The Governing Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) voted today to retain longstanding land management policies and not open Halpata Tastanaki Preserves 8,146 acres to public hunting and the use of motor vehicles. See Audubon’s alert on this issue here.
Over 40 people appeared at the district governing board meeting, most of whom were opposed to changing the management of land on all 4 SWFWMD tracts where management changes were being considered. The board also decided to retain current management policies and declined to allow hunting in the 5,677-acre Chassahowitzka River and Coastal Swamps Preserve.
Two other tracts, part of the Weekiwachee Preserve, and the Lake Panasofkee tract were approved for limited public hunting activities.
Audubon Florida had objected to opening parts of Hálpata Tastanaki Preserve to hunting and vehicles which might interfere with the healthy Florida Scrub-jay population there, one of the few places on state land in Florida where endangered jay populations are on the increase. Previously, SWFWMD district staff responded to Audubon’s concerns by recommending that hunting be excluded from the scrub jay habitat areas. The SWFWMD board, however, after listening to persuasive arguments from birdwatchers, hikers, equestrian enthusiasts and property owners neighboring the Halpata and Chassahowitzka tracts, decided not to allow hunting on the properties.
Audubon Florida does not oppose hunting, but in the case of Halpata, we believe that the health of the scrub jay population is too important to take any risks.
Of significant concern, the proposal for hunting on Halpata included first-time allowance of private vehicles on the narrow unpaved internal road network. Additional intense recreational use on the property at a time when SWFWMD budgets have been slashed could mean impacts to the resources could not be mitigated or even monitored. Even before the final vote, SWFWMD board members immediately agreed with Audubon that those roads must remain closed.
Charles Lee, Audubon Florida’s director of advocacy stated:
“The SWFWMD board put good management first and pressures for more recreational use second, and that is a very good thing”.
Thanks to all of the Audubon chapters and members who responded to our request for attendance at the SWFWMD meeting or who sent emails and comments to the district and its board members.