The South Florida Water Management District is considering terminating the 50-year lease under which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates the Refuge due to insufficient federal funding for controlling invasive exotics. After listening to members of the public speak up in protest at meetings of the governing board, the board has sought to reassure the public that they would not lose access to the Refuge in the event of a takeover by the state. We would still be able to come out to the boat ramps and launch our boats and fish at the pier.
But it's so much more than that.
Visitors come here from all 50 states and from all over the world for the educational as well as the recreational opportunities the Refuge has to offer.
Refuge staff provide hands-on learning experiences on an almost daily basis for school groups and others, including the Caridad Center, Queen of Peace Mission, JROTC, and YMCA. The students learn about Everglades native species, invasive species, tree islands and gator holes and where our water comes from; some are taught how to conduct water quality tests; all of them get to hunt for lizards, spiders, alligators, butterflies and whatever else happens along.
Scientists and researchers come from all over the world. This month seven wetland scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences came to the Refuge to learn about the ongoing research in the mini-Everglades ecosystem of the LILA impoundments.
The District's governing board tells us that the Fish and Wildlife Service would be welcome to continue these activities, but the Service would not be able to justify the current level of staffing after losing most of the more than 140,000 acres that now comprise the Refuge. It is not clear what level of staffing could be provided by the District, given that it finds itself cash-strapped and dependent on the state legislature for funding in the same way the Service must depend on Congress.
We have met with members of Congress to try find more funding and we have written to the Governor and pointed out that more state dollars would be spent taking over the Refuge than in continuing to work together in partnership to combat invasive exotics. A number of organizations are advocating on our behalf in Washington and Tallahassee, including the National Wildlife Refuge Association, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, Audubon Florida, Florida Wildlife Federation, Everglades Coalition and others, as well as local organizations like Audubon of the Everglades, Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group and, of course, the Friends of the Refuge.
You, too, can help! Go to www.loxahatcheefriends.com/events/saverefuge.shtml and click on one of the national organizations' action alerts to express your support.