The Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Palm Beach County, Florida, contains the northern portion of the Everglades. Here commences the water sheet that flows south over wet-prairie grasses and around thousands of tree islands. Invasive plants are making this a place of peril for wildlife. Broad-leaved paper bark (melaleuca), an Australian tree related to eucalyptus, grows rapidly in the wet prairie marsh. It sets heavy seeds that sprout nearby forming tree stands of no wildlife value. On the tree islands old world climbing fern, (lygodium) climbs and smothers all island vegetation. If the blocking of light does not kill, eventually the weight for the woody fern “craters-in” breaking plants. The tangle becomes so dense that wildlife are unable to enter tree islands. White-tailed deer unable to step out of the wet marsh suffer from hoof rot. Bobcat cannot find marsh rabbits. Many birds, especially waders, are unable to nest.
Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge Biologists Andrew Eastwick and Missy Juntunen talk with Rob about the wildlife and management of invasive plants. An arsenal of approaches and much has been spent to manage this natural disaster. Yet the reseeding and sprouting have thwarted efforts to restore the refuge.
More funding, a doubling of what was spent annually for five years, would bring the invasive plant populations down to a manageable size. The Ocean River Institute circulated a letter calling on Congress to act. 2,385 individuals signed on to the Save the Loxahatchee League. Hundreds wrote personal comments why they care for the Loxahatchee. They wrote from all fifty states including South Dakota and Wyoming, as well as from Puerto Rico and Washington DC, to no avail. The request for $5 million a year for five years was too much of a lift for Congress.
Not to be deterred, Rob describes the enterprising approach the Ocean River Institute is taking to assist with the management of invasive plants in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. The Invasive Plant Management Project has three objectives:
- to provide tools that will double the cutting efficiency of the fifteen contractors,
- to prime the pump for a national company to brand and market Lox melaleuca mulch, and
- to bring sustainable management of invasive plants within the current budget.
As a 501c3 nonprofit, the Ocean River Institute can step up to ridding the Loxahatchee of invasive plants where state and federal budgets leave off because individual donors and businesses may designate precisely how their funds are spent in the service of saving wildlife in the Loxahatchee.