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


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January 2003 Newsletter Articles

Wetlands on Slime Ponds - A Conservationist's Nightmare
Invasive Species Will Take Over Unless We Act Now
Comprehensive Plan Challenge Update
To Make the World a Better Place....

Wetlands on Slime Ponds - A Conservationist's Nightmare

Whenever a conservationist recognizes both sides of a polarized issue he (or she) will be condemned by both sides on the issue. We are exploring such an issue here - Wetland Mitigation on Clay Settling Areas (CSAs) can be the issue that scuttles phosphate mining in southwest Florida and saves the lower Peace River and Charlotte Harbor. Alternately, it can be the issue that refines and updates reclamation on roughly 20,000 to 120,000 acres of CSAs and provides undevelopable habitat that stands a chance of being gifted to the public. Old clay settling areas in Polk and Hillsborough Counties and new mines in Hardee, Highlands, and Glades Counties could be affected.

Slime ponds, as everyone used to call them, are the pits that contain the clay and water waste product from washing and sifting the phosphate ore. They could have a consistency ranging from chalky water to a hard greasy clay. A kerosene like odor from flotation agents used to increase the capture of finer particles of phosphate can permeate the area and anything in it including fish. If you were to get some of this suspended clay on yourself, you would understand the name "slime." Over time these ponds were intended to lose water and consolidate enough to support grazing cattle or some other agricultural activity. Often, low areas within a settling pond would hold water long enough to grow wetland vegetation of variable value as habitat. The use of some of these ponds for bass fishing, duck and alligator hunting and bird watching attests to success of the more observable habitat functions such as providing isolation from predators and nutrient availability which supports food sources for some fish and wildlife. Still, no matter how nice these CSAs could be made to look, no one claims that these Clay Settling Areas could maintain or improve the water quality and the biological systems present at the site prior to commencement of mining as currently required by the rules . From a purely academic standpoint, CSAs are made up with industrial by-products for soils and water whose quality has been impacted by components exposed within the native soil by the mining and refining and industrial agents used in the refining process. To make matters worse, their hydroperiods range from permanently saturated to occasionally dampened with each rain. These hydroperiods are unlike the annual hydroperiods that were a major factor in creating native soils and ecosystems. Despite these variations from our native wetland conditions, there are some surprisingly appealing and apparently successful habitats created in some non-mandatory above grade CSAs.

Tim King, Reclamation Biologist Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and others study the evolving habitats on CSAs at Tenoroc Management Area on old mined lands donated to the state. Tim and others have advocated design improvements which could optimize the water quality, quantity, timing and habitats generated by slime ponds particularly if the regulators and miners were to assist in the design and creation of more environmentally functional basins. Some improvements are being built and tested now.

CSA, Tenoroc, maple and sweetgum
CSA, Tenoroc, maple and sweetgum in a 22 year old elevated CSA at Tenoroc--while looking good does not function as a natural wetland. Photo by Tim King

There are two camps on this issue. One is rightfully attempting to stop the damage caused by mining within the Peace River Basin and to protect the Charlotte Harbor Marine Estuary through enforcement of the regulation mentioned above. The other, having impressive political clout, a "long relationship" with the state regulators, and the largest most experienced law firm in the state, is attempting to make this destructive "temporary use of the land" less damaging while supporting economic and agronomic values of the phosphate mining industry. The latest twist on this issue is their application to get mitigation credit for wetlands on slime ponds.
...Richard Coleman

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Invasive Species Will Take Over America's Wildlife Refuges Unless We Act Now

Marian Ryan summaried a report from the National Wildlife Refuge Association (October 2002) that sounded the alarm on invasive species: insects, plants, and animals that wreak havoc on native ecosystems. Many of the invasives have found their way here through international trade, travel or even ill conceived government programs. Others originate inside the U.S. but have spread to different regions, choking out the natives in their path. The article, Silent Invasion, October 2002 is online on the National Wildlife Refuge Association's website.

To combat the growing problem the National Wildlife Refuge Association is urging Congress and the Administration to provide $150 million over five years to implement this three-part strategy against invasive species on our national wildlife refuges:

  1. Train and mobilize 5,000 volunteers to assist refuges.
  2. Deploy 50 rapid response strike teams.
  3. Implement the Management Plan of the National Invasive Species Council.

If preventative action is not taken now, the cost will double or even triple every year.

What can you do?

Write or call your congressman and senators and urge them to support this three-part strategy. Learn about invasive exotics in your area. Remove them from your yard; donít buy them from local nurseries. To learn more go to the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Councilís website.

Support full funding for conservation land acquisition and land management programs on federal, state and local levels.

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Comprehensive Plan Challenge Update

The Polk Group is continuing its efforts to challenge the changes in Polk Countyís Comprehensive Plan that opens up at least 21 additional sites for power plants. We have argued that Polk County submitted no data or analysis to justify the change. The risk of air quality non-attainment increases with the siting of each new plant that falls within the airshed of metropolitan areas of the County. The risk of increased health effects goes up with the increases in the levels of ozone. Polk County is most at risk for high ozone levels. We are attempting to settle the case in a manner that will safeguard the environment and the health of Polk County citizens. A hearing is tentatively scheduled for January.
...John Ryan

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To Make the World a Better Place....

Florida Sierra awarded Karen Kaplan the Panther Award at the Annual Conference in November. This award is presented to a group member who has done outstanding conservation work on a project within the group's area; the chapter presents very few of these awards.

Karen started and lead the renovation of the Rotary Park Community Center in Winter Haven. When she began the park had a run down building, no landscaping and a trash-filled sink hole pond.

She got the neighborhood and city commission behind the project and involved her middle school students and civic volunteers. They began by planting a butterfly garden and cleaning up the pond. Now the park has landscaping (primarily with native plants), habitat for attracting appropriate wildlife and a remodeled recreation building.

She is an inspiration to us all!
...Richard Coleman



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