Audubon Florida News

Topic: Everglades,Florida Bay,Water Issues



Audubon Advocates Keep Pressure on the Army Corps to Protect the Southern Everglades

posted on June 16, 2015 in Everglades,Florida Bay,Water Issues

spoonbill_bill_swindamanThree vital restoration projects in the Southern Everglades – Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park, C-111 South Dade, and the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project – are nearly complete. How these projects are operated will determine how they impact the ecosystem. Operations that move freshwater to the right places at the right time of year will help revive Everglades National Park, improve conditions in Florida Bay, and bring back birds, fish, and other wildlife that depend on these special places.

The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a series of incremental tests. During these tests, freshwater will be moved through restoration projects and into the Everglades. Data will be collected to determine the final operations plan for the Southern Everglades. The goal of these projects are to restore the flow of water that will in turn restore habitats in the Southern Everglades and Florida Bay.

The first increment of testing will start this summer and will slightly increase water flowing into Shark River Slough in Everglades National Park. In order to satisfy the vocal agricultural community worried about the impacts of restoration on their land, this test will also allow some water to be diverted away from Taylor Slough and Florida Bay which will reduce ecological benefits in those areas.

Audubon will continue working with the agencies responsible for Everglades restoration to stress that restoration projects achieve the promised ecological benefits for birds and other wildlife.

Nicodemus Slough Project Now Online

posted on May 28, 2015 in Everglades,Water Issues

nicodemus2_nrThis may be the fastest startup ever for an Everglades related water management project. Nicodemus Slough is now storing water from Lake Okeechobee, providing relief from high-water discharges and now discharging water at the right time to help the river and estuary.

This 16,000 acre project can store and dispense around 34,000 acre feet of water and was online in about 3 years from proposal. It will cost the South Florida Water Management District $28 million if its full term lease is utilized, just a tiny fraction of the cost big reservoirs under engineering or construction on the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River.

Built by Lykes Brothers Ranch on their own land with the company taking the risk, Lykes has stepped out in front with a real winner here. Ten years from now, when the government-built reservoirs are just starting operation, this project will already have a decade of performance behind it. This shows what private-public partnerships can do.

Audubon Florida is proud to have had a role as an advocate of this great project.

For more information, please click here.

Flamingos Return to Palm Beach County

posted on March 23, 2015 in Birding,Birds in the News,Everglades,Wildlife

Flamingos in STA 2Many tourists travel to Florida each year and mistake the beautiful Roseate Spoonbill for another iconic pink bird – the American Flamingo. Savvy Florida birders and big year listers know that the only place in the state you have a chance of seeing real, wild Flamingos is in extreme south Florida. Only occasional reports pop up on rare bird alerts or on ebird in isolated places like Snake Bight or Cape Sable in Everglades National Park. That may be changing. Last year a group of over 100 Flamingos showed up in Palm Beach County. This year, some have returned to the same spot.

So where is this mysterious location that has been attracting this sought after Florida icon? A place called STA 2. STA stands for Stormwater Treatment Area. These areas are large treatment wetlands that are critical pieces in the puzzle of Everglades restoration efforts. STAs help filter out phosphorus and nitrogen from water on its way south to the River of Grass. The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) operates these areas and – luckily for birders – has established a great partnership with Audubon chapters to allow birding at several STAs.

Audubon Society of the Everglades (ASE) is now organizing field trips to see the Flamingos and other birds at STA 2. This is thanks to the efforts of ASE board member Linda Humphries who coordinated with SFWMD staff member Dr. Bijaya Kattel to organize the chapter-run trips.

On March 22, Dr. Tabitha Cale, Audubon Florida Everglades Policy Associate, attended the most recent trip to see these rare and iconic birds. The Flamingos did not disappoint. Eight birds were seen close enough for visitors to get some great looks at the birds through spotting scopes, binoculars, and camera lenses. ASE board member Susan McKemy lead the trip and SFWMD staff members Dr. Bijaya Kattel and Dr. Mark Cook were also in attendance helping answering questions about the STA and its birdlife.

The next field trips to see the Flamingos are scheduled for March 22 and 28, and April 4, 12, 18, and 25. Reservations are required. Birders interested in attending one of the upcoming trips can email asetripinfo@gmail.com to request a spot. More information is available on the ASE website.

Audubon Florida commends the partnership between its local chapters and the SFWMD. Along with trips to STA 2 and STA 1-East run by ASE, birders can also visit STA 5 with Hendry-Glades Audubon, and Lakeside STA with Audubon of Martin County.

Click here for more information about all STA field trips.

