Audubon Florida News

Topic: Save Our Swamp,Wildlife



Audubon Submits 50 Years of Wood Stork Data to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

posted on November 29, 2010 in Save Our Swamp,Wildlife

On November 22, Audubon of Florida submitted 50 years of Wood Stork nesting data to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in response to the agency’s call for additional research on North America’s only native stork.  The agency request is in response to the pro-development Florida Homebuilders Association’s petition to have the native stork’s federal Endangered status removed.  Removing the bird’s status would pave the way for easier permitting of activities that harm the wetlands upon which these birds depend.

When science shows legitimate recovery, Audubon absolutely supports the downlisting and delisting of endangered species. However, in the press release on the results of the Wood Stork data, Audubon writes:

These data and research results indicate a loss of critical shallow foraging wetlands of up to 80% in the 30 kilometer radius of core foraging area around the Corkscrew rookery. This has resulted in reductions of nesting productivity from about 4,500 fledges average each year in the 1960’s, to around 950 now.

For more information on the origins of this issue, please read “Wood Storks: An Everglades Icon Under Threat,” originally posted in September 2010.

Audubon Provides Leadership on Wood Stork Issue

posted on October 25, 2010 in Save Our Swamp

Wood Stork Chicks by RJ WileyIn a recent article by the Palm Beach Post, conservationists have been pitted against land developers over the latter’s attempts to have the Wood Stork removed from the Endangered Species List (ESL).

Audubon of Florida has for over 40 years conducted scientific research and monitoring of Wood Stork nesting in South Florida and the Everglades based out of our Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.  Our field teams are focused on helping these magnificent birds recover from over a century of habitat destruction and hunting.

It is Audubon of Florida’s goal to remove or re-list species on the ESL when the science and research back up that claim.  In the case of the Wood Stork, there simply is not enough data to suggest the Florida Homebuilders Association’s assertion that a suitable recovery has taken place, as this species’ historic homeland of the Everglades and South Florida still lack proper water quality standards and are subject to difficult water quantity controls.  Yet, the attorney for this organization cites the state’s flagging economy as a reason to delist the species.

Although recent rises in Wood Stork population numbers are a positive sign, they are alarming in the same that they are happening away from their traditional homeland on the southern tip of the Florida peninsula.   Audubon of Florida Director of Wildlife Conservation Julie Wraithmell replied to these problems in the Palm Beach Post article, saying:

“It will take time to see if the birds continue to nest in these new areas,” said Julie Wraithmell, director of Wildlife Conservation at Audubon of Florida.

“What is the long-term sustainability in these areas, in terms of sea level and climate change?” Wraithmell said. “It’s important to make sure that the species really has recovered.”

For now, the attention the public has shown on North America’s only native stork has been inspiring.  Citizens and scientists want these birds to have a viable and protected habitat to ensure a self-sustaining future before officials make any decisions that could affect the species breeding locations.  Population numbers alone cannot be the only factor in determining the full recovery of a species, especially in the shadow of climate change and sea-level rise.

Check back to this site often for the latest on the Wood Stork story.

Wood Storks: An Everglades Icon Under Threat

posted on September 29, 2010 in Birding,Corkscrew Swamp,Everglades,Save Our Swamp

In recent days, the people of Florida learned that protections for one of our most iconic and important birds are under threat.  The Wood Stork, as familiar to the great wetland vistas of South Florida as any other animal, has again been thrust into the spotlight.  A pro-development lobbying organization, the Florida Homebuilders Association, has successfully petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to revisit this bird’s federally endangered status. The USFWS announced last week that downlisting to Threatened may be warranted, and the agency will spend the next year conducting a “status review” evaluating the bird’s recovery. Make no mistake: mere downlisting is not the homebuilders’ ultimate goal. The legal representation for the Florida Homebuilders Association has gone on the record to call for the stork’s immediate and complete removal from the Endangered Species List, which would pave the way for easier permitting of activities that harm the wetlands upon which these birds depend.

