Loxahatchee NWR

Hi! I have not made a post in several months as my family has been traveling and of course school takes up a lot of time. In the past couple months we’ve visited Key West, Grand Canyon, Washington DC, Gettysburg, Atlanta, and other favorite spots within Florida. I love the heat of summer but with fall and winter comes the best time for my favorite activities- biking, paddling, and bird watching.

Today I am writing to ask for your help. There are many environmental problems facing Floridians right now so it will come as no surprise that yet another area is in peril: the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

Loxahatchee NWR is fragmented from the area that we know as the remaining Everglades. This is the ONLY remaining undisturbed land left of what was once the northern Everglades. Its existence is precious to me, and I hope to you, too. If this area is no longer conserved as an NWR, we all stand to lose this last remnant of what has been destroyed all around it.

On my first visit to Loxahatchee NWR several years ago with my mom and dad, I was beyond thrilled to see a purple gallinule for the first time. These birds are shockingly beautiful and while I have had the pleasure of seeing many more since then, that first-ever sighting lives as ultra special in my heart. We also saw many other species of birds while enjoying the many pathways on the refuge. The peace, serenity, and unbounded joy that I feel when in places like Loxahatchee NWR cannot be described, but other nature lovers certainly must know what I speak of.  Loxahatchee NWR was also the site of my first ever canoe paddle. I will never forget that day, the amazing beauty that surrounded us, and the wildlife that we saw. This is a magical place that must continue to be conserved so that others in the future can continue to experience the last vestige of the northern Everglades.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is currently considering terminating their lease with the refuge. This is not only heart-breaking to me, but infuriating. Please help!!

This is an article about this issue that summarizes the issue:

NWF article

I am asking for your help. Would you please call or send Governor Rick Scott a personal email to voice your concern about this issue? The NWF article has a link to send a pre-written message to the Governor on this issue, however, I ask you to please write your own message. I have attended multiple workshops on effective ways to advocate for issues that matter, and every single time it is mentioned by panelists (some that have been state legislators, and all have been public officials at some level) that THEY DO NOT GIVE ANY WEIGHT TO FORM LETTER RESPONSES. This is one of the most important lessons that I have learned when communicating with public officials!! Personal comments matter whether on the phone, in an email or a snail mail letter.

Rick Scott Email:  http://www.flgov.com/contact-gov-scott/email-the-governor/

Rick Scott Phone: (850) 488-7146

Included below are some writing/talking points provided by the Audubon Society of the Everglades.

Thank you for your help!

~Megan

 

-The first National Wildlife Refuge was born in Florida, the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. Florida is also about to become the first state to lose a National Wildlife Refuge! Revoking the lease agreement would result in losing Florida’s second largest National Wildlife Refuge – the Loxahatchee Refuge is second only to the mostly under water Key West National Wildlife Refuge
-With only 2% of the land in Loxahatchee NWR owned by USFWS, revoking the lease agreement would result the end of Loxahatchee NWR as we know it.  2% is not enough habitat to support the biological diversity crucial to wildlife populations that call the Refuge home.
-The loss of the ARM Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is bad for wildlifeand migratory birds, bad for the community and bad for South Florida taxpayers.
-Bad for wildlife: The Refuge’s mission is one of conservation, management and protection of wildlife. Under the current agreement between both agencies, water management regulations are taken with special consideration of wildlife. Revoking the lease means the land will be returned to a Water Conservation Area (WCA) where the SFWMD main focus is water management, storage and supply. Managing this area as a WCA could, therefore, mean losing much of what’s left of the historical Everglades in Palm Beach County.
-Loxahatchee has the highest number of tree islands (45,700) because it has been managed as a Refuge where the emphasis is conservation, management and protection of wildlife
–WCA 2 used to have 40 tree islands. Currently, only 3 remain
–WCA 3 used to have 1,241 as of 1940. Currently only 577 remain
–WCA3 continues to lose tree island area, losing 519 acres between 1995 and 2004    (from the 2011 SFER, Chapter 6)
-Bad for the community: If the Refuge were abolished, the public access to the refuge would be in question, and management and staffing of public access would have to be taken on as an additional program expense by SFWMD.
-Bad for taxpayers: Right now USFWS is contributing $2.5 million annually to the treatment of invasive species. If the District kicks out the Service, then the District will pass on 100% of the bill to South Florida taxpayers.
-Combating invasive exotic species is crucial to protect the integrity of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem, but it is not reason enough to lose a national wildlife refuge.
Revoking the lease agreement will not solve the challenge of controlling and combatting invasive exotics in the Refuge by itself- this is a poor excuse for eliminating a National Wildlife Refuge!
-Governor Scott, the People of Florida will remember you were in charge of eliminating one of Florida’s largest National Wildlife Refuges. You’ll be responsible for the destruction of the remaining original Everglades in Palm Beach County
-The Scott Administration has a history of surplussing conservation land. We don’t want to see our Refuge sold for development or leased for farming. This is crucial habitat and it should remain a Wildlife Refuge!
-Lygodium is presently one of the most invasive plants in Florida. In light of shrinking budgets and stagnant appropriations at the state and national levels, cooperation among agencies is key to successfully combat invasive exotic species.
-During Fiscal Year 2016 the district’s investment of an additional $2,550,000 from FWC, combined with USFWS’s $2,550,000, achieved the $5 million needed to contain invasive exotic species in the Refuge. This proven successful partnership is the path forward to fund the work needed to attain containment of Lygodium and other invasive exotic plant species in the LNWR.
-The Refuge currently receives 17.5% of the roughly $10 million national budget available to combat invasive plants on all 565 national wildlife refuges covering over 100 million land acres.
-The Refuge had little to no control over its budget for controlling Lygodium, and in fact lease agreement Article V, section 2 calls for cooperation among agencies: “The District shall assist the Service in its efforts to seek additional funds for exotic species control.” Since when is eviction a synonym of cooperation?
-In the era of no earmarks and stagnant budgets, the Refuge applied for numerous grants to seek alternative funding sources for treatment of invasive exotics.
-The refuge is a major economic center and business in South Florida, providing more than $10 million in visitor expenditures alone, and creating services, jobs and economies that SFWMD does not provide. The Refuge’s environmental education program reaches 5,000 school children every year. Every dollar spent on the Refuge translates into $6.81 dollars of economic activity in the region associated with recreational activities.  Why would the SFWMD want to drive such a valuable economic and social center from South Florida’s economy?

