Friday, May 24, 2013

Milestone in Land Acquisition of Wildlife Corridor

Caloosahatchee River
On Thursday, May 16th, representatives from diverse environmental fields met in La Belle, FL to celebrate a milestone in land acquisition.

Numerous environmental groups, State and Federal biologists, and other interested parties attended the Interagency Florida Panther and Wetlands Conservation Forum on the Caloosahatchee River. The event celebrated the one year anniversary of the Lone Ranger Forge property acquisition, formerly known as the American Prime Property.

The Lone Ranger Forge property exemplifies the great conservational strides communities can make when working together. The land deal was a joint effort between The Nature Conservancy, Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, among other groups. Their work has produced an essential step in creating wildlife corridors in Florida.

The property is 1,278 acres located on the Caloosahatchee River. Lone Ranger Forge is unique in that it abuts the only portion of the River that male Florida panthers will swim across to disperse north. Unfortunately, females do not swim at this location, which raises concerns about panther migration to the north of the River. Portions of the land will remain as ranch lands for cattle, a highly contiguous land management use with conservation, while other locations will receive wetland restoration. The property is an example of how multi-land uses can cohesively benefit conservation.

The line of trees, an old rail line, is the path that panthers follow to the river.
Fish and Wildlife Service announced at the forum that a new Panther Recovery Team is being established to address panther recovery. With the previous Team convening in 2008, current issues are in need of updating. The goals of the new Team will cover the following topics: Create a better inventory and monitoring system for population estimates; Develop range expansion opportunities and reintroductions outside of southwest Florida; Create a genetics management plan; Integrate private land holders for land management; Identify and  improve collision areas to reduce vehicular deaths; Review current recovery criteria to assess if goals can be reached; and, review the taxonomy of Florida panthers with updated data.

A look toward the future for panthers is welcome news, one that should improve the science and better facilitate the species recovery. As one of the rarest mammals in America, if not the world, the Florida panther's future will serve as a template for large predator recovery.

This is just one of many steps in creating a connected, wild Florida. Wildlife corridors are one of the most important conservation initiatives that will save species, as well as protect against the impacts of climate change. In connecting protected lands with corridors, species will have the opportunity to safely move throughout their habitat and expand into historic ranges previously denied to them by inhospitable terrain. Corridors also lessen the chances of panther-vehicle collision and interactions with humans. The concept of creating one contiguous corridor is a long way from finished, but the Lone Ranger Forge is an important milestone for Florida panthers.

More information from FWS can be found here.
Attendees of the Interagency Forum, representing diverse environmental interests.
(C) MyFWCMedia

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Big Cypress and FL Panthers from Off-road Vehicles

For Immediate Release, May 15, 2013

Contact:  Jaclyn Lopez, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 490-9190,
  Alexis Meyer, Sierra Club, (727) 490-8215,
  Matthew Schwartz, South Florida Wildlands Association, (954) 993-5351,
  Sarah Peters, Wildlands CPR, (541) 345-0299,
  Brian Scherf,

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Big Cypress and Florida Panthers From Off-road Vehicles

FORT MYERS, Fla.— In an effort to reduce damaging off-road vehicle use in Big Cypress National Preserve, conservation groups filed a lawsuit today against the National Park Service for failing to protect Florida panthers and other imperiled species. The suit asserts that the Park Service violated the Endangered Species Act as well as the preserve's own Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan by designating hundreds of miles of new trails for off-road vehicle use across two units of the preserve.

“Big Cypress is prime habitat for the Florida panther, and protection of big open spaces where animals like panthers can roam undisturbed is the primary purpose of the preserve,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “As Floridians, we have an obligation to keep places like this protected for our wildlife.”

The 720,000 acre Big Cypress National Preserve, located just north of the Everglades National Park, was established by Congress as the first national preserve in our nation's history to protect the natural, scenic, hydrologic, floral, faunal and recreational values of the watershed, including panthers. To that end, Congress stressed that public use would come second to maintaining this fragile and unique natural landscape.

In July 2012, a federal judge ruled that the Park Service’s major expansion of ORV trails in the preserve’s Bear Island Unit violated environmental laws and the Park Service’s management plan for ORVs in the preserve, and set aside the unauthorized increase in trails. This litigation would secure similar protections for endangered and threatened species such as the Florida panther and eastern indigo snake, as well as fragile wetlands and rare and endemic plants in the Corn Dance and Turner River units.

