Audubon Florida News

Topic: Everglade Snail Kite,Lake Okeechobee



Are Exotic Apple Snails Saving the Everglade Snail Kite?

posted on February 16, 2012 in Everglade Snail Kite,Lake Okeechobee

Are recent reports of successful Everglade Snail Kite breeding a cause for celebration? Not so fast, warns Audubon Florida Everglades Scientists.

Despite a South Florida Sun-Sentinel article on the recent success of Everglade Snail Kites on Lake Okeechobee, one year does not reflect a trend. The jury (and scientific data) is still out on the long-term sustainability of the kite’s most abundant new food source – an invasive, exotic apple snail from South America with unknown ecological risks.

Make no mistake, Audubon is relieved to learn that the kites’ population on a broad scale fared well over the past year, particularly in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, which was the last remaining place in Florida where their reproduction was an unmitigated success.

Unfortunately, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades proper can no longer support healthy populations of this important indicator species. Over the past decade, Everglade Kite numbers have plummeted disastrously – from 3,000 to around 700 individuals.

Audubon Florida is actively working and dedicated to the long-term viability of this iconic Florida species throughout its traditional and historic range, including critical breeding habitat on Lake Okeechobee. Some of Audubon’s chief recommendations for the health and benefit of the Everglade Snail Kite and the Greater Everglades Ecosystem as a whole are:

  1. Restore water levels in Lake Okeechobee and the Water Conservation Areas to support healthy habitats through Everglades Restoration projects and effective water management decisions.
  2. Emphasize water conservation, especially during the dry season.
  3. Sustain the viability of habitats in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes through aquatic plant management while the Kite’s critical habitat is restored.

Stay tuned to this blog for future updates on the Everglade Snail Kite. Your voice may be needed to help defend this important Florida species.

For more information on this issue, see Audubon Florida’s fact sheet from July 2011: “Everglade Snail Kites: Barometer for the Health of the Everglades and Progress of Restoration.”

Press Release: Hope for the Everglade Snail Kite

posted on February 9, 2012 in Everglade Snail Kite,Lake Okeechobee,Press Releases

For Immediate Release: February 9, 2012

Contact:  Jane Graham, Everglades Policy Associate, jgraham@audubon.org, 561-271-5766

Download PDF: http://bit.ly/yuYXcn

Hope for the Everglade Snail Kite:

Army Corps Agrees to Evaluate Forward Pumps on Lake Okeechobee

Miami, FL – Yesterday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a South Florida Water Management District request for authorization to use temporary forward pumps to pull water from Lake Okeechobee lower than gravity-flow will allow.

The Army Corps has agreed with an Audubon request to reduce the permit extension to one year only to allow for a complete analysis of impacts of the pumps on the endangered Everglade Snail Kite and to analyze additional specific conditions that could limit future pump usage.

Lake Okeechobee is critical Everglade Snail Kite habitat, and decisions that impact how the Lake’s water is managed for the environment, agriculture, and other users can be the difference between life and death for this iconic Florida species.

“With three severe droughts hitting Lake Okeechobee in less than a decade, it is crucial for state and federal agencies to look closely at impacts of low water levels on the Everglade Snail Kite,” said Everglades Policy Associate Jane Graham.  “The Corps’ decision to renew the permit pending an evaluation of the impact of forward pumps on Lake ecology is an encouraging step in the right direction.”

The Everglade Snail Kite is a system-wide indicator species for Everglades restoration success. In order to comprehensively protect Kite habitat and the Greater Everglades Ecosystem as a whole, water level declines should be dealt with through water restrictions and water conservation measures.  Audubon urges that citizens, businesses, and agencies respond to these steps dutifully when drought conditions are identified to avoid the need to use temporary forward pumps when water is most scarce.

Eric Draper, Audubon Florida Executive Director, said, “The South Florida Water Management District needs to rethink how water from Lake Okeechobee is being used throughout the year to put the environment on par with the sugar industry and other users.”

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Audubon Applauds SFWMD’s Heightened Focus on Water Conservation for 2012

posted on November 11, 2011 in Everglade Snail Kite,Lake Okeechobee,Water Issues

Audubon of Florida applauds the South Florida Water Management District for heightening awareness of water conservation through the 2011-2012 dry season.

