Audubon Florida News

Topic: North Everglades

Thank Osceola County Commissioners for Protecting the Northern Everglades

posted on September 25, 2015 in North Everglades

Commissioners need to hear from you that you support their conservation efforts. 

Northern Everglades Landscape1Having redrawn its “Urban Growth Boundary” to accommodate foreseeable growth out to the year 2080 in the northern tier of the county, Osceola County commissioners stepped up efforts to protect the Northern Everglades from development encroachment at their meeting on Monday, September 21st.

County Commissioners approved a new growth boundary extending east to the county line incorporating part of the Deseret Ranch property. At the same time, commissioners acknowledged that more effort was needed to acquire easements from ranchers south of the urban boundary in the Northern Everglades to keep that area in ranching in perpetuity.  County staffers explained the situation and the need to the commissioners in a memo which read:

  • “The County’s UGB and its potential expansion with the North Ranch Sector Plan will provide more than enough capacity to accommodate the County’s future growth and development through the year 2080.  This essentially provides for 2/3 of the County to continue as agricultural and rural lands.
  • There is considerable interest on the part of rural landowners to participate in programs that purchase conservation easements on their lands.
  • A conservation easement is a restriction placed on a piece of property to protect its associated resources. The easement is sold by the landowner and constitutes a legally binding agreement that limits certain types of uses or prevents development from taking place on the land in perpetuity while the land remains in private hands.  Easements offer landowners revenue from the sale of an easement while allowing them to retain many private property rights and to live on and use their land as they have traditionally.  Easements may also offer landowners potential tax benefits.
  • For the public, conservation easements extend conservation dollars by protecting ecologically important private lands without using fee purchase, thus freeing limited funds for other projects.  They also support continuation of the County’s agricultural economy and the jobs associated with it.”

Commissioners then approved the following agenda item:

“Direct County Staff to develop and present recommendations to the Board, within 120 days, concerning establishment and funding of a County program to acquire conservation easements and agricultural easements from willing sellers of properties outside the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB); establish a new Legislative Priority for Osceola County to seek additional State funding for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program and the Florida Forever Less Than Fee Program, for the purpose of acquiring conservation easements and agricultural easements from willing sellers of properties outside the UGB; and authorize the County Manager and the County Legislative Liaison to advocate this priority item at upcoming meetings of the Osceola Legislative Delegation.

Osceola County Growth Map copyThe most certain and immediate impact of the Osceola commission’s action will be to ramp up legislative delegation support for additional funding for the Rural and Family Lands easement program of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and for easement purchases through the Florida Forever program. Only $15 million was approved for the Rural and Family Lands program in 2015, and Florida Forever appropriations were also less than $20 million statewide.  The county will proceed to evaluate re-establishing a county land acquisition program to aid the state in acquiring easements with the County Manger to report back to the County Commission making recommendations in 120 days.

This is a very important step for the protection of the Northern Everglades.

Help Support Habitat Conservation in the Northern Everglades

posted on December 8, 2014 in North Everglades,Online Advocacy,State Government

Northern_Everglades_LandscapeGovernor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet will consider two significant conservation easement purchases in the Headwaters of the Everglades on December 9.

A 1,536 acre Conservation Easement is proposed for purchase from Adams Ranch, and a 322 acre Conservation Easement is proposed for purchase from Camp Lonesome Ranch. Both of these ranch properties contain an assemblage of important and biologically diverse imperiled wildlife, rare native Florida prairie and range lands, and a landscape-sized wildlife corridor connecting other managed lands. These easement tracts contain wetlands and sloughs that drain into Lake Marion and eventually the Kissimmee River System and intact dry prairie/pine flatwoods habitats.

The purchases are possible due to the Rural and Family Lands program in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Audubon originally proposed this program in 2001, and has been campaigning to increase funding for the program over the past three years. Rural and Family Lands easements contemplate allowing compatible ranching activities to continue on properties, while assuring wildlife habitat protection by removing rights for other kinds of development. An advantage of the easements is lower initial purchase cost, minimal ongoing public management expenses, and working ranches will remain on the property tax rolls while the natural assets of the easement areas are protected.

The easement areas are both inside the boundary of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge, and established Florida Forever project boundaries for Adams Ranch and the Big Bend Swamp/Holopaw Ranch Florida Forever Project.

