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Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge – A South Florida Jewel

Invasive Lygodium smothering a tree island in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge | South Florida Water Management District
Invasive Lygodium smothering a tree island in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge | South Florida Water Management District

Nestled snugly between South Florida’s sugarcane fields to the west and Palm Beach’s polo grounds to the east is a natural oasis of wet prairies, sloughs, saw grass, and tree islands. An aerial view of South Florida will reveal an elliptical emerald where Palm Beach County’s urban sprawl converges with the geometric pattern of the Everglades Agricultural Area. This crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System, the world’s largest network of protected lands and waters for wildlife conservation, is the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge (Loxahatchee NWR). For more than 60 years the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) have worked together, and with partners like the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), to conserve this incredible landscape that remains as the last vestige of the Northern Everglades in Palm Beach County – and it belongs to each and every one of us.

The FWS is the federal agency responsible for managing America’s 565 national wildlife refuges. Since 1951, the FWS has been managing Loxahatchee NWR to conserve native wildlife and habitats, perform cutting edge research, and provide wildlife-compatible recreational opportunities.

Over the course of the FWS’s more than sixty years of management, the refuge has safeguarded some of Florida’s most at-risk species, including the endangered snail kite. No longer found in much of their historic range, snail kites continue to use Loxahatchee NWR for nesting, roosting, and feeding, where, in one of nature’s most striking examples of coevolution, it uses its curved beak and talons to feast on the Florida apple snail.

Endangered snail kites utilize Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge for nesting, roosting, and feeding | Daniel Fleischman
Endangered snail kites utilize Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge for nesting, roosting, and feeding | Daniel Fleischman

Loxahatchee NWR’s unique status as the last remnant of the Northern Everglades, centrally located in the Greater Everglades Ecosystem between the Kissimmee River watershed to the north and the sprawling “River of Grass” to the south, makes it a living laboratory that draws scientists from all corners of the globe. Since 2002, more than 227 special use permits for research have been issued by the FWS. This massive academic undertaking has been critical to better understand how to conserve, restore, and create the fragile tree island habitats that have been most affected by invasive species.

Professional researchers and graduate students are not the only ones who come to Loxahatchee NWR to learn about Florida’s everglades ecosystem. Since 2002, more than 59,000 students have visited the refuge, and earlier this year high school students from all across Florida competed in the annual state Envirothon competition to test their knowledge of wildlife, forestry, soil science, and aquatic ecosystems.

Situated in the backyard of Palm Beach County’s 1.4 million residents, Loxahatchee NWR has been designated one of 14 priority urban refuges by the FWS, offering one of Florida’s most crowded regions the chance to escape and enjoy an increasingly rare piece of “real Florida.” The refuge boasts more than 30 miles of hiking and biking trails, and a five-mile kayaking trail for visitors to paddle into the refuge interior and experience Loxahatchee NWR on its most intimate level. The FWS maintains three access points for visitors to enjoy the “Big Six” recreational activities supported by national wildlife refuges: wildlife observation, fishing, hunting, photography, environmental education, and interpretation.

Aerial view of Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge | Google
Aerial view of Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge | Google

Loxahatchee NWR does not just benefit those who journey to the refuge to enjoy the great outdoors. Even Floridians who are not one of the refuge’s approximately 300,000 annual visitors reap the economic payoff Loxahatchee NWR provides. The refuge produces $1.9 million in sales tax revenue, supports more than 100 jobs, and generates a $6.81 economic output for every $1 budgeted for expenditures.

Loxahatchee NWR faces the same challenges impacting the entire Everglades landscape: water quantity, water quality, and invasive species. The spread of invasive species – and the difficulty of effectively combatting them – is a significant nationwide problem throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System. Yet Congress consistently fails to fund the Refuge System at the President’s requested budget, resulting in a modest $9 million budget for invasive species management across the entire Refuge System’s approximately 800 million acres.

Consequently, the FWS will be unable to achieve the eradication of every invasive species by 2017 as required by its lease with the South Florida Water Management District, and there are those who argue that the FWS should be rejected as an ongoing management partner. But the expertise of the FWS in invasive species control is unmatched and revoking the lease agreement will not solve the problems facing the refuge. The only solution to the extreme invasive species infestation is collaboration. Governor Scott, his administration, and the SFWMD can be part of the solution and make Loxahatchee NWR a leading example of successful conservation through collaborative partnership.

It is estimated that Loxahatchee NWR requires at minimum $5 million annually for the next five years to bring invasive species under control – more than half the invasives budget for the entire Refuge System. This year, the FWS and the FWC exceeded that goal, contributing $2.9 million and $2.5 million respectively for a grand total of $5.4 million toward invasive species control efforts.

For more than sixty years the FWS and the SFWMD have worked together, and with other outstanding partners like the FWC, to safeguard this incredible landscape. Revoking the lease agreement between the FWS and SFWMD will not solve the problems facing the refuge. The only solution to the extreme invasive species infestation occurring at the refuge is collaboration. Time and again across the Refuge System, partnerships have proven to be the most effective method of protecting our nation’s most important and threatened ecosystems for wildlife and future generations of Americans

There are solutions to this challenge and now is the time to reach an agreement that Governor Scott, FWC, FWS and SFWMD can all be proud of.

Permanent link to this article: http://refugeassociation.org/2016/09/loxahatchee-national-wildlife-refuge-a-south-florida-jewel/

2 comments

  1. Denise Davis says:

    Please send me updates of your events
    Than you

  2. Denise Davis says:

    Please send me updates of events
    Thank you

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