After a record breaking 2010- 2011 dry season, rains from the fourth wettest October on record brought Lake Okeechobee’s water levels above the water shortage line. The Governing Board decided unanimously to lift the water restrictions across the District. After lifting restrictions, the Board acknowledged that forecasts still predict a drier than normal dry season under La Nina conditions and that Lake Okeechobee was still below average lake levels. The Governing Board voted in a 5-4 decision to declare a water shortage warning across the District.

A water shortage warning places the SFWMD’s 16 counties on heightened alert for the potential of a water shortage and encourages heightened vigilance and voluntary water conservation efforts. It also means that the SFWMD is on the cusp of going back into water restrictions if needed.

Governing Board members discussed the need to avoid repeating the harm that impacted the environment and economy during the 2011 dry season. This year, endangered Everglade Snail Kite nesting suffered at the end of the dry season likely due to low water levels. Cities such as West Palm Beach were within weeks of running out of water supplies. If there had been larger water restrictions earlier in the dry season, hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money may have been saved by avoiding the need for temporary forward pumps at end of the dry season to supply some users’ water.

Broward Governing Board member Glenn Waldman championed the need for heightened awareness of a possible water shortage by making the motion for a water shortage warning, which was seconded by Miami-Dade member Sandy Batchelor.

Audubon looks forward to working with the SFWMD through the upcoming dry season to encourage voluntary water conservation. Additionally, we strongly urge the SFWMD to institute adequate water restrictions proactively if needed to protect our treasured environment and economy.

To the left, EAA crops irrigated with water pumped out of Lake Okeechobee in May, a time when Everglade Snail Kites had abandoned babies in the nests and fled the Lake due to low water.  The Hoover Dike is in the background. Photo by Dr. Paul Gray.

Click here for a Lake Okeechobee Hydrograph – water levels, in blue, passed the water rationing line (the gray line sloping from 13 feet to 10.5 on June 1).

 

Audubon of Florida Releases Preliminary 2011 Everglade Snail Kite Nesting Summary

posted on November 8, 2011 in Everglade Snail Kite,Publications

Audubon of Florida has released a preliminary 2011 Everglade Snail Kite nesting summary. A successful nesting season is crucial for the survival of the Everglade Snail Kite. Over the last dozen years, the population of this iconic Florida species has decreased from 3400 individuals to less than 700 today.

The preliminary assessment of the 2011 Kite nesting season shows mixed results. Kites suffered in their listed critical habitats, Lake Okeechobee and the Water Conservation Areas in the Central Everglades due in large part to abnormally low water levels. As water levels fell in late spring 2011, Kite numbers declined in this region. Meanwhile, Kites had a fairly successful year in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. The Kissimmee Chain of Lakes is not listed as critical Kite habitat but is an important bridge to sustain habitat.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s exotic plant management decisions aided nesting success in this region. For more information on aquatic plant management for Kites, take a look at Audubon of Florida Lake Okeechobee Science Coordinator Dr. Paul Gray’s September 16 report. Researchers will finalize the nesting season assessment in March 2012. Meanwhile, Dr. Gray maintains close contact with Kite experts from across the state to follow the status of this iconic bird of the Everglades.

Audubon is dedicated to promoting a healthy Everglade Snail Kite population, emphasizing the importance of water conservation for the protection of this important Everglades restoration indicator species. For the latest Everglade Snail Kite news and information, please see our category page for this species.

 

Good News! Lake Okeechobee Water Levels on the Rise…But For How Long?

On September 23, Lake Okeechobee’s water level rose to 11 feet for the first time this summer. Reaching the eleven foot mark is significant for Lake Okeechobee in a legal sense. The Florida Legislature established a law to protect water resources from significant harm related to low water, called Minimum Flow and Levels (MFLs). The Lake Okeechobee MFL requires that water levels in Lake Okeechobee should not fall below 11 feet for more than 80 days more than once every six years. During the 2011 dry season, the Lake Okeechobee passed this threshold for the second time in four years and the MFL was in violation for the first time in history.  The Lake, its wildlife, and the tourism economy suffered greatly.