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Sea turtle hatchlings

Last week I was very fortunate to attend a sea turtle nest excavation and hatchling release. The nest, which was a loggerhead nest, had 122 eggs in it, only 43% of which had turtles that hatched. There was likely saltwater intrusion into this nest that contributed to its low hatchling rate. A couple years ago I attended a sea turtle walk and got to see an adult female loggerhead dig her nest, lay her eggs, and then mask her nest. Seeing a nest excavated and the shell remnants was another neat experience to observe on the other side of the nesting timeline.

The highlight of the day was, by far, seeing 10 loggerhead hatchlings be released on the beach. These hatchlings were rescued a day or two beforehand after they got confused on their way to the water after emerging from their nest. This is a great reminder why it is so important for humans near nesting beaches to be careful with any lighting near the beaches that could confuse hatchlings. These ones were fortunate in that they were rescued. These 10 hatchlings were gently placed on the sand several feet away from the waterline on the beach…the lady releasing them wanted to be sure that they had enough contact with the sand to imprint so they can find their way back to the same beach in 25-30 years as adults to make their own nests, if they are female of course.

These hatchlings were impossibly cute! The ADORABLE hatchlings made a surprisingly fast beeline for the water….they really move quickly! A couple of them got washed back up to the shore with a wave but they did not seem to get discouraged and scrambled back to the water again. And then they were gone from our sight. They have a long journey as their destination is the Sargasso Sea about 20-40 miles off the Atlantic coast of Florida.

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One disturbing fact that I learned was nearly all of the young sea turtles that wash back onto the beach following storms have been weakened by ingesting plastic debris. One awesome thing that I learned was that the survival rate for sea turtles has been improving in recent years. Now instead of about 1 in 1000 eggs surviving to adulthood, recent research is showing about 1 in 350 eggs survives. That is a big improvement and it made me so happy to hear that!

Here’s hoping that these hatchlings are safely nearing the sargassum sea beds so they can rest, eat, and be sheltered there and beat the odds to survive until adulthood.

~Megan

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NO 2016 Florida Black Bear Hunt!!!

Yesterday the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) voted to NOT have a Florida Black Bear hunt in 2016. They will continue to do further population and habitat studies in the next year and will discuss having a 2017 hunt next year. This was unexpected joy!

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Eastpoint is in the heart of bear territory.

I attended the FWC Commissioners meeting which was held in Eastpoint. This area in the panhandle bordering the Apalachicola National Forest and the Gulf of Mexico is so beautiful. My family and I visited the area last fall and spent more time there but this time we basically just went for the FWC meeting.

