Collier County Commission played a strong role in demanding answers and holding regulators accountable, as did many of you as these battles waged on. Count on fracking being a topic for discussion during the 2015 Florida Legislative Session and know that together we will make our voices heard to oppose this harmful drilling technique.

Thank you for all that you do for Florida.

2014 Legislative Session Report

posted on May 6, 2014 in Online Advocacy,State Government

Old Florida CapitolThe 2014 Florida Legislative Session has come and gone and will be scored as a major success for Audubon Advocates. Every time you raised your voice in opposition, bad bills died.

You signed a petition in opposition to hydraulic fracturing and the two bills relating to that came to a screeching halt. You let everyone know you were fed up with bills that weakened or destroyed environmental protection and bills ceased to move through committees.

From the beginning of session and all throughout, we heard that next year will be the year for water policy issues as the incoming leadership prefers to address those important topics at the 2015 Session. If this year was any kind of dress rehearsal, then no doubt we are ready. And fired up.

The 2014 Legislative Session brought out many new supporters as Senators and Representatives alike began to understand the need to address some of the state’s critical water quality problems. Senator Joe Negron (R-Palm City) led the way with the creation of the Senate Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin last summer which resulted in record funding for this area and many Everglades projects as well.

Also in the Senate, an impressive “Gang of Five” consisting of Senator David Simmons, Senator Charlie Dean, Senator Wilton Simpson, Senator Bill Montford and Senator Alan Hays put their best effort into launching a Springs bill, only to have it refused in the House. The good news here is that Senate President Elect Andy Gardiner has stated that he intends to see this through next year when he becomes President of the Senate. Here’s hoping Speaker Designate Steve Crisafulli is more receptive to the need for this bill next year as well.

The 2014 session was marked by a budget surplus and the ever present awareness of upcoming elections in the fall. While we had some disappointments such as the decreased funding for Florida Forever, all in all it was a good session for Florida’s environment. Thank you for your continued support.

Next year will be the year of water policy.With your help, we will be ready.

See Audubon Florida’s full legislative report by clicking here.

**For a list of additions and corrections, please click here.

State Budget Includes Record Amounts for Everglades

posted on May 2, 2014 in Everglades,State Government

Old Florida CapitolThe 2014 Florida Legislature is poised to finalize the 2015 budget and the Everglades is getting record amounts, including a whopping $90 million three-year commitment tomatch federal funds for Tamiami Trail bridging. The budget also funds a range of important projects and programs for the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and estuaries.

Other Everglades line items include $40 million for the C-44 reservoir project to help reduce harmful discharges to the St. Lucie Estuary, $32 million for the state’s Everglades Water Quality Plan, and $18 million for the C-43 reservoir to help improve the health of the Caloosahatchee Estuary. The budget also funds a number of projects to store and clean water throughout the Northern Everglades and estuaries.

While not giving specific numbers, the budget states that funds may be increased or decreased to expedite the completion of the Kissimmee River Restoration, C-111 South Dade, and the Picayune Strand restoration projects. These are three top priority projects which will help restore the flow of water from the Northern Everglades south to rehydrate Florida Bay.

Audubon acknowledges the Everglades Foundation for their leadership to increase Everglades funding. We will continue to advance the construction and operation of these projects through vigorous advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels.

This record Everglades budget is due in part to Senator Joe Negron (R-Palm City) who convened a Select Senate Committee that held public hearings and recommended many of the projects in the budget.

Everglades_Approp_FY2015

click table to enlarge

 

Next »