Last Month's Newsletter


Summer 2020

Refuge Happenings - Fishing, Airboating, Canoeing

The Refuge counted 452,018 visitors in March and April of 2020, slightly more than all visitors for the entire year in 2019! While the Visitor Center has been closed since March 18, the grounds have stayed open with entrance fees waived. And when Palm Beach County closed its beaches and natural areas, the Refuge became THE premier destination to find respite and a breath of fresh air!

The Lee Road Fishing Pier is on schedule to be demolished this week and then the new one installed after that. The pier was damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017. In the interim, the floating dock near the canoe rental hut has been open to fishing. Access to the Lee Road boat ramp is expected to remain open during installation of the new pier.

As of July 3, public airboating by permit only is allowed in a designated 14,000 acres on the south end of the Refuge.

Back in March, Eagle Scout candidate Brandon Schwartz along with fellow Scouts and parents from Troop 208 of Wellington installed a new platform along the Canoe Trail. The platform, about half way around the 5.5-mile trail, provides a convenient place for paddlers to take a break and enjoy the scenery. It is designed to accommodate paddlers of all abilities, including those with mobility impairments. Special thanks to the troop and members of the Broward County Airboat and Halftrack Conservation Club and the Florida Sportsmen's Conservation Association for their assistance!

Facebook Happenings

Even though you couldn't see them in person, Friends and staff have been busy on Facebook, posting great photos and videos and stories. Ranger Veronica Kelly has been posting video shorts from our self-guided tour (look for new signs coming soon!), while Ranger Serena Rinker has been reading short stories about otters and rabbits and caterpillars. Check out both the Friends Facebook page and the Fish and Wildlfe Service page

Discover the Refuge - for Your Health!

Friends President and semi-retired Psychologist Ron Seifer has been touting the benefits of getting outdoors and exploring the Refuge for years. Several of his stories have been published in the Sun Sentinel's Gateway Gazette. This one also appeared in the June editions of Audubon Everglades' Everglade Kite newsletter and Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group's Turtle Tracks:

Sandhill Crane Sightings

Refuge management would like to thank everyone for their concern about the Sandhill Cranes with plastic around their beaks and to let everyone know that, although the plastic is unsightly, they have verified that it is not impacting their feeding behavior and they are not in immediate jeopardy. The plastic likely came from foraging in nearby areas off Refuge. Refuge staff will continue to monitor them and, if they determine the cranes are in jeopardy, will take a more aggressive action. As a reminder, this is just one of many reasons why it's important to keep natural areas free from trash! Here's a picture:

Wood Stork Nests Lost After Heavy May Rains

To feed their young, Wood Storks rely on dense populations of fish being trapped in shallow pools as waters recede during South Florida's dry season. Late May rains caused such a rapid increase in water levels that the fish became too widely disbursed across the Everglades landscape. Unable to catch enough fish, the parents had to abandon their nests and leave their chicks to starve. Of an estimated 1,500 Wood Stork nests in Everglades National Park and the Water Conservation Areas (including the Refuge), a June count found just 57 remaining. One of the goals of Everglades restoration is to restore some semblance of the historic sheet flow of water, hopefully minimizing the tragic consequences of these kinds of rain events by putting more clean water in the right place at the right time.

Remembering Three Environmental Champions

We would like to remember three environmental champions we lost this spring. Their legacy will not soon be forgotten.

Bill Malone played a key role in efforts to protect Palm Beach County's water supply and build schools, but his single largest accomplishment may have been overseeing the South Florida Water Management District's purchase of 62,000 acres of sugar land in Palm Beach and Hendry counties to preserve it for Everglades restoration efforts.

Kristin Jacobs, the much beloved Broward County commissioner, mayor and legislator, may be best known for her role in founding the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, a ground-breaking collaborative that today encompasses Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County governments, plus 109 cities and two tribal governments. From her hospital bed at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, she spent her final weeks trying, unsuccessfully, to block an amendment that gives fishermen a legal right to continue to sell and export shark fins. She had to settle for a ban on imports and a study, saying, "don't let perfect be the enemy of good."

Cathy Horton helped start the Bethesda Medical Laboratory Technology School at Bethesda Hospital, where she taught and served as Director for many years. She also served as President of the Royal Palm Audubon Society in the 1970s (before it merged with Audubon Everglades), and advocated, successfully, to protect our Refuge from plans proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Florida Power & Light. The Friends are grateful to her friends and family members who have made donations to the Refuge in her memory.

Florida State Budget Finalized with Environmental Priorities Intact

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the state budget into law on the eve before the first day of the new fiscal year, July 1, after using his line-item veto to remove from it more than $1 billion dollars in spending. The good news is that Florida Forever funding remained intact, with $100 million for land conservation.

