The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) intends to close down the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Palm Beach County, to cancel their property’s operating lease, unless the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service increases federal expenditures to control invasive plants, notably Lygodium, or Old World Fern. The other seven parts to the eight-part partnership agreement are being well met by both federal and state agencies.
The threaten closure of the wildlife refuge comes at a convenient time when the U.S. Department of Justice has enforced water quality laws and ordered sugar industries to clean up their spoils harming the refuge. Water quality is just as important an issue as is controlling invasive plants.
The National Wildlife Refuge (one of two in Florida) was created to protect wildlife and promote public access to natural areas. Loxahatchee comes from the Seminole meaning “River of Turtles.” The Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is a mosaic of wet prairies, sawgrass ridges, sloughs, tree islands, cattail communities, and a 400-acre cypress swamp. The refuge provides essential wildlife habitats for the King Rail, Limpkin, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, White and Glossy Ibis, Sandhill Crane, threatened Wood Storks, and endangered Everglade Snail Kites – home for 250 species of birds and two turtles, Peninsula Cooter and Florida Softshell.
Your donation will fund our ability to work with individuals across the nation to write in their own words why the Loxahatchee is a national treasure worthy of increased federal funding. Words matter. I’ve employed two college interns and a high school student is volunteering to learn and assist with personnel comments to assemble a most persuasive letter. We will work with you to express in your voice comments that are descriptive, accurate, unique and memorable.
“Management in state and federal partnership of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is working. The public is walking the raised trail in the largest remaining remnant of a cypress strand between the pine flatwoods and Everglade marshes.” Rob Moir, Executive Director, Ocean River Institute.
Remember the turtles!
Rolf Olson, Refuge Manager, Mark Musaus, former Refuge Manager, and Elinor Williams, president, Friends of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, were Rob’s guests on Moir’s Environmental Dialogues, Ocean River Shields of Achilles.
The Loxahatchee is an awesome threshold brimming with wildlife between Lake Okeechobee, agricultural lands, and pine flatwoods to the north and the Everglades to the south, partially bounded by the largest remaining remnant of a cypress strand. An invasive plant, Old World climbing fern, is smothering about 72% of the Refuge. This tenacious vine with 100-foot-long tendrils kills plants by either blocking out light or by causing trees and other native plants to collapse under the weight. Because aerial spraying kills all plants, the climbing fern stems must be hand-cut. Then the lower portions are sprayed. Crews, brought to each island by air boat, often stand in nearly waist high water.
The Refuge is known for having the greatest number of alligators in America, not the greatest biomass of alligators, just the greatest number of snapping jaws per square foot. Snakes and insects in abundance further challenge working conditions. Climbing ferns are remarkably quick to release spores and propagate. So quick that the crew must return to the site for the next two years to fully eradicate the ferns. Five or six insects have been identified to eat Climbing ferns in their native soils. They are being researched to keep the ferns at bay provided they only chew on the invasive plant and not others.
Collaborative management with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service working in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District has failed to eradicate the invasive climbing fern. The federal agency spends $2 million a year, with the state spending approximately the same amount in recent years. This is woefully inadequate. Water quality and the quantity of water flowing into the Everglades are issues no less pressing than is the spread of invasive plants. There is still work to be done by concerned advocates to save the Loxahatchee.
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