On January 10, the Palm Beach Florida Town Council voted unanimously to support the Arthur R Marshall Loxahatchee NWR and encourage Florida Governor Rick Scott and the South Florida Water Management District, to continue the long-standing partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Service and work cooperatively to manage exotics and preserve the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
The Refuge has been under attack in two ways. First, the Everglades habitats and signature tree islands create ideal conditions for invasive exotic plants to thrive. In particular, a vine like fern called Lydogium threatens to destroy the native tree islands. Spread by spores, it can quickly climb and grow on native vegetation. Challenges to controlling this invasive include access, the high cost and difficulty of manual labor, and killing the invasive while minimizing impact to the native vegetation.
Magnitude of scale is another factor as 100,000 acres in the refuge are impacted, with costs to achieve maintenance control estimated at $5 million for the next four years.
The second attack has been from the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). The Refuge is unique in that it is an overlay of a water conservation area owned by the state and operates through a license agreement with SFWMD and the state of Florida. Although they state their intent is strictly to get the Service to obtain the needed funding, SFWMD has been highly critical of the refuge’s inability to control lygodium and has sent a first letter of default to the Service with potential intent to terminate the license agreement.
Many conservation groups, including the National Wildlife Refuge Association, have been working hard to combat both SFWMD criticism and raise awareness of the funding need. Refuge Association board member Dragana Connaughton, a resident of Palm Beach, FL worked with the town council to make the resolution an agenda topic as well as organize the support for its passage. Several prominent citizens wrote letters of support or spoke in favor of the refuge including Everglades Champion Nathaniel Reed, as did Refuge Association President David Houghton. Representatives from the Friends of Loxahatchee NWR, Florida Audubon, Florida Wildlife Federation, Everglades Law Center, and the Sierra Club, plus a teacher and a couple of her students all spoke about the value and importance of the refuge.
The council expressed unanimous support for keeping the refuge and for the state-federal partnership to find ways to fund and combat the invasive plant threat to the Refuge and the Everglades.