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DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Polk and Sumter counties of Florida


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February 2005 Newsletter Articles

AMERICA’S SERENGETI, Our Line in the Sand
FLEXCOM Business


For some animal and plant species, the requirements for life have evolved to become so specific and with such limited options that they are exquisitely sensitive to environmental change. Thus, they have become premier “early warning systems” which can reliably predict developing problems that might otherwise be missed until too late. One such harbinger is the Snail (or Everglade) Kite, a medium-sized raptor which uses its sharply hooked bill to dine almost exclusively on the fresh water Apple Snail. Once common in the fresh water marshes of south and central Florida, and frequently admired by both birders and fishermen in the Kissimmee River valley, this unique Kite’s population has declined by about half since 1999 according to University of Florida wetlands biologists.

These experts attribute the dramatic and troubling decline in the population of this species mostly to hydrological changes associated with manual alteration of water levels. As restoration and “improvement” of various parts of the river system are attempted, there seems to be inadequate consideration of the overall impact of such alterations on the system as a whole. Poorly timed alterations in water levels, often in association with efforts at aquatic weed control, have markedly reduced the abundance of Apple Snails. Without this essential supply of food, Snail Kite nesting has declined sharply. The UF researchers state that “Lake Okeechobee, historically a viable breeding ground has seen almost no new fledglings since lake levels were manually altered in 1996”. The recent draw-down of Lake Toho for aquatic weed control and planned water level alterations related to hydrilla treatment have and will severely aggravate the situation.

Once more we are reminded that in river systems as in living organisms there is an undeniable truism - although the whole is greater than the sum of its part, an insult to almost any part, no matter how small, will be felt through out the entire system. Let us hope that all agencies involved in the Kissimmee/Everglades restoration project(s) will be cognizant of the alarm signal which the Snail Kite is sending. Without question, restoration efforts to date are missing the mark because of poor timing, limited coordination and often failure to view the system in its entirety.

We can and must do better.

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AMERICA’S SERENGETI, Our Line in the Sand

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our crown jewels - right up there with the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. However, it doesn’t have as great a constituency because of its north of the Artic Circle location. It’s home to northern fauna ranging from polar bears to a 129,000-member caribou herd; and, by all accounts, the June migration is awesome. It also has oil deposits; but please note, these deposits are not huge. If they were fully tapped the US Geological Survey estimates the amount recovered would be a six-month supply at best - and it would be ten years before ANWR oil could enter the pipe line.

All conservationists are vehemently opposed to violating ANWR. So why has the Bush administration made this exploitation a major goal? It has been suggested that if the oil interests can breach ANWR, nothing will be off limits. Hence, our line in the sand.

Evidentially to avoid debate and media exposure, the administration is trying to authorize ANWR drilling by making it a line item in the Federal budget. Please take the time now to write a letter modeled on the one below (Karina Veaudry/BioGems/NRDC) and send it to both Senators:

Give a call to your Congressperson's local office and remind the staff to relay the message and keep a tally.

Dear Senator (or Representative) _____:

I strongly oppose President Bush's plan for oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. America's last unspoiled birthing ground for Arctic wildlife should not be sacrificed for the sake of oil company profits and a year's worth of national energy -- especially when we could save even more oil through a modest increase in fuel economy standards.

I am especially outraged that House and Senate leaders are planning to attach Arctic Refuge drilling to the upcoming budget bill. The fate of America's premiere wildlife refuge should be decided by an open debate and an up-or-down vote -- not by a legislative ploy. Congress does not have a mandate to sacrifice the Arctic Refuge, and I will hold you accountable for your vote and your stewardship of this irreplaceable natural treasure. According to the Congressional Budget Office's estimate (obtained from their website), the leasing program proposed by the President would net approximately $2 billion over the 2007 - 2009 period. The long term environmental cost will far outweigh the profits.

Again, I urge you to oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in whatever manner the issue may arise: as part of an energy bill or budget bill, or as a free-standing bill. ….Frances H. Coleman

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Hosting the Florida Sierra Executive Committee (which meets five times a year) has always been a pain (like herding cats) - and for some years now our group has avoided the chore by volunteering at the fall conference. This last year that option was not available so the January 2005 meeting was ours.

Drs Bob and Paul
taken by Frances Coleman

Our group is the smallest of Florida Sierra's seventeen groups (each of which must take a turn providing a meeting place, lodging, etc.) so we knew it was a lot of work for a small number of volunteers.

The best of all possible arrangements was set up; we didn't rely on any one person to do it all; there was a volunteer(s) for all the different times and major chores. Gail Bond did virtually all the organizing - countless hours of email and phone time. Friday afternoon and evening bode to be a wicked experience with Sierrans arriving anywhere from 4 until past midnight and needing help and golf cart transportation by the Scouts - Jenny Jacobs, Gail Bagley and Al Greulich were gracious and efficient. On Saturday Bob Taylor, Paul Anderson and Frances Coleman were there before breakfast to set up the meeting area and handle problems - Gail Bagley reappeared to finish registration. Bob, Paul and Frances stayed for all the meetings and meals; new talents were revealed as the Drs Bob and Paul washed dishes, swept and mopped!

With a little luck we won't have to host again for several years but we can do it - and well - if we have to! ....Frances H. Coleman

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At our January meeting redesigning the newsletter ignited lively discussion. Out of left field a loose consensus formed around the ancient island concept. Our area is unique as the "oldest land" in Florida with flora and fauna (developing over milllennia in isolation) found nowhere else in the world. We would be really missing a golden opportunity if we failed to capitalize on what makes us special and failed to develop appropriate educational symbols. Is there an artist out there who would like to help? ...Frances H. Coleman

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Does that title sound like 'pie in the sky'? With the gerrymandering of election districts, it is the norm for every incumbent running for re-election to win. No one who lives in the real world will ever say that's because they're all doing a good job. Realists know it is a result of the legislators redrawing their own district lines. The districts, many of contorted shape, contain overwhelmingly high concentrations of voters registered to one party. The result: no real competition between the parties and government becomes increasingly lop-sided.

Traditionally and constitutionally, every ten years, the Florida Legislature is required to reapportion the Congressional and legislative seats. If the Legislature is controlled by the Democrats, the districts are drawn to maximize the number of 'safe' seats for the Democrats. If the Republicans control the State House, they work the districts to their advantage.

This is not just a Florida problem. In California the Republican governor is working to change the manner of redistricting and is being resisted by the Democratically controlled legislature. Remember the truism: Absolute power corrupts.

How can this subversion of democracy be made right? The Campaign for Florida's Future has an ambitious goal of getting three amendments to the state constitution passed in the 2006 election:

  • The first would create an independent, bi-partisan commission to draw Congressional districts and Florida House and Senate district lines.
  • The second would create standards governing the reqpportionment process. Standards would include the consideration of geographic boundaries and protection of existing communities.
  • The third would accelerate the process by mandating implementation by the 2008 election if the first two pass in 2006.

Getting this done will be hard because incumbent legislators will bring all their power to bear against it. But, if we who care about fair elections mobilize to get petitions signed, we can do it. Call me to get a petition or pick one up at the February meeting. ....Frances H. Coleman

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FLEXCOM Business

Susie Caplowe, Sierra Lobbyist, discusses legislative priorities with Bob Taylor and Paul Anderson at the January Flexcom. Each year before the session the Florida Sierra Executive Committee attempts to give direction to our lobbyist. Realistically, when the bills start flying, our efforts may have to be redirected.

picture by Frances Coleman

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masthead picture: FLEXCOM meeting , published with permission
Copyright © 2003, Frances Coleman, All Rights Reserved

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