“Big Cypress is one of the most important sanctuaries for Florida panthers.” said Alexis Meyer, Sierra Club’s associate organizing representative. “The addition of hundreds of miles of trails for motorized recreational vehicles not only poses a threat to panthers, but also degrades the habitat of many plant and animal species.”

“NPS acknowledges that off-road vehicle use in the Big Cypress is a high-impact recreational activity which damages soils and plants, changes hydrology, leads to the spread of invasive plant species, fragments habitat, disturbs wildlife, and degrades the experience of the preserve for the many non-motorized visitors,” said Matthew Schwartz of the South Florida Wildlands Association. “The purpose of the preserve's Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan is to allow for continued motorized recreational use in the preserve — but only on a specified mileage of designated trails."

“With the opening of these trails in Big Cypress, the Park Service has failed to protect valuable and sensitive resources of the preserve from off-road vehicle damage, failed to appropriately involve the public in its management decisions, and failed to comply with the preserve’s management direction.” said Sarah Peters, a staff attorney with Wildlands CPR.

The Park Service issued the ORV plan in 2000 following years of advocacy by environmentalists for transition from dispersed use — which had created 23,000 miles of trails throughout the preserve — to a sustainable system of designated trails. The plan drastically reduced the extensive network of trails that had been created. But in defiance of that plan, the Park Service has now increased the miles of trails where ORVs may go in the Corn Dance and Turner River units by nearly 100 percent and 60 percent respectively.

The conservation groups are represented by the Washington, D.C. public interest environmental law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization with more than 2.1 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places.

South Florida Wildlands Association is a Florida nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of habitat and wilderness in the Greater Everglades.

Wildlands CPR is a national nonprofit that revives and protects wild places by promoting watershed restoration to improve fish and wildlife habitat, provide clean water and enhance community economies.  We focus on reclaiming ecologically damaging, unneeded roads and on stopping off-road vehicle abuse of public lands.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Rockledge Protesters Defend Fertilizer Ordinance, Oppose Preemption

A crowd of over 100 sticker-covered, sign-waving Florida taxpayers rallied in front of Rockledge City Hall on May 1 at a “Stand Up to Big Fertilizer! Stand Up for the Indian River Lagoonevent organized to defend the recently adopted City of Rockledge urban fertilizer ordinance.  The ordinance, one of over 50 local government ordinances in the state that include strong fertilizer pollution controls, is threatened by preemption legislation in this last week of the legislative session.

Protesters gathered to send a clear message of support to the Rockledge City Council, which is not only defending its ordinance from the attack on home rule coming from Tallahassee, but was also feeling great pressure from the biggest supporters of preemption, the commercial fertilizer applicators, who want the City Council to weaken the ordinance by giving applicators a free pass to fertilize whenever they want.

Rockledge became ground zero for the statewide fight to protect water resources from urban fertilizer pollution when their own Representative Steve Crisafulli started the preemption attempt a week after the Rockledge ordinance was adopted in March and at about the same time the Indian River Lagoon became national news for the historic number of algae-related manatee deaths.  Moreover, the fate of preemption legislation this year is in the hands of area Senator Thad Altman, who has the ability to keep preemption off of his bill, SB 1684, when it comes to the Senate floor for a vote on May 2.

Two Rockledge City Councilmen, Frank T. Forester, and Ted J. Hartselle, Leesa Souto, Executive Director of Marine Resources Council, Laurilee Thompson of Dixie Crossroads (commercial seafood), Marty Baum, Indian Riverkeeper, and Maureen Rupe of the Sierra Club Turtle Coast Group spoke to rally participants before the City Council meeting that began at 6 pm.

Most of the rally participants then flowed into the City Council chambers to support strengthening the local ordinance and to oppose weakening it.

“The best way to kill our lagoon, the fastest way to kill local jobs, is to tie local government hands so they cannot protect them” said Maureen Rupe.

Councilman Forester and Councilman Hartselle both spoke of the dire situation in the Indian River Lagoon and how absolutely necessary it is for Rockledge and other local governments to retain the right to keep strong fertilizer controls in place.  Forester stated:  “We have to do something.  We can’t sit and study it to death and wait and wait and wait”.   And the crowd did not hide their gratitude to the councilmen when they urged everyone to keep up the fight; applause, echos and hoots and hollers followed Councilman Hartselle’s “We can do it!”. 

