Last summer, Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper learned from the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) that a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) contractor had dredged a channel through a section of Fisheating Creek known as Cowbone Marsh.
Fearing that the dredging would disturb the largest migratory stopover of Swallow-tailed Kites in North America, and concerned by reports that a massive amount of water was draining out of the marsh, Draper wrote to FWC objecting to the project. A copy of the letter was sent to federal agencies, which subsequently issued a cease and desist order and then a restoration order.
Audubon supports a settlement agreement negotiated by the state many years ago providing for navigation of Fisheating Creek by canoes and small boats. However, no one ever imagined that navigation would become a 20-foot-wide dredged channel to allow two large motorboats to pass.
In fact, the settlement agreement specifically prohibited dredging. Dredging any wetland or creek without a permit is illegal.
Audubon is also working to restore the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee. One of the ways to do this is to slow the flow of polluting water from upstream sources to Lake Okeechobee. The 20-foot-wide dredged channel does the opposite, by increasing rapid flow to the lake, and bypassing the filtration and natural nutrient uptake potential of Cowbone Marsh, increasing the potential phosphorus loading of Lake Okeechobee.
A local group that has long pushed for navigation on Fisheating Creek has criticized Draper and Audubon and claims that dredging did not take place, only removal of vegetation. However, state and federal agencies determined that the activity was dredging, required a permit and was not legal.
Audubon respects local advocates for Fisheating Creek and has allowed staff scientist Dr. Paul Gray to sit on the Fisheating Creek Advisory Committee. However, we will blow the whistle on activities that harm the environment regardless of who is behind them.