In addition to support for the easement purchases on the agenda, Audubon Florida is asking the Governor and Cabinet to support increased funding for the Rural and Family Lands Program and other programs that specifically benefit the Northern Everglades. See the letter from Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper here.

Please contact the Governor and Cabinet Members to support the easement purchases, and additional funding for the Rural and Family Lands program and related Northern Everglades efforts.

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.

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.

Kissimmee River Restoration Adventure with the Everglades Coalition

Kissimmee EvCo tourWhere can you see Swallow tailed Kites, numerous Everglade Snail Kites, Limpkins, Wild Turkeys, and one Roseate Spoonbill within hours on the last day of July? Try the newly restored section of the Kissimmee River.

Last week, Audubon enjoyed partnering with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to tour the Kissimmee River Restoration Project with over thirty of our environmental allies at the annual Everglades Coalition Retreat. The Everglades Coalition  is comprised of over 50 environmental organizations, including many of our closest friends in the conservation community. It was a great opportunity to get out with friends to see the magic of this restoration project.

Kissimmee Avon kiteKissimmee River Restoration started in 1992. It is now over 90% complete. In the 1960’s, the Kissimmee River was channelized into a large canal for flood control. This huge canal drained the water from miles of important habitat for birds and other wildlife. The Kissimmee River restoration project reestablishes miles of the natural winding Kissimmee River, and restores miles of wetlands and floodplains in the Northern Everglades. Already, populations of birds are higher than what was even projected for post restoration.

And, the project is not even operating at full capacity yet. Once it is complete and operating in a few years, the results should be stunning.

Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray and SFWMD’s David Colangelo showed us areas of the restored river and floodplain. The winding oxbows of the restored rivers were vibrant with paul kissimmeevegetation.

Endangered Everglade Snail Kites and Swallow-tailed Kites were all around.

We could hear the cackles and laughter of Limpkins just yards away in Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park.

Many thanks go to Everglades Coalition co-chairs Cara Capp of National Parks Conservation Association and Jason Totoui of Everglades Law Center for making this trip happen! It was refreshing to get out and enjoy this special place together.



Advocates Stand Up for the Kissimmee River and Kissimmee Chain of Lakes

Kissimmee river picRecently, Florida’s environmental advocates demanded that the South Florida Water Management District fully protect water for the Kissimmee River Restoration project and its remarkable natural system. The message was clear. Don’t give water needed for restoring the natural system to utilities or other consumptive uses.

The meeting was held by the SFWMD to move forward a water reservation to protect water for Kissimmee River restoration project. 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.

Our team attended with Kissimmee Valley Audubon, Orange County Audubon, Audubon of the Western Everglades, and other allies like the Everglades Foundation and One Florida Foundation.

After two decades of work and over $900 million in public investment, the precedent setting Kissimmee River Restoration Project is now over 90% complete. This project transforms miles of the drained Kissimmee floodplain and channelized river to a winding river and wetland paradise.

The River and its Chain of Lakes support diverse wildlife. Over 98 species of wading and wetland dependent birds live there, including Swallow Tailed Kites, Whooping Cranes, and Audubon’s Crested CaraCaras.

Failing to protect water for Kissimmee restoration through this legal tool could have a domino effect on the entire ecosystem from Kissimmee Valley to Florida Bay and coastal estuaries. Getting the right amount of water at the right time is extremely important to support life throughout the ecosystem.Kissimmee Snail Kite

Now, there is pressure from water supplies in the Central Florida area. Utilities and water managers are considering tapping up to 25 million gallons per day from the Kissimmee Basin for water supply. Audubon and our environmental allies demand that water for the restoration project is fully protected. We request that the water management districts increase water conservation methods  to promote a more sustainable use of water in the region.

We will keep you updated on the progress of the rule. There will be several more public meetings and we’ll need your voices to speak up for Florida’s birds!

For additional information, please see the following news clips:

Audubon Challenges Osceola Comprehensive Plan Changes

posted on May 23, 2014 in North Everglades

Arbuckle Creek at Rafter T RanchThe Northern Everglades starts in creeks and wetlands of Osceola and Orange Counties in Central Florida. Protecting water resources in the Northern Everglades is critical to recovering the Kissimmee River and chain of lakes and Lake Okeechobee.