Mark Jacobs of Save Our Aquifer said:  “We need to stop polluting the lagoon with lawn fertilizers.  It is more important to have a healthy lagoon than to have unnaturally green turf grass.  Many people I know have healthy turf grass and use no fertilizers; polluting the lagoon with lawn fertilizers is a completely senseless and unnecessary waste.

The Lagoon here is toxic.  To sea grass, manatees, pelicans, and if it’s toxic to them, it may be toxic to us.  It is certainly toxic to our quality of life” stated Leesa Souto. 
All the speakers urged Senator Thad Altman to save the day and stop preemption.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon made a special appearance at the event to announce he has moved into the Indian River Lagoon, changed his name respectively, and now joins the dead manatees in chasing away the fisherman and tourists.  

Among the many signs and stickers denouncing state preemption and supporting the Rockledge ordinance, the most striking visual at the rally had to be the 11-foot long array of photos of the dead manatees killed by toxic algae found in Brevard County over the past months.

VICTORY:  At the City Council meeting after the protest, the Rockledge council members voted to keep their ordinance strong, rejecting the opening of  the code to exemptions to its strict rainy season rules.

Click on Florida Today, WKMG Local 6 TV, and WESH TV 2 for coverage of the event.

For the Tampa Tribune May 1 Editorial click here.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

ALERT: HB 999 / SB 1684 up for Senate Vote on Thursday - CALLS NEEDED NOW

Please call your Florida Senator today and ask them to vote against SB 1684/ HB 999 which would preempt Hernando County's plans to pass a fertilizer ordinance to clean up harmful algae in the Weeki Wachee spring system.
The county looks at ways to clean up pollution in the Weeki Wachee spring system.

Senate will take up HB 999 / SB 1684 on Thursday!

A contact list for all Senators follows at the bottom of this message.  Please call your Senator immediately and urge them to VOTE NO on HB 999 and SB 1684!  

Worst provisions of the bill:

(1) Preempts local authority to adopt fertilizer control ordinances that protect water quality (click on more info);

(2) Creates wetland exemptions for drainage districts and jeopardizes over 1 million acres of land and water in Florida;

(3) Ratifies no-bid 30 year sugar leases in the Everglades Agricultural Area, increasing the cost of Everglades restoration and further degrading water quality in the Everglades (The intent of this provision is to stop the Florida Wildlife Federation's legal challenge of the harmful leases);

(4) Expedites natural gas pipeline permit applications;

(5) Limits how the Florida Department of Environmental Protection can test for polluted water discharges;

(6) Prohibits water management districts from reducing permitted water withdrawals where an alternative water source is available;

(7) Restricts how local governments deal with development proposals by limiting how many times additional information can be requested.

Please call your Senators immediately -- 
Urge them to VOTE NO on HB 999 and SB 1684!


Local Delegations

Local Phone

Email Address

Sen. Joseph Abruzzo

Palm Beach

Sen. Thad Altman


Sen. Aaron Bean


Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto


Sen. Rob Bradley


Sen. Jeff Brandes


Sen. Oscar Braynon


Sen. Dwight Bullard


Sen. Jeff Clemens

Palm Beach

Sen. Charles S. Dean


Sen. Nancy Detert


Sen. Greg Evers

Escambia,Okaloosa,Santa Rosa

Sen. Anitere Flores


Sen. Don Gaetz


Sen. Bill Galvano


Sen. Rene Garcia


Sen. Andy Gardiner


Sen. Audrey Gibson


Sen. Denise Grimsley

Highlands,Martin,Okeechobee,Osceola,Polk,St. Lucie

Sen. Alan Hays


Sen. Dorothy L. Hukill


Sen. Arthenia Joyner


Sen. Jack Latvala


Sen. Tom Lee


Sen. John Legg



Sen. Gwen Margolis


Sen. Bill Montford


Sen. Joe Negron

Indian River,Martin,Palm Beach,St. Lucie

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla


Sen. Garrett Richter


Sen. Jeremy Ring


Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs

Broward,Palm Beach

Sen. David Simmons


Sen. Wilton Simpson


Sen. Christopher Smith


Sen. Eleanor Sobel


Sen. Darren Soto


Sen. Kelli Stargel


Sen. Geraldine F. Thompson


Sen. John Thrasher

Flagler,Putnam,St. Johns,Volusia

Thank You!

Debbie Matthews
Sierra Club Florida Chapter Chair

Frank Jackalone
Florida Staff Director