In all status reviews,  the USFWS requests data and analysis from the research and conservation communities to inform their evaluation.  Currently, Audubon of Florida’s researchers are assembling our data and analysis on Wood Stork breeding success for submission.  Since 1958, Audubon has monitored and managed one of the largest active Wood Stork populations in our sanctuary at Corkscrew Swamp, just east of Naples.

When science shows legitimate recovery, Audubon absolutely supports the downlisting and delisting of endangered species. However, we currently have grave concerns based on our field data that the Wood Stork may not yet meet the required criteria. Additionally, increasingly troubling indicators in their historic heartland– the shallow, forested wetlands of the Everglades and South Florida— raise concern for the species’ long-term viability.  Recent increases in population numbers are largely attributed to expansion of the Wood Stork’s breeding range to include areas far north of their historic extent. The sustainability of these successes is not yet clear.

Today, water quality, quantity and timing remain issues hindering long-term growth and vitality of Wood Storks and Florida as a whole.  “South Florida no longer functions as it should for storks, and recent population gains have resulted from range expansion.” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon of Florida’s Director of Wildlife Conservation. “Nevertheless, it is unclear how sustainable these new breeding areas will be for storks and with additional threats including contaminants, unprotected wintering areas and loss of critical foraging areas, Audubon will be closely following this evaluation, to ensure it considers the full range of challenges still facing these birds.”

This is not the first time Audubon has taken the lead on Wood Stork protection and rehabilitation.  Nearly four years ago, Audubon submitted analysis to the USFWS for use in their five-year review of the species.  In response to then-recent Wood Stork nesting successes in the 2006 season, Audubon wrote:

A population increase alone is insufficient grounds for declaring success in
Wood Stork recovery efforts…

We believe that it would be premature to begin a downlisting process for the Wood Stork,
given that the primary factor that appears responsible for the increasing population trend
is meteorological rather than one that can be sustained for the benefit of the Wood Stork.
Downlisting Wood Storks would erode the limited protections their foraging areas now
receive and allow development and wetland conversions to proceed at an accelerated
pace. These losses combined with a drying trend as rainfall amounts regress toward long
term averages would most likely cause another collapse in the stork population.

Sadly, this final prediction has since been borne out with poor breeding seasons in 2007 and 2010. Only time will reveal the fate of the Wood Stork’s protected status on the Endangered Species List.  The pro-development lobby is well funded and eager to further erode protections for wetlands and wildlife.

In the coming weeks, Audubon of Florida’s dedicated team of scientists and advocates will be working hard to assemble the data and analysis necessary help decision-makers in their evaluation of this beleaguered bird’s status.

Please check back often for more information on current events and how you can help the Wood Stork.

Major Conservation Victory for Corkscrew Swamp

The boardwalk at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Audubon and a coalition of five environmental organizations just settled two lawsuits against two of three major residential and golf projects proposed for wetlands near Corkscrew Swamp. This important victory is part of Audubon’s Save our Swamp campaign to protect Corkscrew and the Cocohatchee  Slough.

Major improvements have been made in these two projects resulting in more than 200 acres less wetland impacts and hundreds of acres of wetlands restored for wood stork and other imperiled species habitats, plus moving a major road from wetlands into old farm fields and reducing dwelling units by 750.

Added to the October 2009 court win against the adjacent Mirasol project, which revoked that wetland-destroying federal permit, these settlements represent a major win for the sensitive ecology surrounding Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.  The Mirasol project would destroy 645 acres of wetland and habitat, more than twice the impacts of the two settled projects combined.  The five groups are preparing to oppose an expected third submittal of the Mirasol federal permit application, a conservation battle dating back to 2002.

Read the Naples Daily News account here.

Corkscrew Sanctuary Officially Named Wetland of International Importance

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From Naples News:

Fans of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary have always viewed its towering cypress forest and long vistas of wet prairie to be world-class. On Wednesday, about 130 people gathered at the sanctuary to make it official.

