Entries in Everglades (16)
Unlike at Cape Hatteras National Seashore and, more recently, at Biscayne National Park, federal officials actually listened to and cooperated with anglers in developing a new management plan for Everglades National Park.
“It’s hard not to recognize the clear contrast between the degree to which stakeholder input was considered for Everglades National Park’s GMP (General Management Plan) compared to that of Biscayne National Park, where the recreational fishing community was resoundingly ignored,” noted Mike Leonard, Ocean Resource Policy director for the American Sportfishing Association .
“By recognizing that habitat conservation can be achieved while still allowing the public to get out on the water and enjoy our public places, Everglades National Park officials set a positive example that we hope other National Park Service (NPS) units will follow.”
The new plan includes several changes that will affect recreational boating and fishing access and habitat conservation in the park.
“Covering much of the southern tip of mainland Florida and nearly all of Florida Bay, Everglades National Park is home to some of the best recreational fishing opportunities that Florida has to offer,” said Trip Aukeman, director of Advocacy for Coastal Conservation Association Florida.
“Given that this GMP will guide management actions for the next 20 to 30 years, it’s critically important that we get it right. Overall, we believe the GMP strikes an appropriate balance of management measures to safeguard resources while allowing for reasonable boating and fishing access.”
Everglades National Park officials have been working on the GMP update for several years. After serious concerns were raised over the draft GMP and the potential for reduced public access to the park’s waters, park officials worked closely with members of the recreational fishing and boating community to identify ways to better facilitate access while minimizing boating impacts to important habitat, namely seagrass. As a result of those discussions, many significant changes were made from the draft GMP to the final GMP.
“The recreational fishing community recognizes pole and troll zones are an important management tool to conserve shallow water habitat, but these zones must be established at a reasonable size and with access corridors to allow anglers to still reach the area,” Leonard. “In working with the recreational fishing community, Everglades National Park officials modified tens of thousands of acres of the park’s waters to better facilitate boating access, and included 29 new access corridors in the final GMP compared to the draft GMP. The level of responsiveness of Everglades National Park officials to our community’s input is reflective of how good public policy should be developed.”
One significant change that boaters in Everglades National Park will experience in the future is a mandatory boater education and boating permit system. Operators of motorboats and non-motorized boats, including paddled craft, must complete a mandatory education program to obtain a permit to operate vessels in the park.
“We are pleased to see a cooperatively developed plan that protects our natural resources as well boater access in a balanced manner,” said Nicole Vasilaros, vice president of Federal and Legal Affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “While we believe that boater education is best administered on the state level, we appreciate the collaborative work the Park has done to include stakeholders in this process and we agree that education is the best way to ensure a safe and fun day on the water."
These comments are starkly different than those that followed NPS's announcement of its plan for Biscayne, which eliminated fishing and severely restricted boating in more than 10,000 acres of the park's most popular and productive waters.
“America’s recreational fishing community is disheartened by the National Park Service’s decision to implement a marine reserve at Biscayne National Park,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “We understand the importance of protecting our natural resources and the delicate balance needed to ensure that anglers and boaters are able to enjoy these public waters. However, the National Park Service has shown little interest in compromise and today’s announcement confirms a lack of desire to include the needs of park users and stakeholders in important decisions such as this.”
What will happen to fisheries nationwide and even to outdoor recreation in general as Asian carp continue to spread, reproduce, and outcompete native species? We’ve just received a glimpse of a nightmarish possibility from Kentucky Lake, where angler Bill Schroeder foul-hooked and landed a 106-pound silver carp.
Although I’ve been unable to confirm it, I suspect that’s the largest silver carp taken in the United States, and possibly even the world. Experts say maximum weight for the exotic fish is about 60 pounds. And even now, the Tennessee state record for the silver carp, caught in 2013 on Kentucky Lake, was just 14 pounds, 13 ounces.
What’s going on? Silver carp like it here. So do bighead carp. Typically a larger fish, its maximum weigh is about 90 pounds. But in 2011, an angler targeting paddlefish hooked and landed a 106-pound specimen at Lake of the Ozarks.
And the exotic lionfish likes it here too. As it spreads all across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic coast, anglers are catching larger and larger specimens of this voracious predator. In its native range, it grows to 12 to 15 inches. Just a few days ago, one was caught off in the Florida Keys that measured nearly 19 inches.
Why are these exotics growing to horror-movie size proportions in our waters? Because they are exotic species, they have no “natural” predators, as they do in their native ranges. And they’re feasting on an abundance of food in our relatively fertile and healthy waters. By contrast, Asian carp struggle to survive in their native range because of pollution and overfishing.
Will the same happen with the Burmese python in the Everglades? Introduced to the wild by an irresponsible and little-regulated pet industry, it is now gobbling up native mammals and reptiles, and likely will expand its range into more developed areas. Will it grow to unprecedented size as well?