Audubon Scientists: “Everglades Restoration Cannot Wait”

posted on February 17, 2015 in Everglades,Publications,Wildlife

Audubon_wadingbirds_2014_coverNew South Florida Water Management District Report Highlights Steep Decline in Wading Bird Nesting

Each year the South Florida Water Management District releases its annual South Florida Wading Bird Report. Now in its 20th year, this report provides information on the status of wading bird nesting around the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. Wading birds are valuable ecological indicators that provide insights into the health of this unique ecosystem.

Twenty years of data show that while state and federal restoration managers are making progress, much work remains to save the River of Grass and its avian inhabitants.

The 2014 report shows that wading bird nesting was 28% lower than last year.

Contributors to the report (including Audubon Florida) recorded a total of 34,714 nests. Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, and Snowy Egrets showed the most dramatic reductions in nesting, dropping by 83%, 42%, and 47% respectively.

The decline in nesting of these and other wading birds species is due to the lack of suitable foraging habitat across South Florida, highlighting the urgency of Everglades restoration projects. The survival of wading birds in the Everglades depends on how quickly important restoration projects move forward and restore the flow of freshwater.

Download Audubon’s Fact Sheet on this year’s wading bird nesting efforts and to see our recommendations for ensuring the recovery of populations in decline and to learn where restoration efforts are allowing bird populations to bounce back. Feel free to print and share this document at your next Audubon Chapter Meeting or community gathering.

For more information, please see the following news reports about this issue:

Fact Sheet: 2014 Everglades Wading Bird Nesting Report

posted on January 29, 2015 in Everglades,Publications,Wildlife

Audubon_wadingbirds_2014_coverThis month the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) released the annual South Florida Wading Bird Report, which showed a steep decline in wading bird nesting in the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. Wading birds are important ecological indicators – their health reflects the heath of the broader ecosystem.

The data in this year’s report shows that Everglades restoration cannot wait. In their report, the SFWMD estimated wading bird nesting in 2014 to be 28% lower than last year. A total of 34,714 nests were recorded. Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, and Snowy Egrets showed the most dramatic reductions in nesting, dropping by 83%, 42%, and 47% respectively.

The survival of wading birds in the Everglades depends on how quickly important restoration projects move forward and restore the flow of freshwater.

Click here to download Audubon Florida’s summary of this important report and learn more about the health of wading birds in the Greater Everglades.

Good Water Management is Good for Northern Everglades Birds and Wildlife

Lake Okeechobee by Tabitha Cale

As the wet season is wrapping up, we are breathing a sigh of relief for the birds and wildlife in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuary ecosystems. Due to thoughtful water level management amongst the state and federal agencies this season, (and just the right amount of rain), our ecosystems are in a solid place as we enter the winter months.

During the wet season between May and October, Lake Okeechobee received slightly more than average rain.  Thanks to new management approaches and patience from the agencies, there were minimal summer discharges from the Lake to the St. Lucie, and mostly beneficial releases to Caloosahatchee Estuaries, allowing these delicate ecosystems to continue to recover from the devastation from last summer. Lake Okeechobee’s levels reached 16 feet in October, which is the considered threshold for harm. But with levels now dropping, lake levels are within the ideal zone for the end of the rainy season.

Lake Okeechobee’s ideal water level range is between 12.5 to 15.5 feet over the course of the year.  If the Lake is over 16 feet for too long, damage to the marsh occurs. The 50,000‐acre submerged marsh community is in deep enough water that plants begin dying from wave action and from the loss of light in the deep, turbid, water. Prolonged deep water eliminates the wildlife rich wet prairie communities from the Lake, areas needed to support wading bird foraging. Rapidly rising water can drown alligator and bird nests (including Everglade Snail Kites) across the marsh. Click here to learn more about the effect of lake levels on the wildlife of Lake Okeechobee.

An Everglade Snail Kite surrounded by eggs from an exotic apple snail.

Managing Lake Okeechobee’s water levels is not easy. One wet tropical storm can raise Lake levels several feet –  levels harmful to the marsh and perilous for Hoover Dike safety.  The Corps cannot lower the Lake as fast as it can rise so they must make proactive releases to avoid harmful levels.   The management plan for the Lake allowed Lake releases to the estuaries virtually all summer, but the Corps decided to minimize releases to the estuaries.  This approach prevented harmful Lake discharges.  Note that the estuaries did receive some water from polluted local basin runoff, but it was not nearly as harmful as the previous year.

Very importantly, the SFWMD experimented with new operations to flow over 200,000 acre feet of water (about 5 inches of Lake level) south to the Everglades- water that otherwise would have been released to the estuaries.

The Corps and SFWMD’s approach over the summer came with some risk, but Audubon supported it based on climate patterns and lake level trends during the summer.  Almost weekly, the Corps hosts “Periodic Scientist” calls to get input from scientists from myriad agencies and interests, including Audubon, on day-to-day system conditions from throughout the system.  This information is then used to guide weekly decisions on Lake management.

