Audubon Florida News

Topic: Everglades,State Government,Wildlife

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.

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.

Update: SFWMD Vote to Reduce Millage Rate Means Less Money for Everglades

posted on August 5, 2015 in Everglades,Water Issues

An Everglade Snail Kite surrounded by eggs from an exotic apple snail.Thank you to all our Audubon Advocates for making your voices heard on behalf of the Everglades. On Friday, Audubon Florida joined representatives from the Audubon Society of the Everglades, South Florida Audubon,Tropical Audubon Society, Emerge Miami, and Engage Miami to support Everglades funding at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).

Unfortunately, in an 8-1 result, the Governing Board voted against maintaining the tax millage rate from last year. This was the second time the Governing Board voted on this issue in the past month. Friday’s vote reversed a courageous decision from earlier in July when members elected to keep the tax millage rate the same.

Despite calls from prestigious organizations such as National Academy of Sciences to increase the rate of restoration, Friday’s vote means that the SFWMD will collect $21 million less for Everglades work this year. This year marks the fifth year in a row of millage rate reductions even as the need for stable and consistent funding grows more urgent.

Thank you again to everyone who spoke for our birds and wildlife. Only together will we be successful in our shared mission to protect and restore America’s Everglades.

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.


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.

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 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.

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