The governor had resisted calls to bring the legislators back in session to rework the $93 billion budget they produced in March, after coronavirus-related expenses and revenue shortfalls rendered it unrealistic. In total, the governor cut environmental spending by nearly $83 million, including $60 million in cuts to wastewater infrastructure, local grants and aids, and other statewide water quality projects. The original budget included $650 million for projects to improve water quality and protect the Everglades, even more than the $625 million in the governor's budget request and the second installment in his four-year commitment to spend $2.5 billion to address blue-green algae and red tide, restore the Everglades, and protect freshwater springs.

Also on June 30, at a signing ceremony in Juno Beach, the governor signed the Clean Waterways Act, SB 712, into law. The bill directs the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to address septic tanks and wastewater treatment facilities in pollution reduction plans, creates a wastewater grant program, sets up new regulations and oversight for agricultural use of fertilizers, and establishes a water-quality monitoring program. The bill's requirements were considerably weakened during session, but it does represent an improvement over existing law.

Also signed into law, SB 1794/HB 7037 will make it more difficult for constitutional amendments from citizens to reach Florida's ballot, requiring more signatures to qualify for Supreme Court review and shortening the time frame for collecting them.

One of only a handfull of bills vetoed was SB 410, a bill that would have curtailed the authority of most county governments to manage growth within their borders and cleared the way for high-density development in designated rural areas. Numerous environmental and good government advocates had urged the governor to veto it, warning that it would be the last nail in the coffin for Florida's much diminished growth management laws.

1000 Friends of Florida and Audubon Florida provide legislative summaries on their websites:

Public Comment Sought on Revised Lake Okeechobee Guidelines

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is accepting public comments on a proposed deviation from the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS). The goal of the deviation is to allow lake levels to drop lower during the dry season to reduce the need for discharges during the rainy season to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers. Those discharges have caused or exacerbated harmful algal blooms in communities along the east and west coasts. You can submit comments to the Army Corps by emailing no later than July 30. For more information go to

While the Army Corps is in the process of rewriting the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, some local Congressional representatives have pushed back against any changes that might limit the amount of water available to sugar farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area and cities like West Palm Beach that rely on water from the lake for drinking water. They have proposed adding language to the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 to guarantee that their water needs will be prioritized over those of the Everglades and the health concerns of the communities that have suffered from frequent outbreaks of toxic blue-green algae.

But at least one local Congressman and dozens of environmental groups are opposing the proposed legislation. This 3-minute video from Congressman Brian Mast puts the issue in stark perspective:

Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, located on Sanibel Island near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, has particularly suffered from outbreaks of toxic red tide, exacerbated by the discharges of polluted water from the lake. The Ding Darling Wildlife Society has provided this action page to make it easy for you to contact your elected officials to oppose this legislation:

These articles provide more background information:

Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir Construction Faces Delay

Although a reservoir to the south of Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades Agricultural Area was one of the projects specifically outlined in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan passed 20 years ago, little progress was made on it until persistent outbreaks of toxic blue-green algae devastated tourism and made life miserable for people along both Florida coasts. In April, the South Florida Water Management District started work on a Stormwater Treatment Area, the 6,500-acre filtering marsh portion of the project. But in May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reaffirmed a decision to maintain a "new start" designation on the reservoir, meaning that it will not be eligible for federal construction funds until at least Oct. 1, 2021, and probably delaying its scheduled 2028 completion for at least a year.

Ask Congress to Increase Refuge System Funding!

The National Wildlife Refuge System encompasses more than 850 million acres of lands and waters across America's 568 National Wildlife Refuges. The U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service is expected to fulfill its obligation to the Refuge System's 59 million annual visitors and diverse wildlife on a budget of a mere 59 cents per acre. As Congress works to pass legislation to fund the government for the next fiscal year starting in October 2020, it is critical that those who love the Refuge System let officials know how critical increased funding is for the refuge system. The National Wildlife Refuge Association urges you to contact your members of Congress and ask them to fund the National Wildlife Refuge System's Operations and Maintenance account at $586 million and $50 million for the Refuge Fund:

Ask Congress to Pass the Great American Outdoors Act!

The National Wildlife Refuge Association has long been advocating for the funding that would be provided by the Great American Outdoors Act. The bill passed the Senate in June and is now under consideration by the the House of Representatives. Both the House and Senate bills include the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, which would provide up to $95 million each year for five years for the National Wildlife Refuge System's maintenance backlog. That is a whole lot of funding going directly towards repairing damaged and worn out visitor centers, trails, and boardwalks!

The Great American Outdoors Act also provides full, permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually. This is a vital resource for securing new national park and wildlife refuge lands for all Americans to enjoy, but it has only been fully funded twice in its 55-year history, despite its non-taxpayer source of funding. Wildlife refuges could receive up to $130 million each year for land acquisition if the current allocations continue. Refuges currently fund 10-12 refuge acquisition projects each year with their, on average, $55 million each year, so the passage of the Act could more than double the refuge acquisition projects.

The National Wildlife Refuge Association urges you to contact your Congressional representative and ask them to support the Great American Outdoors Act:

Ask Congress to Restore Migratory Bird Treaty Act Protections!

