Audubon Florida News

Topic: Media,North Everglades,Water Issues

WMFE Audio: Turn Water into a Cash Crop

posted on November 14, 2013 in Media,North Everglades,Water Issues

Dispersed Water Storage PumpsAudubon Florida has been working for over two years to promote projects that store and cleanse water on ranchlands north of Lake Okeechobee. The concept, known as “Dispersed Water Management” and  “Water Farming” has been supported by the South Florida Water Management District through a program that solicits proposals from landowners for the construction of projects.

Charles Lee, Director of Advocacy for Audubon Florida says “Its time to ramp up this program, give it some real basin wide reach by planning, and engineering projects where they do the most good and provide the most benefit for each dollar spent.”

Audubon has called on the South Florida Water Management District to both increase the planning and engineering effort for the program and increase the funding.

Click here to listen to the audio report from WMFE radio on Rafter T Ranch and learn the benefits to water management and the environment that “Turning water into a cash crop” can achieve.

Audubon Works With Northern Everglades Cattle Ranchers on Sustainability

posted on August 21, 2013 in North Everglades

Rafter T Presentation: Brandon Tidwell of Darden Resturants, Eric Draper, Bob Mayworth and Casey Wohl of Rafter T Ranch, Charles Lee Audubon StaffAudubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper joined by Director of Advocacy Charles Lee and Director of Development Margaret Spontak participated in an event held by Darden Restaurants on August 20. The luncheon featured a program with the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and to discuss the environmental sustainability of the Cattle Industry.

During the event, Eric Draper introduced Case Wohl and Bob Mayworth, representatives of Rafter T. Ranch, Recipient of Audubon Florida’s 2013 “Sustainable Rancher Award”. Audubon is recognizing ranchers who take noteworthy actions to help restore the Northern Everglades. Rafter T. Ranch has been a leader in the efforts to store and clean water on ranchlands in the Northern Everglades.

Darden Panel:  Wes Williamson, Florida Cattlemen’s Association, Dr. Kim Stackhouse, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association listen while Eric Draper discusses the wildlife benefits of cattle ranching in the Northern Everglades.Eric Draper also served on a panel during the event, discussing environmental sustainability with Wes Williamson, incoming President of the Florida Cattleman’s association and Dr. Kim Stackhouse, Director of Research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Audubon is working with ranchers to increase habitat protection and water storage in the Northern Everglades. Audubon’s efforts with ranchers in the Northern Everglades began over 50 years ago with collaborative efforts to save the Bald Eagle population on the Kissimmee Prairie.

For more information on Audubon’s work in the Northern Everglades, please click here.


Orlando Sentinel: Feds won’t try captive breeding of grasshopper sparrow for now

posted on July 22, 2013 in North Everglades,Wildlife

Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. Photo by Christina Evans.The plight of the endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow was addressed in the Orlando Sentinel on Saturday. The article covers some of the ambiguous issues agencies face in trying to save the mysterious little bird.

Last fall, the plan was to catch birds from the wild, to learn how to breed them in captivity.  Since then,  attempted captive breeding of another sub-species of Grasshopper Sparrows has not achieved the expected results, casting doubt on potential success with Florida birds.

In addition, a study on wild birds began at the Three-lakes Wildlife Management Area and taking birds from this population would interfere with the vitally-needed study.  Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray’s preference was to bring birds in this year, but he has expressed an understanding of the logic of waiting another year to study how captive breeding will fit into the overall conservation needs and activities.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

Paul Gray, science coordinator for Audubon Florida, said the lesson of the dusky seaside sparrow, another Central Florida bird, was that rescue efforts too often were one step behind what was needed. It was declared extinct in 1990.

“I think we should have gotten some birds this year while we had a chance,” Gray said. “I know when you bring them in we might actually lose birds, but I don’t think time is on our side.”

The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group, of which Audubon Florida is a member, continues to discuss these issues in depth and make the best recommendations they can in the face of uncertainties.

Heartland Magazine: Working Together to Preserve Florida’s Heartland

posted on July 8, 2013 in North Everglades

heartlandmag_articleHeartland Living Magazine has featured a major centerfold article on Audubon Florida’s programs in the Northern Everglades in their June-July issue. Click here.

Heartland Living worked with Audubon and Rancher Jimmy Wohl to hold a round table discussion in April to discuss strategies for preservation of ranchland and the restoration of the Northern Everglades. The collaborative meeting featured participation by the South Florida Water Management District, the Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the MacArthur Agro-Ecology Research Center. Audubon Florida’s Everglades Policy Associate Jane Graham participated in the meeting.

“Cooperation, Conservation Easements and good land stewardship are the focus of an ongoing effort to prevent the fragmentation of a land corridor thorough the heart of Florida that is crucial to the health of our state’s waterways, wildlife and Agriculture. This Corridor comprises a large portion of what is now called the Northern Everglades. The area, also known as the Kissimmee Basin, encompasses all the major water tributaries to Lake Okeechobee, which in turn provides the life blood to the Florida Everglades”, states the article.

