Audubon Florida News

Topic: Coastal Conservation,Everglades,Gulf Oil Spill



Audubon Florida Commends the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for Commitment to Cape Sable Restoration

posted on September 9, 2015 in Coastal Conservation,Everglades,Gulf Oil Spill

EastCapePlug_MG_7647On August 27, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced a $2 million grant aimed toward protection and restoration of the coastal wetlands on Cape Sable, located in southwestern Everglades National Park.

The grant, awarded to the Everglades Foundation, is one of 29 announced as part of the Gulf Conservation Grants Program. The funding is meant to enhance coastal wetlands of the Gulf Coast while bolstering fish and wildlife populations.

Audubon Florida commends NFWF for recognition of Cape Sable as a coastal wetland of significant importance. We also thank our partners at the Everglades Foundation for their continued commitment toward fulfillment of restoration of Cape Sable.

The interior wetlands of Cape Sable are one of the most ecologically productive environments left in Florida. The area serves as critical habitat and foraging grounds for Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, many other wading bird species, shorebirds, and important game fish. A number of endangered species including the American crocodile and smalltooth sawfish also live and breed in these waters.

Roseate spoonbills and other shorebirds hunt on the mud flats during low tidesDespite this areas importance to wildlife, the region has suffered over the decades from a network of historic canals dug into its interior. The canals have led to saltwater intrusion and breakdown of the once productive marsh.

Audubon Florida has long recognized the importance of Cape Sable to local wildlife. Decades of Audubon’s Everglades science work has shown that the increased flow from the Gulf of Mexico through the canal network was having cascading negative consequences for the ecosystem. Most importantly, our team has documented a loss of forage fish. These tiny preyfish are a crucial food for the myriad wading birds who depend on these wetlands for survival.

Audubon’s findings were influential in the National Park Service’s acquisition of $10 million in funding to construct the first set of dams to slow the flow of saltwater through the harmful canals. There has been early signs of success with this project and the recent NFWF grant is an integral step toward acquiring the approximately $8 million needed to complete the second phase of restoration on Cape Sable, which involves the building of four more impediments to flow.

We believe this restoration work is essential toward increasing the success of the bird life in the region and are continuing our research and working with our partners to achieve restoration success on Cape Sable.

Gulf Ecosystem Advocates Needed as Restoration Planning Gains Steam

posted on August 28, 2014 in Coastal Conservation,Events,Gulf Oil Spill

[object Object]Slowly but surely, things are starting to move with the RESTORE Act process and the flow of money.

This time last year, all interested parties were commenting on a proposed set of regulations from theU.S. Department of the Treasury that will govern how the Gulf States and municipalities spend money resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. After considering those comments, the Department of the Treasury issued an Interim Final Rule earlier this month.

The RESTORE law steers 80% of any civil and administrative penalties under the Clean Water Act into the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. The law designates the estimated $5 to $20 billion dollars to ecosystem restoration, economic recovery, and regional tourism promotion. Most of that money will come from BP once federal court proceedings conclude. Approximately $1 billion has already been collected from a settlement with Transocean, the company that operated the doomed oil rig.

Some RESTORE funds will be available for dispersal once the Treasury rule is final. Barring any challenges to this rule, this is expected to happen on October 14, 2014.

While we wait for the Treasury regulations to be final, you can feel the activities of the Counties stepping it up as well. The Gulf Consortium, consisting of Florida’s 23 Gulf counties, is anticipating receiving some grant funding to assist with the development of Florida’s State Expenditure Plan. This group will select a consultant to help guide them through the process.

Most of those 23 counties also have their own RESTORE Act Advisory Committees. These committees oversee a separate revenue stream of trust fund dollars received based on the extent of damage done in the county. Each committee has one environmental representative dedicated to ensuring that their County spends funds to address environmental and ecological damages.

On August 21, 2014, those representatives from the Panhandle area (Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Franklin counties) gathered for a day at the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center near Freeport, Florida to share updates and look for ideas on how to advance shared priorities. The meeting was organized by the Defenders of Wildlife and also included representatives from Audubon Floridathe Nature ConservancyNational Wildlife Federation and the Florida Wildlife Federation.

The Panhandle Counties are all working on their individual expenditure plans and processes and are all in different stages of readiness to accept project proposals. All committee meetings are open to the public.

One resounding cry heard at the August 21 meeting was the need for more public involvement. Consider attending one of the below public meetings. All times local. For additional information, please click here.

upcoming_publicmeetings_august2014

Bay County RESTORE Act Committee Needs You

posted on May 29, 2014 in Coastal Conservation,Events,Gulf Oil Spill

Wilsons Plover shading its 2 chicks. Photo by Linda MartinoThe Bay County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee met in Panama City on May 13, 2014. The purpose of the Committee is to solicit public input, draft a plan, and set goals for Bay’s County’s use of funds received from the RESTORE Act. Tuesday’s meeting was the second time this committee has met since its creation in January, 2014. And there was one important part of the equation missing that day…an ample number of interested members of the public in the audience!