On April 21st, the Osceola County Commission amended the county comprehensive plan to strike most of the substantive content out of the plan’s “Conservation Element”. Florida’s growth management law require the plan to provide policies for projection of wildlife habitat, wetlands, protected species, water resources, and natural lands must be codified. Audubon Florida and the Kissimmee Valley Audubon Society worked during the adoption of this plan in 2007 and 2008 to secure language protecting wetlands, wildlife habitat, and other features of the Northern Everglades.

At one time the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) would have challenged the Osceola County decision. The purpose of state oversight was to guard against unwise local decisions. But Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature abolished DCA in 2011 and gave limited review over local government land use decisions the new Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). State oversight has virtually vanished and citizens are left to try to enforce the laws through administrative and legal channels.

The Osceola County amendments were bad enough that the otherwise inert Department of Economic Opportunity advised the county against the changes and recommended that keeping the policies in its Conservation Element to protect the Northern Everglades. Under the new Growth Management Act, DEOcannot appeal a local government plan change unless asked to by another state agency such as the Department of Environmental Protection. Protection of the Northern Everglades and other vital natural areas in Osceola County now depends on litigation.

While Audubon avoids litigation concerning local government decisions, the significance of Osceola County’s misguided changes compels action. Florida Audubon Society ownership of property in Osceola County gives us standing to bring a challenge to the Division of Administrative Hearings. Audubon filed its petition on Wednesday, May 21. We hope we can convince the county or the Division of Administrative Hearings that these changes don’t make sense when the state is spending billions of dollars restoring the Everglades, the Kissimmee River, and Lake Okeechobee.

Litigation is expensive – but you can help. Consider making a special contribution to defray the costs of challenging these bad comprehensive plan changes that threaten the Northern Everglades. Click here to make a contribution right now.

Everglades Birds Are Talking. But Are We Listening?

posted on February 28, 2014 in Everglades,Lake Okeechobee,North Everglades,Wildlife

Roseate spoonbills and other shorebirds hunt on the mud flats during low tidesRoseate Spoonbills, Snowy Egrets, and White Ibis are not just beautiful and iconic inhabitants of the Everglades. They are important indicators of ecosystem health. Each year, Audubon Florida’s Everglades Conservation Team evaluates population numbers and nesting data to understand the progress of Everglades restoration.

Audubon’s scientists have finished evaluating the 2013 data. Our team is pleased to report that there were significant signs of progress for wading birds in the Everglades during this time.

Nesting efforts in 2013 were 57% higher than the average of the last three years. Over 48,200 wading bird nests were recorded.

The most encouraging data was from areas where restoration projects have improved freshwater flows. Early results from habitat impacted by the new C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project are providing hope for Florida’s wading birds.

The recently completed C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project created a nine mile hydraulic ridge that increases natural flows into Taylor Slough, a critical flow path that carries water through the heart of Everglades National Park and into Florida Bay. Data from the first year of operation suggests measurable improvement in Roseate Spoonbill habitat – one of Audubon’s priority Atlantic Flyway species.

While restoration work is improving Everglades habitat, important work remains. Despite the positive 2013 nesting data, wading bird numbers are still well below restoration targets. Some species are doing better than others. Great Egrets and White Ibis have shown stable population growth, while populations of smaller birds like Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, and Snowy Egrets have declined.

The future of Florida’s wading birds are dependent on projects that restore the natural flow of freshwater to the Everglades. Audubon Florida is working to make sure that key restoration projects like the Central Everglades Planning Project and the next phase of the Tamiami Trail Bridge are implemented as quickly as possible.

For more information, please download Audubon’s latest Fact Sheet: 2013 Wading Bird Nesting in the EvergladesPlease feel free to print and share at your next Audubon Chapter meeting or community event.