In a typical year, the ecological goal for Lake Okeechobee is 12-12.5 feet at the end of the dry season (May/June), and 15-15.5 feet at the end of the wet season (September/October).  Barring a very wet late-season tropical system, the Lake will remain far below desired levels until next summer and through the upcoming Everglade Snail Kite nesting season.

At 11 feet, the Lake floods only about 10% of its marsh.  During the dry season we can expect the Lake to drop at least two more feet. This is significant because at about 10.5 feet last year, Snail Kites started abandoning nests and leaving the lake.  And dropping to 9 feet or lower would dry almost all vegetated areas and probably eliminate apple snail populations for several years, as happened after the 2001 and 2007-08 droughts.

Audubon is working closely with state and federal agencies, agricultural stakeholders, and our conservation allies to prepare for the possibility of extremely low water levels next dry season. We strive to promote policies that balance the needs of humans with the needs of our precious environment. But we cannot do it without our supporters. Please stay tuned to this website for updates.

 

Audubon Weighs In on Protecting Everglades Snail Kite Habitat During Aquatic Plant Control Efforts

posted on September 16, 2011 in Everglade Snail Kite,Lake Okeechobee

Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray submits this report about how lake managers are dealing with aquatic plant management and treatment’s effect on Everglade Snail Kite habitat:

In August and September, members of the Lake Okeechobee Aquatic Plant Management team met to discuss plant management, especially in relation to Everglade Snail Kite habitat around Eagle Bay Island.  This small region held 75% of the nests found on Okeechobee in 2011 and has a growing exotic floating plant problem.  If left untreated, the plants could become dense enough to smother Kite and snail habitat, yet if treated, the collateral impacts could harm remaining Kite habitat.  The problem is exacerbated because plants cannot be treated near nests during the nesting season, allowing the plants to become very abundant.

Both meetings had tours of the lake to directly inspect and discuss conditions.  Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray accompanied representatives from five agencies and plant control contractors.  The August meeting reached the decision to wait to see if storms would raise lake levels, allowing the plants to float out of sensitive zones where they could be treated without collateral impacts.  No rain came and the September meeting decided that a mix of efforts should occur.

Certain very sensitive areas, such as cattail nesting stands, will have no treatments at all.  No helicopter treatments will be used, rather the more surgical airboat treatments will be used.  A few patches of extremely dense (monocultures) exotics will be treated.  Elsewhere selective treatments will occur, avoiding emergent plants.  Lastly, experimental treatment with a new herbicide will be tried in a small area to measure impacts on non-target species (it is not supposed to have impacts, but will be tested anyway).

Plant managers on Okeechobee are bending over backwards to protect Everglade Snail Kite habitat from collateral impacts, while still keeping exotic plants under reasonable control.  I am very grateful for the careful attention they are paying.

In the coming months, Audubon will focus on keeping enough water in Lake Okeechobee to maintain viable Kite habitat, a daunting task considering today’s very low levels.

A Wind-Power Generation Facility in the Heart of the Everglades Agricultural Area?

posted on August 16, 2011 in Everglade Snail Kite,Everglades,Renewables,Wildlife

Earlier this year, the St. Louis based Wind Capital Group expressed its interest in constructing a wind-power generation facility in the heart of South Florida’s Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).

While Audubon strongly supports wind as an alternative to carbon-based fuels, we believe that wind facilities must be appropriately sited so that they do not cause unacceptable collateral impacts to birds and other wildlife.

On August 8th, Director of Wildlife Conservation Julie Wraithmell and Lake Okeechobee Science Coordinator Paul Gray released Audubon’s preliminary analysis of the project’s potential for wildlife impacts.

The environmental monitoring protocols currently proposed for the EAA project do not provide sufficient rigor to adequately predict future impacts. Audubon provided recommendations to achieve the necessary rigor to accurately assess the project’s risks to wildlife. The resources of this region are too important and vulnerable to proceed with implementation without sufficient information.

Read the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s coverage of this issue or review our comments in their entirety by clicking here.

Everglade Snail Kites: Barometer for the Health of the Everglades and Progress of Restoration

In our continuing research and advocacy for the endangered Everglade Snail Kite, Audubon has published a new document focused on the status of this critically endangered Florida bird: Everglade Snail Kites: Barometer for the Health of the Everglades and Progress of Restoration.