Since the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted in 1918 it has been unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell migratory birds without a waiver and without taking reasonable precautions. However, a legal opinion issued by the Department of Interior on December 22, 2017 interpreted the Act to prohibit only intentional taking and killing. Since then, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declined to penalize companies whose actions have had lethal consequences for birds across the country, regardless of whether or not reasonable precautions were taken or could have been taken to prevent the deaths. Since guidelines under the new interpretation of the law were issued in April 2018, hundreds of ducks, geese, herons and migrating birds have perished in oil pits, on utility lines and in other operations without penalty. Under the stronger version of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Service had successfully worked with the oil and gas industry to cut in half the number of birds killed in oil pits.

The Department of the Interior has now released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement to clarify that under the new interpretation of the law, individuals and industrial operators, such as oil, gas and wind companies, will not be penalized if they accidentally kill birds - even on a massive scale. Under the new proposed regulations, companies at the center of disasters such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, which killed an estimated 250,000 birds, and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, estimated to have killed more than 1 million birds, would not be penalized. The Audubon Society has provided an action page that you can use to contact your Congressional representative to ask that they restore protections by supporting the Migratory Bird Protection Act:

These articles provide more background information:

Invasive Pythons and Tegus, Too

University of Florida researchers are asking Palm Beach County residents for help identifying a new threat to the ecosystem - the invasive black and white tegu - a lizard native to Argentina and Brazil that can grow up to 5 feet long and that loves to eat the eggs and young of alligators, birds and turtles. Sightings of exotic species like the tegu and Nile monitor can be reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by calling 888-483-4681. One of researchers' biggest concerns is that these species will find their way into our Refuge:

And if Burmese pythons eating all the native Everglades wildlife were not threat enough, they have now been found to be spreading a parasitic worm to native snakes:

Here are some tales from the hunters on the front lines of the fight against the pythons:

Palm Beach County Rejects One Development Proposal in Ag Reserve, More to Come

Last month Palm Beach County commissioners unanimously rejected a proposal for a massive development in the county's Agricultural Reserve at Acme Dairy Road and Boynton Beach Boulevard. The developer was asking for an exemption from the strict density restrictions imposed in the Ag Reserve. Two other developers had also proposed changes to the county's Comprehensive Plan to allow them to develop farms in the Ag Reserve. They withdrew their plans the week before in the face of overwhelming opposition from the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations, the Alliance of Delray Residential Associations and the Everglades Law Center, although they can resubmit their plans in 60 days.

County voters in 1999 overwhelmingly agreed to spend $100 million to acquire about 2,400 acres in the Ag Reserve, a 22,000-acre farming and conservation area located west of Delray Beach and Boynton Beach, just east of the Refuge. That purchase, along with development restrictions in the remainder of the Reserve, were intended to preserve the land's viability for farming.

Meanwhile, county commissioners approved plans for a major expansion of Bethesda Hospital West west of Boynton Beach, also in the Ag Reserve. The project is expected to significantly impact traffic on Boynton Beach Boulevard from State Road 7 to Lyons Road and from Lyons Road on West Atlantic Avenue to Boynton Beach Boulevard, according to Bethesda's traffic study.

Lawsuit Against Burning Sugarcane Fields Continues

A Boca Raton law firm has filed an amended lawsuit charging the sugar industry with blanketing communities south of Lake Okeechobee with polluted smoke and "black snow" whenever sugarcane fields are burned before harvesting. The amended complaint was filed last month after the original lawsuit that claimed smoke from the fires causes health problems to nearby residents was dismissed.

The reporter for this article talked to some of the Glades residents about that "black snow."

State Land Purchase Prevents Oil Drilling in Western Broward County

A long-running saga was brought to an end in May, when a deal to prevent oil drilling in the Everglades of western Broward County was finalized. The state of Florida's purchase of land from the Kanter family ended the family's drilling plans, which had ignited fierce opposition among environmentalists and nearby cities.

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Or, if you don't have the link handy, just go to and select "Friends of the Arthur R Marshall Loxahatchee Natl Wildlife Refuge" (You can just search for "Loxahatchee" but don't try to spell out "National" or it won't work!)

Like Us on Facebook!

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Please spread the word and ask the folks you know to "Like" us!

Join the Friends!

If you're not already a Friends member, why not join now? Your support helps fund Refuge programs and special projects, and helps make our annual Everglades Day possible. Dues are only $25 per person or $40 for a family membership. All members receive our biannual newsletter Gator Tales and a 10% discount in our gift shop. You can sign up online at:

Help Us Grow!

Tell your friends about this hidden treasure! How many of them know we have a piece of the Everglades right here in Palm Beach County? Bring them out, and encourage them to join the Friends. Better yet, give them a gift membership!


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Elinor Williams
Friends of Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

"There are no other Everglades in the world." ~Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Celebrate with us, The Friends of Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, 1982-2020



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