Hundreds of people responded last week to Audubon’s efforts to support managing the important Snail Kite habitat on Lake Tohopekaliga (Lake Toho) by downloading our Factsheet and by testifying at a public hearing before management agencies on Friday, November 6. Thank you all for rallying to protect Snail Kites.
Nine Audubon volunteer leaders from Kissimmee Valley and Ocklawaha Audubon chapters joined Audubon of Florida staff scientist Paul Gray, Ph.D to support aquatic plant management actions that will protect enough exotic hydrilla and exotic apple snails that currently sustain the Snail Kite breeding efforts. The hearing was run jointly by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
A local issue has taken on national importance because federally endangered Snail Kite numbers have dropped from more than 3,000 birds ten years ago to less than 700 today. If trends continue, the species could be extinct in a few decades. The Snail Kite is plagued by two problems. In the Kissimmee Valley region, its habitat has been invaded by exotic aquatic plant and snail species that when controlled, leave the Kites with virtually no habitat. In Okeechobee and the southern Everglades, development-driven water management and extreme weather have degraded the natural habitats and availability of food so dramatically that Kite nesting has failed in this area.
More than half the nesting Snail Kites now depend on the exotic apple snails that hydrilla supports in Lake Toho. Normally, the exotics would be removed, but due to the urgent need to foster successful Kite breeding, Audubon supports the agencies’ position that the exotics should be temporarily protected.
Concerns were raised at the meeting of losing boating access if the hydrilla gets too thick and the agencies agreed to maintain boating lanes and fishing holes to sustain the economic importance of the lake, while protecting as much potential habitat for Kites as possible.
The Audubon members who attended included Linda Bystrak from the Ocklawaha Audubon Chapter, and from the Kissimmee Valley Audubon Chapter: Larry Rosen (President), Jenny Welch, Stacia Hetrick, Michael Johnson, Sandy Webb, Joseph Rogewitz, and Peggy and Denny Cholley. Stacia Hetrick also is staff of the University of Florida’s “Hydrilla & Hygrophila demonstration project.”