Audubon Celebrates Jimmy Wohl as Recipient of Audubon’s First Sustainable Rancher Award

posted on April 10, 2013 in North Everglades,Water Issues

Wohl Award Audubon

On Sunday, Audubon Florida and Hendry-Glades Audubon celebrated the First Annual Everglades Day in a special event on the north side of Lake Okeechobee and Lightsey’s Restaurant. Last year the Florida Legislature designated April 7 as Everglades Day in honor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ birthday, a legendary Everglades advocate.

The main event of the day was presentation of Audubon’s first ever Sustainable Rancher of the Year Award to Jimmy Wohl of Rafter T Ranch. This award recognizes a rancher who has exemplified commitment to stewardship and conservation on lands in the Northern Everglades. Wohl has set an example in working to store and clean water on his ranch through participation in the Florida Ranchlands Environmental Services Program and now the Payment for Environmental Services program. His outstanding work shows how ranchers can make simple adjustments on working landscapes to maximize benefits for the environment. Learn more about Rafter T Ranch’s Dispersed Water Management efforts by clicking here.

kite with snailAs part of the day’s festivities, attendees went on a tour of Lake Okeechobee’s marsh. We had an impressive fleet, thanks to generous donation of airboats and their captains from the South Florida Water Management District, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission– and of course, Audubon Florida’s own Dr. Paul Gray. The Everglade Snail Kites put on quite the show!

We heard stirring words from legend Nathaniel Reed, who implored the audience to take decisive steps to protect our Lake’s health. Audubon Florida’s Executive Director Eric Draper, Hendry Glades Audubon President Margaret England, Ernie Barnett from the SFWMD, Col. Dodd of the US Army Corps of Engineers, and Okeechobee County Commissioner Bryant Culpepper all spoke to the importance of Lake Okeechobee for our region and for our communities in Florida.

Audubon is working with ranchers in the Northern Everglades to raise awareness and build support for participation in water management programs that enable ranchers to cooperatively store and clean water on their ranchlands. A short video highlighting these efforts can be seen below.

Thank you to everyone who attended this great event. Audubon Florida’s work in the Northern Everglades is supported in part by a grant from the Darden Restaurants, Inc. Foundation.

FDACs Advances Program for a Healthy Northern Everglades

posted on October 17, 2012 in Everglades,North Everglades,Water Issues

This week, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services ( FDACs) advanced a program for sustainable farming practices that will chart a course toward a cleaner and healthier Lake Okeechobee and northern Everglades estuaries.

On Monday, the News-Press reported that FDACs sent a legislative budget request of $5 million to Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) to fund a program to develop best management practices for ranches and farms around Lake Okeechobee and in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River watersheds.  This program partners with private ranchers and farmers to help reduce nutrients like phosphorus  flowing off private lands that contribute to excess nutrients in the Northern Everglades watershed.

From the News-Press:

“The appropriations provided to the Department in previous fiscal years are inadequate and represent only a portion of the funds identified in the plan for restoration,” the agency said.

“The Department’s request is for additional funding that is in accordance with the Lake Okeechobee Protection Plan… The implementation of agricultural (best management practices) is critical to reducing the historical phosphorus loads to Lake Okeechobee and its tributaries.”

Audubon has long advocated for adequate funding for FDACs cost share best management practices program. Last year, Audubon staff presented recommendations to the SFWMD Governing Board and adequate funding for the best management practices program was our top recommendation. We are encouraged to see progress and look forward to working with FDACs and SFWMD to advocate for adequate funding to grow this important program to help the health of Lake Okeechobee and the Northern Everglades and estuaries.

For more information, please click here to learn more about how some ranches in the Northern Everglades implement this program to store and clean water before it flows into the Northern Everglades watershed.


Press Statement: Another “Home Run” For Obama Administration in Greater Everglades

posted on July 13, 2012 in North Everglades,Press Releases

For Immediate Release: July 13, 2012

Contact: Charles Lee, Director of Advocacy,, 407-620-5178

Another “Home Run” For Obama Administration in Greater Everglades  

Audubon Florida’s Director of Advocacy Charles Lee Responds

Kissimmee, FL – Audubon Florida’s Director of Advocacy, Charles Lee attended today’s announcement by Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture; Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Rachel Jacobson, Assistant Secretary US Department of the Interior; and Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) at the Disney Wilderness Preserve near Kissimmee, Florida.

Statement from Audubon Florida Director of Advocacy Charles Lee:

“President Obama’s administration has hit another ‘home run’ for the Everglades. With today’s announcement of $80 million dollars for 23,000-acres in new conservation easements under the Wetlands Reserve Program, a critical step to protect vital wildlife habitat and provide important water management lands in the Everglades Headwaters has been achieved. Maintaining the cattle ranching economy in the Everglades Headwaters is a vital component of the strategy to restore the ecosystem. The purchase of easements on 13 ranch properties in the Everglades Headwaters within the northern Kissimmee basin assures that ranchers will stay on the land rather than sell it to real estate developers.Water will continue to reside on the natural landscape and opportunities will be created to hold more water in the wet prairies north of Lake Okeechobee. Wildlife species also benefit from this purchase. The conservation of these lands helps assure we will continue to have Bald Eagles, Sandhill Cranes, Crested Caracara and the Endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow as vital components of the Everglades Headwaters Ecosystem.”


