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News From The Everglades

License Agreement and Land Exchange at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee NWR

Almost 14 months ago we were sharing news that the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) was threatening to terminate the license agreement by which the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge manages over 140,000 acres of the historic northern Everglades owned by the state of Florida. The heart of the issue was the inability of the refuge to control invasive exotic vegetation, in particular, Old World Climbing Fern, or Lygodium, due to lack of funding. Thanks to your letters, combined with more than 60,000 other comments to both SFWMD and the Florida Governor opposing any attempts to terminate the license agreement the threat was not carried out. Instead, the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) and SFWMD began a series of lengthy negotiations on addressing the issues of invasive species control and public use. A separate but parallel issue was a land exchange between the two agencies.

We are pleased to report that the SFWMD governing board approved a new license agreement last week subject to completion of the land exchange. The new license agreement is much shorter, 10 years guaranteed, with no performance measures. It requires FWS to pay a minimum amount (current base budget for invasive control) and SFWMD will assume responsibility for vegetation control on state-owned lands within the refuge. Regarding public use, the refuge, SFWMD, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have identified potential new or expanded wildlife dependent recreational opportunities which will require both compatibility reviews and be subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. Refuge staff will start evaluating public use in March 2018 on a schedule that may take up to four years to complete.

The land exchange in question involves a fee title tract owned by FWS on the southwest side of the refuge being swapped for a SFWMD tract on the east side of the refuge near existing FWS owned property. The Service obtains a high-quality wetland that will benefit wildlife and the public while SFWMD obtains land needed to expand a storm water treatment area to help achieve water quality mandates.

The goal is to have both the new license agreement and land exchange finalized by March 2018. Once complete, both actions will allow Loxahatchee Refuge to continue doing the amazing work it has been doing for many years to come.

 

Friends of Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee NWR Receives Education Grant

On October 20, 2017, The Friends of Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge was awarded a Great Ideas Initiative Grant from the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County. The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, in Palm Beach, Florida, is one of the FWS’s designated urban refuges. With this grant the Friends group plans to hire an education intern to help the refuge in further developing their education program allowing for better engagement with school children from urban environments.

Loxahatchee already has many impressive accomplishments in regards to the urban initiative, like hosting workshops for teachers to better learn how to effectively teach their students in connecting with nature for over 8 years, bringing science to the classroom with traveling trunks with different environmental themes, and hands-on activities to get students involved in conservation. This year, Loxahatchee expanded its relationship with the Pine Jog Environmental Education Center at Florida Atlantic University. In 2016, Pine Jog was selected as an Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership geared towards teaching students about the threats of invasive species on Loxhatchee. On their field trip, students were able to actively remove invasive snail species and restore healthy native Florida apple snail (Pomacea paludosa) populations, which are vital to the endangered Everglade snail kite’s survival.

Over 15,000 schoolchildren visit Loxahatchee annually where programs through environmental education and interpretive tours are created specifically for each grade level. These programs teach children through experiences in nature that coincide with their curriculum in the classroom. Most of the children living in this urban area have never truly been exposed to nature, making visits to Loxahatchee a new and exciting experience. The school visits lead to them being inspired to learn more about nature, specifically what is in their own backyard. Since Loxahatchee lies within the northern Everglades, there are plenty of fascinating things to explore from wet prairies to cypress swamps.

Photos by USFWS at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
Schoolchildren volunteer at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, An endangered Everglade snail kite catches its meal Credit: USFWS

Permanent link to this article: http://refugeassociation.org/2017/11/news-from-the-everglades/

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