Water Management at Disney World: A Behind the Scenes Look

posted on January 31, 2014 in Central Florida,North Everglades,Water Issues

The following blog post was written by Audubon Everglades Policy Manager Jane Graham:

OttersThis week, Audubon Florida board member Jud Laird and I had the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at water management and natural lands management around Disney World, thanks to Bill Warren, Eddie Snell, Mike Crikis, and Kate Kolbo of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The first surprise I encountered on the tour was the extensive natural areas throughout the Disney property that host a wonderland of bird life and other wildlife. The Reedy Creek watershed includes several tributaries that flow into Kissimmee River, including Cypress Creek, Bonnet Creek, Reedy Creek. There is a greenway throughout the property, with nearly 8000 acres in permanent conservation. On our behind the scenes tour, we saw otters and alligators, and a plethora of birds, including Wood Storks and Black Vultures, Great Blue Herons, and Ibis. Mike showed us that upwards of 124 bird species have been catalogued on the property. Here’s a picture of an alligator lounging around.

rcid gatorThere were also improvements on the property that may seem mundane and small, but made a difference for water quality. Special stormwater drains that resembled upside-down Mayan pyramids (like Mexico in EPCOT) captured pollutants, gasoline, sediments and decaying leaves from the road to prevent it flowing into the drain and harming natural areas. We learned that all the grass throughout Disney world is watered with highly treated reclaimed water, and if fertilizer is used (with the exception of the baseball field), it does not contain phosphorus. These are examples of urban “best management practices” that RCID uses to help improve water quality and help prevent pollutants from flowing into the Kissimmee River and south into the Greater Everglades.

RCID monitors water quality throughout the property. At the RCID environmental lab, there werenstruments that could measure the amount of certain pollutants (such as from pesticides and herbicides) to a part per trillionth. There were also instruments that detected phosphorus and nitrogen to the part per billion. The bulbs (or sensors) in this photo act as “eyes” to detect the presence of nitrogen in trace amounts in water samples.  instrument rcid

It was interesting to see all the work it takes to manage water throughout Disney World. RCID’s urban stormwater management is a good model for other municipalities throughout Florida- especially those in the Northern Everglades watershed as we embark on reducing the amount of phosphorus through the region in  the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan.



Take Action to Protect our Rivers and Lakes: December 12 and 13

posted on December 10, 2013 in Central Florida,North Everglades,Water Issues

St. Johns River by Ed JurgensenThe Central Florida Water Initiative will hold an important public workshop December 12th from 4-7 p.m. at the Clermont Community Center, 620 W. Montrose Street, in Clermont.

The purpose of this workshop is to allow citizens to comment on rapidly developing proposals to shift the regional public water supply in Central Florida from groundwater toward a greater reliance on other sources of water. We need your voices to object to proposals that will tap water from our treasured rivers and lakes of Central Florida.

The St. Johns, Southwest Florida, and South Florida Water Management Districts, as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection now officially recognize that groundwater in Central Florida’s subsurface aquifers is running out. The Central Florida Water Initiative is a collaboration between these entities to plan for the region’s water future. Water demand is going to increase to 1.1 Billion gallons per day by 2035 – yet the aquifer will sustain only 850 million gallons per day (mgd) in pumping for water supply use. There is only about 50 mgd available before that cap is reached.

The draft plan includes a set of “surface water” projects that propose to suck about 250 mgd from our rivers and lakes– including over 150 mgd from the St. John’s River and up to 25 mgd from the Kissimmee River basin, costing in the ballpark of $1.8 to $2 billion! It may also impact Lake Apopka, the Ocklawaha River, Withlacoochee River, Peace River and the Clermont and Upper Kissimmee Chains of Lakes. To see the new plan that presents these threats to our rivers and lakes, click here.

Tell the water planners “NO!” Tell them that strong programs requiring measurable and mandatory water conservation, and water resource development projects that do not harm our natural resources must be used rather than draining our rivers and lakes dry.

Rivers like the Withlacoochee and Ocklawaha, and the Clermont chain of Lakes already suffer from dry-outs. Some portions even go completely dry today without additional water withdrawals. The Kissimmee river – restored at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $1 billion-  is going to need sufficient water to allow the natural river to flow.

Public comments can also be provided at the Central Florida Water Initiative Steering Committee meeting on December 13, 2013 at 9:30 a.m at TOHO Water Authority, 951 Martin Luther King Blvd., Kissimmee, FL. Comments can be provided writing by January 10, 2014 to Tom Bartol at the St. Johns River Water Management District, 4049 Reid Street, Palatka, FL 32177, or email to

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