South Florida Water Management District Dispersed Water Management Program

posted on June 29, 2012 in North Everglades,Water Issues

During the past four years, Audubon Florida has been working with landowners and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board members and staff to help ramp up a program that takes advantage of the natural landscape and widely distributed opportunities throughout the Northern Everglades. The objective is to temporarily store more water in the Everglades Headwaters and slow the flow of both water and polluting nutrients toward Lake Okeechobee. See map to left.

Utilizing both public and private lands, the South Florida Water Management District has now put in place projects in the area north of Lake Okeechobee or in its tributary basins that manage 138,000 acre feet of water that otherwise would cause environmental problems downstream. SFWMD has more projects in the planning stages which would deal with 230,000 additional acre feet of water.

Part of this effort is the “Dispersed Water Management” program operated by SFWMD. Last year, following Audubon’s recommendations, and incorporating an expanded budget also endorsed by Audubon, SFWMD entered into contracts with 8 ranchland property owners to store water temporarily on their properties under a “payment for services” program.

In total, these projects would add another 4778 acre feet of water management capability to the system north of Lake Okeechobee. Today, only 9 months after the board approved the projects, 5 projects totaling 3,778 acre feet are already substantially completeand entering operations. Two more projects, with 626 additional acre feet of capacity are under construction.

One of the most noteworthy features of this program is the speed with which actual construction and operation can be undertaken. Having water management projects in the ground an operational within a year of approval is almost unheard of in terms of water management project timelines. See map to left.

At Audubon Florida’s encouragement, the South Florida Water Management District is planning a second round of “requests for proposals” to solicit more landowner participation in the Dispersed Water Management Program this year. That will produce a new crop of additional water management projects in the Kissimmee watershed.

Audubon Florida will continue and expand its efforts to work with Kissimmee Basin cattle ranch landowners as we move forward to restore the Northern Everglades. 

Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area Update

posted on June 28, 2012 in North Everglades

The Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area authorized by Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar in January 2012 has seen a groundswell of landowner enthusiasm. As of the first week in June, over 30 ranchland property owners have now filed formal requests with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to sell easements protecting habitat and wildlife resources on their properties to the Department of Interior. The ranch owners who have formally applied to sell easements thus far represent more than 160,000 acres of land within the proposed refuge boundary.

Since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s target for acquisition of easements and fee acquisitions was initially set at 150,000 acres, the landowner interest in selling easements can only be termed anoverwhelming success.

Audubon has visited with many landowners and previously contacted every landowner in the Kissimmee watershed providing information and encouragement regarding participation in easement based and “payment for services” based conservation and water resource programs.

Audubon’s view is that the Everglades Headwaters Refuge program is a “double win” for the remarkable environment in the Kissimmee Watershed.

The outstanding landowner interest in this program is important because in order for success to be assured, the funding for the acquisition of easements in the Everglades Headwaters Refuge and Conservation Area will have to be increased over time. Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has only $1.5 million available for funding purchases in the designated Everglades Headwaters refuge area. The budget proposed for the next fiscal year contains only $3 million for purchases in this area.

Northern Everglades landowners have formed their own organization, the “Northern Everglades Alliance” to generate congressional support for action to adequately fund the Everglades Headwaters Refuge and Conservation Area purchases.

The first part of the “win” is permanent protection of the land against the possibility of future development destroying its hydrologic and wildlife habitat benefits. The second part of the “win” is that payments to cattle ranch owners in the Everglades Headwaters area will help keep ranching viable which is also important to the environment – ranchers have been excellent land stewards and are the reason the Kissimmee Watershed is one of the most ecologically productive and diverse parts of Florida.

Audubon Celebrates Creation of Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge

posted on January 18, 2012 in North Everglades

Audubon Florida’s Director of Advocacy Charles Lee joined Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and a large group of Northern Everglades ranch owners at today’s formal announcement of the creation of the 150,000 acre Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.

Lee gave Audubon’s strong support to the decision by Secretary Salazar, indicating that the new Refuge is one of Audubon’s top priorities for Everglades restoration. Now that the Refuge and Conservation Area has been formally established, Audubon will support congressional appropriations from the Land And Water Conservation Fund and other sources to support purchase of easements and fee title.

The Florida Fish And Wildlife Conservation Commission also signed an agreement today assuming the responsibility of managing hunting and fishing on lands in the Refuge that are open to the public. Lee, who compared the event to President Harry Truman’s dedication of Everglades National Park in 1947, pointed out that there is a long road ahead in securing funding to complete the Refuge purchases. Lee was joined at the event by Audubon Board Member George Willson and staff member Dr. Paul Gray who directs Audubon’s science program in the Northern Everglades.

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