Now consider this: Asian carp are schooling fish. Frightened by disturbances on the surface, silver carp often go airborne, striking and injuring anglers and other boaters.
But the fish we see in videos of these airborne attacks usually weigh no more than 10 or 15 pounds. Imagine dozens of 100-pound silver carp taking flight all around you as you motor to your favorite fishing hole.
Of course, no one thought about such possibilities when the carp were imported by aquaculture facilities during the 1970s. And it wasn’t until the 1990s that we really started worrying about them crowding out native species in our rivers.
And then there’s the snakehead . . .
Nationally, the exotic species of most concern are carp, mussels, and plants.
But in Florida, a reptile also is in the mix. It’s an apex predator that gobbling up birds, mammals, and other reptiles in the Everglades.
And as its food supply dwindles and its population increases, the Burmese python will expand its range. It will go south into the Keys, west toward the Gulf coast, north toward Lake Okeechobee, and east toward the most densely populated portion of Florida.
At the moment, it seems unlikely that the python will migrate too far north. But it’s an exotic species in a new habitat, meaning behavior is unpredictable. Also, winters are moderating. Could it travel all the way up the peninsula and then west along the upper Gulf Coast? It’s possible, although unlikely.
What’s more certain is that the threat to human life will increase, especially in and around Miami. One of the largest snakes in the world, the python can grow to 20 feet in its native Asia, and already has been documented at 16 feet in the Everglades. Such massive reptiles weigh more than 100 pounds
And they can kill and consume human-size meals. Check out this recent report from Indonesia, where a python killed a security guard near a luxury hotel. A few years ago, a “pet” python killed a child in Florida. Earlier this year, two children were strangled by another “pet” in Canada.
Children and pets in Florida are going to be especially at risk in the years to come.
But I no longer believe that the python is the most dangerous species in the Sunshine State. No, it’s not the native alligator either.
I put the black bear at the top of the list. Its population has reached critical mass in the central part of the state, and, sooner rather than later, someone is going to be killed.
Especially in the Longwood area, the bears roam neighborhoods, tear up garbage cans, and try to enter houses. Nevertheless, many lived under the mistaken notion that they could peacefully co-exist with these large omnivores that will gobble up garbage as quickly as they will a pot-belly pig. Some of them still feel that way.
And, yet, the biggest problem is not the black bear. It’s the people. Some continue to feed the animals, despite warnings not to. Others don’t secure their garbage and/or feed their pets outdoors.
Those people who are the most problematic, however, are the bear defenders, those who raised holy hell when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) killed two in the aftermath of the attack on the woman, and those who mistakenly believe that they can live in peace and harmony with the bears if all people will just “follow the rules.”
What we’re talking about now in central Florida is a large, aggressive bear population that has lost its fear of humans and has learned that food is most abundant where people live. That food could be the remains of pizza, a dog, or a child. A wild predator doesn’t differentiate.
Of course, the animal apologists argue that their furry friends should be “relocated” to nearby national forests instead of being killed. The problem with that is that those areas already have the maximum population that they can sustain, which is one of the main reasons that bears are roaming suburban neighborhoods. Additionally, bears accustomed to eating from garbage cans and breaking into patios to eat pet food are not going to stay in wild areas; they will return to more civilized dining.
The most logical solution is a managed hunt, which other states, including New Jersey, already utilize as a way of keeping the bear population under check. That’s also the way that we maintain populations of deer, turkey, and other species. If we are going to co-exist with these animals we must limit their numbers because we also have reduced their habitat. It’s that simple.
But you can bet that if the FWC proposes a hunt, PETA and other animal rights groups will descend on Florida like a horde of locusts, delighting in the reality that they will receive nationwide publicity in such a high-profile state.
I don’t envy the good folks at FWC who want to do the right thing, but must figure out a way to manage both the wildlife and the uneducated people who seek to prevent the agency from doing what’s right.
And I am saddened by realization that the only thing that will prompt a rational response to this problem is for someone to be killed. No such easily implemented solution exists for the Burmese python, but it certainly does for the black bear.
If you live in a stucco house in south Florida, good luck. You’re going to need it.
As if Burmese pythons moving out of the Everglades weren’t enough to worry about, an explosion of African land snails is occurring. Growing to the size of a rat, these exotic mollusks will chew up stucco and plaster for the calcium that they contain, as well as devour plants --- lots and lots of plants.
Scientists estimate that they will feed on more than 500 species. In other words, just about anything that's green, and that could have catastrophic consequences for Florida agriculture and horticulture. And, oh yeah, they also carry a parasite that can cause illness in humans.
Reuters says this about the snails:
“ In some Caribbean countries, such as Barbados, which are overrun with the creatures, the snails' shells blow out tires on the highway and turn into hurling projectiles from lawnmower blades, while their slime and excrement coat walls and pavement.”
To watch a video about this invader, go here.