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As we arrived in Eastpoint, my mom, dad, and I stopped our car and got to admire these two bald eagles. One, who I think was a male (because male bald eagles are smaller than females) swooped down to the water’s edge and caught a fish. Two vultures landed nearby him and watched him eat but when the eagle flew away a little while later, the vultures looked over the spot where the eagle was and flew right away. That eagle must have left no leftovers whatsoever for the vultures! These magnificent birds were a spectacular sight!

At the FWC meeting on June 22, 2016, the Commission first discussed and heard their staff present options on designating multiple new Critical Wildlife Areas (CWAs) throughout Florida. This was such wonderful news. The biggest issue all of the wildlife in our state face is loss of habitat. In proposing to designate many new CWAs, mostly to protect fairly small nesting areas for various birds, the FWC is taking a great step in the right direction to protect sensitive areas. In the past I have spoken to the FWC Commission several times but getting up to thank them for undertaking this wonderful project was by far the happiest subject I have spoken to them about.

After a long presentation about bear management and many hours of public comments both for and against bear hunting in Florida, the Commissioners finally got to their crucial discussion of their vote decisions. It was an absolute nail biter!! Every nerve-wracking moment was worth it when the final vote was 4-3 to postpone a 2016 bear hunt!

I was speechless for a couple seconds and then I started cheering with joy!! I fully understand that the FWC Commissioners will take up the issue in 2017 to consider authorizing a hunt next year but for now WAAAHHHOOOOOOOO!!! Hundreds of people across the state have helped to make this unexpected victory happen! A huge thank you to Commissioners Bergeron, Rivard, Spottswood, and Yablonski for making a very tough decision. I listened to everything that all of the Commissioners said as they were about to vote on their decision and I appreciate how careful and thoughtful they all are.

~Megan

 

 

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Amazing Quote

“What is most needed is not the ability to see what very few people can see, but to see what almost anybody can see, but nobody takes the trouble to look at.”- Theodore Roosevelt 

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Seismic Testing in Big Cypress

In December 2015, my mom, dad, and I attended an information meeting at Big Cypress about the proposed seismic testing. I wanted to go and hear the information even though I thought that there was NO WAY this would ever be allowed! It was sickening to see pictures and videos of the gigantic vibroseis trucks that would be used- in groups of 3! I had complete faith that the National Park Service would make the obvious decision to deny the proposal, or at least do an in depth Environmental Impact Statement. There were so many distressing ideas involved in this proposal that I thought it was an absolute no-brainer that the NPS would protect the sensitive, diverse, and vital habitat of Big Cypress from the extreme intrusion of humans, huge trucks, and helicopters. The scars that these vehicles will leave on what should be protected land and animals is sickening to me.

The land in Big Cypress is amazing land. It is part of the greater Everglades system. The beauty that exists there is stunning and brings me unspeakable joy. I am so beyond thankful that it has been conserved before I was born by many dedicated people who knew its true value, or else it would have long been paved over and developed. It is home to multiple endangered and threatened species like the gopher tortoise, indigo snake, wood stork, Everglades snail kite, Florida panther, and more. These animals have little place else in the state to find their home in.

On my 10th birthday after paddling and biking in Big Cypress, my mom, dad, and I went on a 2 hour aerial tour of part of the Everglades region. This is a picture of what would have been a major airport for the Miami area (that would have come with extensive development) right in the heart of Big Cypress. It was with disgust that I saw from the air the surrounding land that would have been destroyed, and with a sense of satisfaction and gratitude for heroes like Marjory Stoneman Douglas that we have to thank for the vast areas that are protected.

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Big Cypress Airfield

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Literally hundreds of thousands of cypress tress!

Last night I read the first announcement that the NPS has made its decision and ruled that there will be no environmental impact from seismic testing on over 70,000 acres of Big Cypress Preserve. My first thought was that it was a belated April fool’s joke. I was truly stunned. I am so unbelievably disappointed in the National Park Service.
This is a news article about this devastating decision:
Big Cypress oil exploration

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This was in Big Cypress on my 9th birthday, right on my “birth moment.” It is the greatest thing ever to spend any day, especially my birthday, in this place that I love so much. I feel like it is part of me.

I am only 10 years old and I feel pretty powerless, but I am more determined than ever to continue trying to defend this absolute treasure trove that we are so fortunate to have in our state.

~Megan

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Florida Panthers More Imperiled Than Ever!!

