Environmental group Audubon of Florida has released its “State of the Everglades” report, a summary of the most important stories and policies to come out of the Greater Everglades during the first half of 2011.
In the report, Audubon applauds a recent announcement by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who pledged $100 million to fund land conservation in Florida through the Wetlands Reserve Program. The funds will go toward compensating ranchers and other landowners who leave portions of their land in natural conditions, retaining water there while continuing their agricultural activities. The report also highlights a January announcement of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who proposed (.pdf) expanding the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in the Western Everglades by at least 50,000 acres.
And though Audubon praises Vilsack and Salazar’s work, its report notes that much remains to be done.
A portion of the report, for instance, calls for greater water conservation in the Lake Okeechobee region, where a recent drought, coupled with controversial water management decisions, led to a massive algal bloom in the Caloosahatchee that hurt businesses and property owners in Southwest Florida. Audubon says it is now advocating for a “more in-depth and robustly funded dispersed water management program, improved agricultural and urban nutrient source controls north of Lake Okeechobee, and cost effective water treatment in the Northern Everglades.”
Audubon is also calling for greater wildlife habitat protections during times of drought. “We continue to advocate for the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and [the South Florida Water Management District] to make lake management decisions that conserve water in the lake to protect critical habitat for the Everglade Snail Kite,” reads the report. “The lake’s Minimum Flows and Levels rule, intended to protect the lake from significant harm, was in violation for the first time in July 2011. Audubon has requested that recovery measures be implemented quickly to emphasize further water conservation.”
The health of the Snail Kite is often used as an indicator of the overall health of Everglades region. The low water levels during the summer caused many to abandon their nests, leaving baby Kites with little suitable habitat and no way to get food.