In a ceremony under a big white tent at the sanctuary on Immokalee Road, the Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention presented Audubon of Florida and the neighboring Panther Island Mitigation Bank with certificates naming Corkscrew a Wetland of International Importance.

The recognition, under the auspices of an intergovernmental treaty adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971, puts Corkscrew on the same list with only 22 other U.S. spots and only two other places on Florida — Everglades National Park and Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.

“This is a great day for Ramsar,” Secretary General Anada Tiega, based in Switzerland, told the crowd. The designation follows a 1 1/2-year review of stacks of data about soils, wetlands, wildlife and plants found at the 13,000-acre sanctuary. Listed sites need to meet only one of nine criteria; Corkscrew’s met three, Tiega said.

Corkscrew, which is owned by Audubon of Florida, is home to the largest old-growth forest of bald cypress trees in North America. Birders from far and wide flock to Corkscrew each spring in hopes of glimpsing America’s largest nesting colony of endangered wood storks.

Audubon purchased the sanctuary in 1954 to protect the forest from loggers. Each year, more than 100,000 visitors come to Corkscrew’s Blair Audubon Center and walk the sanctuary’s 2 1/2-mile boardwalk — “the real Florida,” Audubon’s executive director Eric Draper called it. “We are incredibly fortunate to have this place,” Draper said. Besides recognizing what has been protected, the Ramsar designation makes a statement about the value of restoration, Draper said. The Ramsar designation at Corkscrew marks the first time Ramsar has put a mitigation bank on its list of 2,000 sites worldwide.

The Panther Island Mitigation Bank, some 2,700 acres on the edge of the sanctuary, has spent $20 million restoring old farm fields to wetlands. Developers buy credits from the mitigation bank in return for getting permits to destroy wetlands on their sties. The mitigation bank has turned over most of the restored area, along with an endowment for maintenance, to Corkscrew to manage.

“This designation lends great credibility to our pride of accomplishment,” mitigation bank managing partner Bill Barton said.

Join Us For Corks & Storks, A Corkscrew Celebration

posted on January 6, 2010 in Calendar,Corkscrew Swamp,Save Our Swamp

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A Celebration of ED CARLSON’S 35 Years of Service to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
January 20, 2010 – 6:00 – 10:00 pm

Please join us to honor Ed Carlson
Dinner and Roast

$125 per person
Hilton Hotel – 5111 Tamiami Trail North, Naples

RSVP by January 13, 2010
Contact: Doug Machesney or Candace Forsyth
239-348-9151 x111

ed_carlsonEd Carlson’s business card says “Director of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary” but the modern day warden and champion of conservation in Collier and Lee Counties for the past 35 years, is often described more frankly as “Swamp Rat.”

Ed first came to Corkscrew from Miami as a teenager and spent the summer repairing the old boardwalk, with no electrical tools and chest deep in swamp water. In 1974 on his first day as an Audubon staff biologist he came upon a flock of Wood Storks…..and has been their advocate ever since, preserving habitats and watersheds critical to their existence. He became Director in 1983 and continues his mission to educate the public and policy makers about the tremendous natural resources found in southwest Florida.

He considers his major accomplishments to be the building of the Blair Audubon Center at Corkscrew, a six year campaign that created the new Visitors Center, an innovative wastewater treatment plant, an eco-friendly parking lot and the rebuilding of the 2.25-mile boardwalk trail.

Created By Nature, Protected By Audubon: Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is considered the “jewel in the crown” of the National Audubon Society. For over 100 years the area just east of Naples, Florida has been a safe haven for birds, wildlife and the largest stand of old growth cypress trees in North America, protected by Audubon wardens. Audubon purchased 520 acres now known as the Sanctuary in 1954. Today 13,000 acres of native habitats are currently managed by Audubon of Florida. Over 100,000 visitors are welcomed each year to explore the 2.25 mile boardwalk trail and experience “the real Florida.”

To learn more about Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, view the Sanctuary’s brochure (page 1 and page 2). To find out even more and to view online photos of the preserve, consider visiting the Swamp’s website.