It is with a heavy heart that I write about the latest outrage that is conspiring against our beautiful Florida Panthers. There is a proposal called the Eastern Collier Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP for short) that sounds like it will be a good thing, right? Wrong-O!!

Collier County is home to some of the last remaining habitat for our panthers, as well as several other endangered species: the Wood Stork, Snail Kite, Crested Caracara, Indigo Snake, Bonneted Bat, Scrub Jay, and Red Cockaded Woodpecker.  These animals I just listed as well as all other animals living in a designated 45,000 acres of precious panther habitat will face mining, development, and even oil drilling or fracking if this “conservation” plan is eventually approved.

Not only could (will) there be all of that heinous activity in their home, but a mere TEN people want the right to obtain an ‘incidental take’ permit of these supposedly protected animals…this means they could harass and even kill these animals that are supposed to have the strongest protections for endangered animals in our country! I just do not understand how this could even be considered. I really don’t. I am so sad, and so very angry that some adults would even be considering a decision like that. I find it outrageous that these animals who have already faced such detriment at the hands of humans cannot take a priority over the greed of a very few humans.

Where exactly are the displaced panthers to go to?

Let’s say that a landowner “legally” kills a panther. (or even “just” takes away some habitat of a panther) We all know how limited the undeveloped habitat is for these creatures. It will not take long for another panther to move in and claim that territory. WHEN WILL THE KILLING STOP ONCE IT IS STARTED “LEGALLY?”

This link provides more information from the awesome Conservancy of Southwest Florida:

https://www.conservancy.org/our-work/policy/wildlife-and-habitat-protection/eastern-collier

There is a public meeting in Naples on April 12 and I will be there to add my voice to stand up for these animals and the habitat that they need. We cannot continue to take habitat away from panthers who have so little left to begin with. Starting to let some people harass or kill panthers is so disgusting that I cannot comprehend that it is actually being considered.

If you cannot attend the meeting, please consider emailing or mailing your opinion on the issue by April 24, 2016. Please, I implore you to help. The more people that speak out will help our creatures that need it the most.

Email: comments-eastcollierhcp@fws.gov
Mail: Comments-Eastern Collier HCP EIS
US Fish and Wildlife Service
South Florida Ecological Services Field Office
1339 20th St.
Vero Beach, FL 32960-3559

I love Florida Panthers SO MUCH and I will never stop fighting to help them no matter how much of a futile, uphill battle it seems to be.

~ Megan

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Bully, Theodore Roosevelt!!

Yesterday I attended the most awesome presentation ever by a man who has learned absolutely everything about Theodore Roosevelt. He looks like him, dresses like him, and talks loudly and animatedly like him, while pretending to be him, to teach so, so much about Theodore Roosevelt. I wanted him to keep speaking for hours and hours!!


What does this have to do with wild Florida? Theodore Roosevelt designated the first national wildlife refuge in Florida…Pelican Island NWR. This saved the last known nesting area of brown pelicans at the time; these birds faced near extinction but having this area saved helped bring their population recovery.

This wildlife refuge can be enjoyed by land or water. Along with several beautiful trails, the highlight on land is the Centennial Trail which celebrates the over 450 national wildlife refuges that now exist thanks to Theodore Roosevelt’s strong conservation ethic to start this system at Pelican Island in 1903.

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Walking along Centennial Trail

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Centennial Trail celebrates the 100th anniversary of the national wildlife refuge system. All of the refuges are named along the trail in chronological order.

There is a lookout towards Pelican Island at the end of Centennial Trail with two fixed binoculars to get a closer look at the island and the many birds there. I love going here! My family always takes a blanket and picnic lunch to eat at the lookout area. We have never seen another person while here but we always see hundreds of gorgeous birds!

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There is also the option to see the island on the water. Boats cannot get too close to the island. Thankfully the wildlife that use this island as their home take priority and humans must stay a certain distance away. One time my mom, dad, and I went on a sunset cruise near Pelican Island and it was spectacular!!

I am not exaggerating when I say that we literally saw hundreds and hundreds of birds flying in to roost on the island….Brown Pelicans, White Pelicans, Cormorants, Anhingas, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Tricolored Herons, Wood Storks, an Oystercatcher, and more!! We saw several Sandhill Cranes fly over and watched a Magnificent Frigatebird soaring high overhead. We even watched a pod of dolphins feeding in the water not too far from our boat.

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The love I feel for the beauty and wildlife of Florida is indescribable!! Thank you Theodore Roosevelt for helping to save this!!! No wonder this conservation president is my favorite!!!!

~Megan

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