May 2002 Newsletter Articles
Green Swamp 2002 - A History and Update
The Florida Legislature recognized the significance of the Green Swamp and in 1974 designated approximately 187,000 acres in Lake and Polk Counties as an Area of Critical State Concern (ACSC). The Swamp contains the highest groundwater levels in Peninsular Florida (the Potentiometric High) that both protects and replenishes the Floridan Aquifer. Five rivers derive headwaters from the high, poorly drained plateau that defines the 544,000 acre Green Swamp Hydrologic Area. The retention of surface water for extended periods reduces downstream flooding and allows for slow percolation of surface water into the underlying aquifer. The Withlacoochee, Peace, Oklawaha, Kissimmee, and Hillsborough Rivers all flow from the Green Swamp, creating a mosaic of cypress swamps, hardwood forests and marshes, pine flatwoods and sandhills. One of Florida's largest remaining wilderness areas, it is host to abundant wildlife including many threatened and endangered species. The Swamp is known for its nesting sandhill cranes, r are wading birds, fox squirrels, black bears, and swallow-tailed kites.
Polk and Lake Counties passed several ordinances and adopted three sets of Comprehensive Plans between 1974 and 1991. The Green Swamp section of the 1991 plan was found to be in compliance by the Florida Department of Community Affairs in 1996 and challenges by private property owners and Sierra Club have been resolved. Polk County implemented provisions of the adopted Comprehensive Plan for the protection of the Green Swamp in 2000 through the adoption of Land Development Regulations (LDR's). Lake County's LDR's have still yet been accepted by the Dept. of Community Affairs. It appears that since the Green Swamp Field Office in Bartow, Polk County, was closed, certain development issues and other activities in the ACSC are being ignored. A major past and future threat to the Green Swamp's river systems would be the reintroduction of the "Submerged Lands Grab" legislation that failed in the 2000 session.
A new threat to the Swamp is the passage of a major transportation bill this past legislative session which gives new powers to Expressway Authorities. Considering that there have been attempts in the past two years to build toll roads through the Swamp, we must be vigilant about any new toll road proposals that would further fragment this major wildlife habitat area.
Opportunities for protection include the acquisition of additional Green Swamp lands through the CARL program (both fee and less than fee) and continued education of the public, agencies and elected officials. Also extreme low surface and ground water levels this year will force the water management district (SWFWMD) ACOE and FDEP to reconsider past ditch, dike and drainage projects in favor of restoration and retention.
A major acquisition occurred last year in the swamp. The Scanamerica Holdings Corporation property, now known as the Osprey Unit of the Hilochee Wildlife Management Area is a 6,000 plus acre tract that straddles 1-4 in Polk County between C.R. 557 and U.S. 27. Sierra Club lobbied long and hard to have this important wetland parcel acquired. It will be important for us to be involved in the land management plan development for this unit. The site once held one of the highest densities of nesting Sandhill Cranes in the southeastern U.S. Sand mining interests occupy another estimated 2,000 acres of land within and adjacent to the state-owned property. The state has the right of first refusal on these remaining lands and we will remind the state to purchase them once they become available.
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An Update on Bills Acted on by E-mail Tree
State Legislature-HB261 concerning turnpikes and roads and B715 concerning Billboards was passed by the Legislature
and was signed by Governor Bush. These were bills Sierra did not support. The Everglades Bill with King's amendment passed the Legislature at end of the regular session and at this writing I can find nothing on action or inaction by the Governor. Sierra's position on this bill was to ask the Governor to veto the bill, send it back to Legislature in their next (will it be the final?) session, and pass it without King's amendment, which would take away many of the rights of citizens to have a say in development and other issues. All of the environmental groups, other than Audubon, support Sierra's position. Nationally-Many calls were made for saving the Artic from oil drilling and we do thank Senators Graham and Nelson for their part in making this happen. Locally- We are receiving information on proposed changes in the comprehensive plan by County, plus information on proposed Reliant Power Plant.
If you want to take part in our Email Tree, and help make calls, etc. for local, state and national issues, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will pass on information as I receive it.
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The Green Horizon Land Trust
The Green Horizon Land Trust located in Lake Wales needs your help. The GHLT operates much as the nationally known Nature Conservancy except that it is smaller and focuses mainly on Polk County. Acquiring and preserving environmentally sensitive land as its main objective.
Last week the trust received a proposal from a donor to match up to $50,000 of new contributions to the trust between 1 April and 15 December, 2002.
If you know about the GHLT and have meant to join and contribute to the cause, now is the time to double your money. If you have never heard of this trust before but are intrigued with the idea of a local land trust, visit their web site or call executive director Luther Parrott at (863)678-1237 for more information. The extra cash will help purchase more Polk County wilderness, but more important, the new members will grow the support base. Annual dues start at $25 but any amount will be doubled. The address is: Green Horizon Land Trust, Box 2445, Lake Wales FL 33859-2445.
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