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

   

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June 2002 Newsletter Articles

Kissimmee River Restoration Update
Mining Ruins Farmland - No Duh!
Create a Brush Pile in Your Yard

Kissimmee River Restoration Update

The Kissimmee River Restoration is the first successful river restoration in the history of mankind. Still incomplete, it is an experiment in a very complicated ecosystem restoration. The Upper and Lower Kissimmee River Basins, which are composed of 40 square miles of river/flood plain ecosystem (including 43 miles of meandering river channel and 27,000 acres of wetlands), benefit over 340 fish and wildlife species, including the endangered bald eagle, wood stork, snail kite and others. This is an ongoing restoration project that the Chapter, including the Polk Group, has supported since the mid 1970s. The major problems are to keep the Corps of Engineers on track and schedule with the letting of contracts and funding matches with the South Florida Water Management District. Coordination of various well-intentioned agencies is a constant battle having to do with dozens of individual projects both in the Upper Basin and Lower Basin. Water supply issues are increasing in both basins forcing competition between cleanups of monocultures in the Upper Basin and restoration of wetlands and the filling of the C-38 channel in the Lower Basin. Nutrient loads (phosphates and nitrates) are an increasing concern as are their impact on habitat. Finally, keeping Congress focused on ongoing authorized projects is always a PR job.

An Agency Working Committee involving all the state and federal agencies who are working on the various issues mentioned above has recently been reactivated. The representatives to the committee began talking about the above mentioned conflicts and problems in a meeting Feb. 1st. I kept their interest up and pushed them into challenging discussions with reasonable goals. Their enthusiasm skyrocketed and a "can do" attitude prevailed with qualifications. They all agreed that they would only continue to meet providing progress was being made. It is critical to build on this momentum because the problems involved could diminish the gains already achieved in this ongoing Kissimmee River Restoration.

During the April 3rd meeting three major points were made. First, water will not be a limiting factor in the development of Florida! Only the price will change over time as we utilize the cheaply acquired ground and surface waters of the state. We have been observing the squabble over water permits for the use of the last "cheap" water. Ultimately, we'll depend on reverse osmosis or some other much more expensive technology to produce water. It will cost perhaps ten times as much as you may be paying at this time. What we pay now as an average municipal water bill is perhaps $10 to $20 for 2 to 4 people. We should not expect $100 to $200 to deter people paying thousands per month to care about a few extra hundred. The evidence is that people will flock to the sunshine state and especially to the more populated areas. Second, recent studies indicate that intensity of use such as in Orlando, Miami and Tampa actually draw more people who see the cultural advantages as outweighing the inconvenience of increased density and intensity of use. Third, new and potentially more potent invasive plants are growing in the altered lands along the Kissimmee River. They are much more of a threat than previous invaders and no particular attention has been paid to them. Some of the land managers on the Kissimmee Working Committee believe that we are rapidly approaching an uncontrollable growth rate for these new invasive species.

I do not expect rule making or legal action from either the Sierra Club or this Working Group. I expect mostly lobbying, data gathering and interpretation of that data followed by logical adjustments in goals for restoration or management of water or nutrients to sustain those goals during this political year. The Kissimmee Restoration Committee of the Florida Chapter will continue supporting acquisition of lands and the conversion of the C-38 canal into thriving wetlands. You should plan to take an excursion into the once channelized Kissimmee River Basin and see for yourselves. Progress is often reported on the public and private TV news.

What can our members who read about this issue do, specifically, to help with the Kissimmee River Restoration? Most importantly, keep reminding the politicians, state and federal, that central Florida's Kissimmee River is the first restoration of a channelized river system ever in the history of mankind. Remind them that the needs were well assessed and the plans were well thought out. The authorization and funding (50/50) was put into place and the successful restoration experiment is well underway. It is proceeding as planned and should be a beautiful showcase for complicated environmental restoration now and an even better demonstration by its completion in 2010. We can occasionally arrange excursions for legislators to show how well this unique restoration is proceeding. There are always new challenges in any environmental restoration; the restoration of a major subtropical river system in Florida will be no exception. The continued support of legislators and the public is recognized and appreciated.

For additional information or to help the with the restoration of the Kissimmee River, check the FL Chapter's Web Site or call Richard Coleman at 863-956-3771 or write 203 Lake Pansy NW, Winter Haven, FL. 33881.
...Richard Coleman, Issue Chair

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Mining Ruins Farmland - No Duh!

A presentation to Hardee County Commissioners caused gasps during a meeting in Wauchula on May 3rd, when consultants for the Central Florida Regional Planning Council showed them before-and-after maps of the 20,000 acre Ona site that IMC Phosphate proposes to mine.

The report map series shows that the proposed mining site is currently dominated by soils that are suitable for farming. Post-mining, those lands would be suitable only for "pasture, rangeland and woodlands".

The dramatic change occurs because phosphate mining excavates a mixture of natural soils and replaces it with sand or clay. This change in the soil characteristics of mine sites could permanently severely limit agriculture for the estimated 27 percent of the county that either has been or could be mined.

The report, done by the CFRPC for the county, was produced by applying the NRCS's soil rating index to the post-mining landscape. The index classifies various soil types on a scale of 1 to 10. The higher the number, the more limited the farming. Soils rated higher than 5 are considered generally unsuitable for farming.

The soil index is relied on nationwide for farm planning and tax assessments. A change in soil quality has tax revenue implications for the county. 16,000 acres of IMC's Ona site now rate 3 or 4 on the soil scale, but after mining, only 2,000 acres would score that well. The remaining 14,000 acres would be reduced to class 6 or 7.

Loss of high quality farm land would strike another economic blow to rural Hardee County, which is one of the poorest in the state.

The county will be voting whether or not to approve the mining as a Development of Regional Impact in the near future.
...Marian Ryan

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Create a Brush Pile in Your Yard

Wildlife needs cover for protection against the elements and predators. Different species have different cover requirements. The ideal wildlife habitat area will include plants ranging in size and density from ground cover to tall, mature trees, and include both evergreen and deciduous species. Densely branched shrubs, hollow logs, rock piles, stone walls, evergreens, grasses and water also provide cover for many species. Creating a brush pile is another option.

A well structured brush pile is easy to create and can result in a unique ecosystem for your yard. Find a remote corner to build your brush pile away from traffic areas. Start by stacking larger tree limbs crosswise. Continue to build the brush pile to at least five feet across and three to five feet high using twiggy branches, broadleaf evergreen trimmings, woody plant trimmings, dry grasses, etc.. Let vines and grass grow up around the pile to enhance its appearance and give residents some privacy.

If you build it, they will come! This unique habitat can host a wide variety of insects, frogs, toads, lizards and snakes as well as small mammals and birds. Once established, the brush pile should not be disturbed. A word of caution: Children should be taught to deal with the brush pile and its inhabitants safely. Observation from a reasonable distance is the best way to enjoy the wild residents of the brush pile.
...Marian Ryan

   

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masthead picture: phosphate mining , published with permission
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