The Committee is striving to have a draft implementation plan ready to present to the Bay County Board of County Commissioners in July and is approaching that assignment in a thoughtful, deliberate manner.  While many other counties are simply listing desired projects to be funded with a strategy to work out an implementation plan afterwards, Bay County knows the better approach is to devise the framework by which those projects will be chosen and establish a more cohesive approach to addressing the County’s needs. And besides that, the U.S. Treasury regulations will be requiring an implementation plan before any RESTORE Act funds can be spent.

To help in determining what priorities go into the plan, numerous “State of Bay County” presentations have been scheduled to give committee members an overview of the issues. At Tuesday’s meeting, the topics included the promotion of tourism and recreational fishing, the consumption of Gulf seafood and workforce development and job creation.

At the next meeting, scheduled for June 10, 2014, the presentation topics will focus on: the restoration and protection of natural resources, infrastructure benefitting ecological resources and coastal flood protection and related infrastructure.

If you live in the Bay County area, please plan to attend the June 10th meeting and lend your voice to the much needed support for environmental expenditures. This Committee needs to know what matters to the residents of Bay County and potential visitors to the County.

Gail Carmody is the environmental representative on the Committee and we know she would like nothing better than to look out in the audience at the next meeting and see every chair filled with people who understand the need to restore environmental damage from the oil spill if the economy is expected to have long term improvement.

Bay County Public Hearing

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
1:30 CDT
Commission Chambers
Bay County Government Building
840 West 11th Street, Panama City

Two Opportunities to Make Your Voice Heard for Florida’s Beach Birds

posted on January 27, 2014 in Coastal Conservation,Gulf Oil Spill,Online Advocacy

Black Skimmers and chicks at the successful Indian Shores colony.Audubon staff have finished reviewing the oil spill restoration projects recently proposed for funding through Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Early Restoration Round 3.

We have grave concerns that Florida projects intended to help restore the Gulf will in fact harm imperiled birds and their habitat.

Projects that qualify as “restoration” under NRDA do not just remedy harm done to the Gulf’s ecology—they may also address harm done to the Gulf economy and recreational use of the Gulf’s natural resources. Projects proposed in this round are incredibly diverse, including fishing piers, dune crossovers and parking lots, artificial reefs, a sport fish hatchery, seagrass, oyster and scallop restorations, and more.

Some Gulf “Restoration” Projects Will Harm Wildlife and Habitat as Proposed

Economic and recreational access “restoration” are both worthy goals, however, it’s easy to imagine some projects in these sectors could be incompatible with ecological restoration—and run counter to some of our state’s highest conservation priorities. Unfortunately, this has come to pass in this round of projects.

One example of a proposed project that will impact imperiled species:

Least Terns by RJ WileyThe Navarre Beach Park Gulfside Walkover Complex project proposes to build a parking lot and dune crossover on top of the last part of the beach at this park where state Threatened Least Terns and Snowy Plovers nest.

  1. This small park already has ample parking, two dune crossovers, and is immediately adjacent to another major public beach access.
  2. This kind of destruction of imperiled species habitat will likely require a state Incidental Take Permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission—something we never thought would be requested for a “restoration project.”
  3. This project funding (NRDA Round 3) would pay to destroy habitat at this site. NRDA Round 2 is currently funding Audubon to improve the nesting success of these rare and declining birds at this very site.

No Staffing, Law Enforcement or Maintenance Support Included to Protect Resource and Public Safety

Further, many of the projects intended to radically increase public use at coastal sites do not have commensurate funding for increased park staffing, law enforcement, or maintenance to ensure that the resource and public safety are protected and the public’s investment in this new infrastructure will be maintained. While NRDA may not be able to fund this kind of staffing, there has been no commitment to fund it from other state sources either. This will come at the expense of resources and public safety.

Your Voice Is Needed: Attend a Public Hearing in Pensacola and/or Panama City:

January 28, 6PM
Pensacola Bay Center
201 E. Gregory St.
Pensacola, FL 32502

January 29, 6PM
Hilton Garden Inn
1101 US Highway 231
Panama City, FL 32405

Can’t make the hearing in person? Email your comments to the Trustees: 

  1. Projects like the Navarre Beach Gulfside Walkover Complex cannot go forward as proposed. No Gulf Restoration project should be allowed to destroy habitat. First the spill harmed the birds, then the spill response. Restoration should help the birds, not harm them yet again.
  2. Projects designed to increase public use must have additional staffing, law enforcement and maintenance, or result in unintended impacts to natural resources and public safety.
  3. For truly meaningful public comment, Florida should have a fact sheet for each project to help citizens review project locations, scopes, and scales.