Hurray! Judge Revokes Permit for Mirasol Development

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From Eric Staats at Naples Daily News:

A federal judge has revoked an environmental permit for a controversial golf course community in northern Collier County. Wetlands and endangered wood storks that roost at nearby Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary have been the focus of a twisting decade-long legal fight over the permit for the Mirasol project — and it isn’t over yet.

In an order filed Friday in Miami, U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez sent pieces of the permit review back to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for another look. The 56-page order takes issue with the way biologists calculated the amount of fish for wood storks to eat at the Mirasol site, some 1,700 acres owned by IM Collier Joint Venture at the northwest corner of Immokalee Road and Collier Boulevard. Questions about the fish prey calculation also call into question the amount of mitigation federal permitters required of the developer and their analysis of the cumulative impacts of other developments in the Cocohatchee Slough, the order states.

The order revokes the 2007 permit on only a narrow set of issues, but that didn’t dampen environmental advocates’ elation. “I can tell you that we’re absolutely thrilled to prevail after all this time,” Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary executive director Ed Carlson said. “We’re waiting to see what happens next.”

The National Wildlife Federation, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Collier County Audubon Society, Florida Wildlife Federation and National Audubon Society sued the federal government over the Mirasol permit.

Continue reading about the current Mirasol victory at Naples News.

Wood Storks on the Defense Against Builders

woodstork-rjwiley_flipThe Florida Home Builders Association (FHBA) has petitioned the federal government to drop the protective status of wood storks down to “threatened”, effectively reducing necessary safeguards to ensure the species healthy survival. The FHBA asserts that such protections are big government regulations that impede growth, recovery, and unemployment reductions. The FHBA believes the wood stork no longer needs protections, that the species has sufficiently rebounded. However, those that study the bird’s population and habitat claim this is not so. Though making a modest comeback from an all-time low population in 1978, the wood stork is far from clearing the hurdles. It will be a good while yet before the species can be safely “unprotected.” Read more on this story at the Sun Sentinel.

Corkscrew Swamp Is Teeming

posted on March 30, 2009 in Birds in the News,Corkscrew Swamp,Save Our Swamp

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“Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s lettuce lake crackled early Monday with unmelodious croaks and squawks as dozens of wading birds gorged on a feast of fish and invertebrates.

Many of the usual long-legged suspects were enjoying the best foraging in three years: white ibises, great egrets, snowy egrets, black-crowned night herons, Louisiana herons, little blue herons, roseate spoonbills and, most significantly, endangered wood storks.

Anhingas and alligators also participated in the lettuce lake feast.

“This is as good as it gets, right here, right now,” sanctuary volunteer Paul Carney said. “People walk in here and think the water’s too low, but it’s exactly right. You can tell by the feeding frenzy.”

Wading bird activity at Corkscrew and throughout Southwest Florida depends entirely on water, and for two years, the area didn’t have any.”

Continue reading the Corkscrew story at news_press.com.

Also, read Naples News’ A rare sight: Wood storks, other wading birds enjoy feeding frenzy at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

A Frenzy of Wading Birds Await Visitors at Corkscrew

posted on March 20, 2009 in Corkscrew Swamp,Save Our Swamp

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Officials at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary say the next six weeks promise visitors the greatest show in years as thousands of adolescent wood storks begin fledging, and a host of adult storks, roseate spoonbills, egrets, night herons, ibis, and alligators take advantage of the low water levels to feed.

Water levels at the Corkscrew’s lettuce lakes, right off the boardwalk, have dropped into the optimal range for wood storks, and other wading birds, and depending on rainfall, scientists expect a frenzy of wildlife activity as spring approaches.

“The surface of the water is already boiling with millions of tiny fish,” which are prey for the wading birds and alligators, said Jason Lauritsen, Assistant Director of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. “And those little, fuzzy-headed, somewhat clumsy adolescent storks will be spending a lot of time figuring out how to fish and fly right here in stork paradise.”

Read on further.

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