We commend the Corps and SFWMD for innovative lake management this season and look forward to a healthy spring drawdown.

EPA and Army Corps to Clarify Muddy Definitions of Wetlands and Water

posted on November 7, 2014 in Everglades,Water Issues,Wildlife

Audubon_WOTUS_FactSheet_CoverThe U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency have proposed a new rule clarifying Clean Water Act protections for many streams, wetlands, and other waters critical to Florida’s and the nation’s water resources, wildlife and economy.  Because of confusion created by two Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 over what waters are protected or not, many have been at increased risk of pollution and destruction for more than a decade.  The sad result is wetland losses have been increasing nationwide for the first time since the 1980’s.  Just as sad is a torrent of misinformed objections to this very reasonable, science-based rule from development interests who want to keep this confused status quo.

Audubon Florida summarizes this important habitat and resource issue in a new “Clean Water Act Rule” Fact Sheet – click here to read itTo read a two-page EPA summary of the proposed rule’s clarifications of what water resources are protected by the Clean Water Act, click here.

Clean drinking water, flood protection, downstream fisheries, wildlife habitat and everyone’s local economy depend on clear standards and rules leading to healthier water and wetlands. Please send a letter of support for this proposed rule to EPA before the end of the public comment period on November 14, 2014.  If the rule is not approved, wetland losses and degradation of water will continue to accelerate in Florida and across the United States.

2014 Everglades System Status Report Offers Signs of Hope

posted on August 20, 2014 in Everglades

LakeOkeechobee_tcale_webRECOVER (REstoration COordination and VERification) is composed of a team of scientists and researchers who are tasked with evaluating the health and function of the Everglades Ecosystem. Every few years the RECOVER team releases their System Status Report, a document that uses performance measures to evaluate the progress of Everglades restoration. Last week the 2014 Report was released. This important report provides information on the ecological health of the Everglades.  Data and analysis from multiple government agencies show that while progress is being made, there is still work to be done.

Projects that have been completed, or are nearly complete offer signs of hope that restoration is working. Picayune Strand, Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands, and C-111 South Dade projects have all measurably improved hydrology in the areas where they have been put in place. Improved hydrology means healthier habitats – and that’s good news for wildlife. In the Southern Everglades, better conditions have led to increased nesting of Roseate Spoonbills and endangered American crocodiles.

Conditions in Lake Okeechobee have also improved. Because Lake levels were kept from getting too high or too low, underwater plant communities are healthier, fish populations have increased, and more of the Lake’s littoral marsh is suitable for wading bird foraging.

roseate-spoonbill-mrclean1982While these improvements are encouraging, there are other areas in the Everglades that continue to suffer ecological declines. Authorization and construction of additional restoration projects are needed to reverse declines, increase habitat health, and allow the historic abundance of wildlife to return to the River of Grass. One of these projects needed most urgently is the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP). Once completed CEPP will help rehydrate the parched wetlands of the Central Everglades, and improve the health of Florida Bay.

For more information, please click here for an article from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Excessive Nutrients Threaten Health of Lake Okeechobee Ecosystem

posted on August 8, 2014 in Everglades,Lake Okeechobee,Water Issues

Audubon_ExcessiveNutrients_LakeOkeechobee_factsheet_coverimageJust a little south of the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee is in need of help. Pollution continues to enter the Lake at alarming rates from fertilizer, stormwater, and wastewater in the Okeechobee watershed.

Audubon has produced a new fact sheet that explains why high phosphorus is a problem for our treasured lake and gives a vision to fix it. Click here to download. Please feel free to share this document on social media, or print and distribute at your next chapter meeting or community gathering.

 

A Restored Kissimmee River in Sight

kissimmeeriver_restoredThe remarkable Kissimmee River Restoration Project is approaching completion after decades of construction. Agencies are preparing to operate the finished project in the coming years.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is moving forward with a rule to protect water for the restoration project. The rule, known as 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

At a public SFWMD meeting last week, Audubon advocates and environmental partners told water managers that water for Kissimmee Restoration must be fully protected. Water for our ecosystem cannot be siphoned away to utilities and other thirsty water users in the Central Florida area. Click here for more information about this meeting.

Once complete, Kissimmee River Restoration Project will be the largest functioning restoration project of its kind in the world. The project restores 40 miles of the river and floodplain and almost 25,000 acres of wetlands. The benefits of the project are already unmistakable, and it isn’t even fully operational yet.

Earlier this month, Audubon’s Everglades Conservation Team joined our environmental partners in the Everglades Coalition on a trip to see the Kissimmee River Restoration project first hand. The group saw Swallow-tailed Kites, Everglade Snail Kites, Limpkins, Crested Caracaras, and much more! Click here to read more about this trip.

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