CLICK HERE TO EMAIL YOUR COMMENTS.

If you plan to join Audubon at one of the public hearings, please send us an email to let us know you will be attending: flconservation@audubon.org.

Comment Period for Third Phase of NRDA Early Restoration Projects Likely in January 2014

posted on November 15, 2013 in Gulf Oil Spill,Online Advocacy

Public comment sessions on the third phase of the proposed NRDA Early Restoration projects will likely be held in January 2014.

Fourteen of the proposed projects, if approved, will be in Florida with a total dollar amount estimated to be $73 million. A brief description of the 14 Florida projects can be viewed at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection NRDA Projects website.

National Academy of Sciences Starts Gulf of Mexico Program

posted on November 14, 2013 in Gulf Oil Spill,Water Issues,Wildlife

NASThe National Academy of Sciences is setting up a Gulf of Mexico program with funds from Deepwater Horizon settlements. The new 30-year, $500 million Gulf research program will focus on human health and environmental protection in the Gulf region. The program has three objectives: environmental monitoring, research and development, and education and training.

An advisory group held an information-gathering meeting in Tallahassee on Oct. 30-31, at which state agencies, nonprofits, health and research organizations gave presentations and discussed efforts and needs.

Audubon’s RESTORE Calendar lists many of the planning workshops and county RESTORE Act meetings. If you are aware of others, please let us know: flconservation@audubon.org.

U.S. Treasury RESTORE Act Draft Rule Comment Period Ends

posted on November 12, 2013 in Gulf Oil Spill

brown_pelicanThe comment period for the U.S. Treasury RESTORE Act draft rule closed on November 5. This rule will govern how RESTORE Trust Fund money is distributed. As drafted, Treasury will provide grants for environmental and economic restoration projects to Gulf states and local governments from Pot 1, and the Gulf Council will provide grants to the Gulf states from Pot 3.

In Florida, Pot 1 grants will go to coastal counties based on a multi-year implementation plan to be prepared by each county, and Pot 3 will go to the State to fund the State Expenditure Plan prepared by the Florida Gulf Counties Consortium.

No RESTORE funds can be distributed until the rule is finalized. Disbursement of about $800 million in RESTORE funds from settlements awaits finalization of the Treasury rule and preparation of plans. The Florida Gulf Counties Consortium’s response to the draft rule can be viewed or downloaded from the Consortium web page.

Gulf Consortium Hearing Report – West Palm Beach, September 2013

posted on September 24, 2013 in Gulf Oil Spill

brown_pelicanThe Gulf Consortium met on September 18, 2013 in West Palm Beach to begin discussions on the draft regulations issued recently by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. This extensive compilation describes the procedures required by the RESTORE Act and generally describes the responsibilities of Federal and State entities which administer Restore Act programs and carry out restoration activities in the Gulf Coast Region. Understanding the importance of these regulations, the Consortium agreed to hold a meeting in Tallahassee on October 25 devoted exclusively to finalizing their comments on the rules which are due to the Treasury Department by November 5, 2013.

Also of note, the Consortium approved a motion to add an additional Public Comment period to their agenda for future meetings. From now on, the public will be given a chance to speak at the beginning of each meeting as well as at the end of the meeting. Audubon applauds this decision and looks forward to the increased dialogue at future meetings.

U.S. Treasury Issues Long-Anticipated BP Oil Spill Restoration Rule

posted on August 5, 2013 in Gulf Oil Spill

oil-on-beachOn Friday, August 2, the United States Treasury sent a proposed rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget to implement the RESTORE Act, passed to ensure 80% of all fines collected in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster go to restoration purposes in the Gulf States. The Treasury has the lead role in fund distribution.

You can view the rule for yourself by clicking here.

BP, in an ongoing civil case, faces up to $17.6 billion in Clean Water Act fines for the 2010 disaster.

Report: Wildlife Tourism Depends on Healthy Gulf

Wilsons Plover shading its 2 chicks. Photo by Linda MartinoWildlife tourism is a $19 billion industry across the five Gulf states and a report released earlier this week said the industry depends on restoring the coastal environment. Over 20 million people visit the Gulf states every year to enjoy our remarkable wildlife and provide $5.3 billion in annual tax revenue. More than 25,000 tourism-related businesses and 500,000 jobs are linked to wildlife tourism.

As funds from the BP/Deepwater Horizon settlement are directed to the states, make sure your local officials know you support conservation projects that enhance and protect our remarkable natural resources and coastal wildlife.

The report was produced by Datu Research LLC and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and is available for download by clicking here.

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