The success of the federally listed endangered Everglade Snail Kite (Kite) is a key ecological indicator for the health of the Greater Everglades. As Kite research crews continue to monitor the few remaining nests throughout the Everglades ecosystem, very rough estimates of nesting success for the 2011 season have been tallied. Kites appear to have had more success this year in the Lake Tohopekeliga (Toho) region, where exotic vegetation (hydrilla) and the exotic apple snails have displaced the native flora and fauna.

The Kites are depending on this habitat since their critical habitats Lake Okeechobee and Water Conservation Area 3A (WCA-3A) suffered greatly this year from extreme drought.  Even for nests that were judged to be successful, it is likely that juvenile survival will be low, as access to food was greatly diminished as marsh water levels—and apple snails, the Kite’s main source of food—dried up. For more information about Kites on Lake Okeechobee, please read Audubon’s position paper from March 2011.

To learn more, download and share Audubon’s latest fact sheet detailing the needs of the Kite in each region it nests. You can help right now: become the Kite’s friend on Facebook to stay informed as we work with grassroots supporters and volunteers to protect this iconic Florida bird.

Good News from Congress: Approval for Tamiami Trail Next Steps

posted on July 7, 2011 in Everglade Snail Kite,Everglades,Wildlife

Amidst the talk of what, where and how much can be cut from the bill that funds the Department of Interior and the Department of Environmental Protection, there was good news from Congress this week for Audubon of Florida, Everglades advocates and concerned citizens. The Tamiami Trail Next Steps project was included in the bill, allowing the project to receive funding needed for construction in future years.

The funding will allow for continued construction off of a one-mile bridge already underway, raising another 5.5 miles of the road that has acted as a dam since it was built in 1928 and has been an ecological nightmare for the Everglades.  Scientific analyses concluded that the bridging will achieve substantial ecosystem benefits based on marsh connectivity, flow velocity, reconnection of ridge and slough habitat, and wetland loss. When completed, the increase in ecological connectivity between Everglades National Park and Water Conservation Areas north of Tamiami Trail is expected to be 500%, providing great benefits for endangered bird species such as the Everglade Snail Kite and Wood Stork.

You can read more about this news from Audubon’s Director of Everglades Policy Julie Hill-Gabriel in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Audubon of Florida would like to thank the Everglades Trust and our other partners who have remained committed to the Tamiami Trail projects. While this is a critical step, much more work needs to be done.  Sign up for our Restore! eNewsletter for future alerts on how you can help.

Governor Scott Cuts Funding for Everglades Restoration

posted on June 22, 2011 in Everglade Snail Kite,Everglades,Lake Okeechobee

Earlier today, a major blow was dealt to the agency that is responsible for managing the water resources for seven million Floridians and our magnificent water-dependent environment. Governor Rick Scott attended a ceremonial signing of the bill that cuts the South Florida Water Management District’s (SFWMD) funding by 30% – or over $120 million dollars. These cuts severely diminish the SFWMD’s ability to pursue Everglades restoration projects. The average homeowner would save less than $30 a year.

Sadly, the cuts have come just at a time when the importance of Everglades restoration for Florida’s future has become so clear. During this year’s drought conditions, it has become apparent that there is simply not enough water maintain a healthy ecosystem and fulfill the needs of citizens and agriculture.

Audubon has chronicled the tragic consequence of low water levels with the recent losses of endangered Everglade Snail Kite nests on Lake Okeechobee as their parents searched for food. One of the goals of Everglades restoration is to make the water pie bigger. Instead of fighting over limited resources, all users should support projects that store water throughout the Greater Everglades that will increase the availability of clean and abundant water resources.

Okeechobee Kite habitat that could go dry this year if water restrictions are not tight enough (Paul Gray)

The money cut by Governor Scott today could have gone to key Everglades restoration projects that could help alleviate these kind of drought problems in the future, such as water storage north of Lake Okeechobee as well as throughout the Everglades Agricultural Area. With these deep cuts, the future of these projects is uncertain.

Read more about this story at the Palm Beach Post.

 

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