South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Working Group

Annual Report 1996



[1996 Accomplishments] [1996 Initiatives] [1997 Goals]

a. Ecosystem Problems and Restoration Objectives

Components of the hydrologic cycle that have been altered in the Big Cypress Basin include water levels, surface-water inundation, and flow. Construction of the Tamiami Trail in 1928, the first east-west road across the basin, altered the natural timing and distribution of surface-water flow. Although the basin initially did not have development pressures as did the eastern Everglades, recent urban and agricultural expansion has caused the lowering of water tables north of Big Cypress National Preserve (BCNP) and most likely is affecting the hydrologic balance in the basin.

Water quality within the BCNP is generally considered to be excellent. However, runoff from citrus and other farming operations upstream of the Preserve is a concern. Indian lands of the Miccosukee and Seminole Tribes, an important component of the basin, receive surface water that is contaminated with high concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus, heavy metals, and other pollutants. These pollutants are generally attributed to intensive upstream agricultural development and other anthropogenic activities. This pollution has resulted in contaminated fish and wildlife, which tribal members consume as part of their traditional subsistence hunting and fishing lifestyle. The pollution has also resulted in conversion of wetlands to areas lacking the natural plant and animal diversity of the past.

The subsurface strata affects the surface flora and fauna through contributing nutrients and ground water. Subsurface investigations are required to provide the necessary data to understand the subsurface stratigraphy and its ground water contributions to the southern Florida ecosystem. Man's effect on the ground water system needs to be documented.

Vegetation in the Big Cypress Basin has not been substantially altered compared to other subregions, but is threatened by a variety of exotic pest plants that have invaded the subregion. Melaleuca, in particular, now occupies about 6 percent of the BCNP and resists control efforts. This and other invasive species may lower the water table and hasten extinction of native species. Non-native fishes have colonized natural and disturbed habitats during the past three decades. Documented impacts include predation, nest-site competition, and habitat disturbance. It seems likely more exotic species will invade with unknown ecological consequences.

Principal threats to survival of the endangered Florida panther are habitat loss, automobile traffic, and inbreeding. Surviving numbers may be too few for a successful recovery program without genetic restoration. With the exception of the well-studied panther and white-tailed deer, there is only limited information on the biology or population ecology of most native mammals. In addition, the ecological consequences of a population of introduced feral pigs have not been measured.

The total number of wading birds nesting in the Big Cypress and Everglades basins has declined by more than 95 percent from peak estimates of nesting birds in the 1 930s. Impacts of altered hydropatterns include (1 ) reduced number of birds at tempting to nest, (2) relocated colonies, (3) changed timing of nesting, and (4) fewer years of successful nesting.

Continued loss of floral and faunal diversity from upland communities is of great concern. Though issues of biodiversity are frequently discussed in relation to wetlands, many of the known and imminently threatened losses of species in the basin appear to be associated with uplands.


b. 1996 Accomplishments

Involving the Public

Distributed information to facilitate new development that complies with the guiding principles established by the Florida Legislature to protect the area's sensitive environmental resources.

Ecologic Programs

Introduced four female Texas Cougars in BCNP to augment the genetic viability of the Florida Panther (total of eight released - two in Fakahatchee State Preserve and two in Everglades National Park).

Analyzed stratigraphic core test for lithologies, paleontology and permeabilities. The data allows for a more precise delineation of the subsurface geological units. Planned for and began core drilling at sites deemed important to understanding the system.

Finalized the Florida/Arizona Land Exchange resulting in the acquisition of 108,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands in southwest Florida. The lands serve as additions to Big Cypress National Preserve and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, and creates the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

Upgraded all water stage recorders within the Preserve to electronic format. This will improve the reliability and accessibility of the data. It also allows integration of data collected by ENP and elsewhere for the purpose of improving information availability for decision-makers.

Conducted a baseline monitoring study focusing on soils, hydrology, and vegetation as part of the Southern Golden Gate Estates Restoration Project. A team was created to review the project and facilitate future permitting requirements and public review.

Completed initial treatment of melaleuca trees on 80,000 acres (3+ million stems).

Water Management

Completed the first Water Resources Management Plan for the Preserve. This Plan provides an in-depth analysis of water resources issues and the development of an action plan to address them.

Restored 1.5 miles of Turner River Canal as part of a FDOT mitigation project by filling in the canal with material from the adjacent levee.

Installed eleven culverts under Loop Road within the Preserve in order to improve natural sheet flow.

Adopted Water Quality Standards for Big Cypress Seminole Reservation.

Executed Agreement with SFWMD implementing Water Rights Compact, providing for water quality, water supply and flood control plans for the Big Cypress and Brighton Reservations. Continued to work to implement monitoring requirements of Agreement and determine Water Entitlement.

c. 1996 Initiatives

Land Acquisition

Initiated acquisition of the Okaloacoochee Slough, a 22,500-acre parcel at the headwaters of Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve and BCNP, with closing anticipated during the winter of 1996-97. This diverse system contains over 11,000 acres of undisturbed wetlands, as well as prime habitat for the endangered Florida panther.

Ecologic Programs

Initiated a comprehensive ecologic assessment of the existing and proposed publicly owned conservation lands as part of the development of the Big Cypress Basin Watershed Plan. The primary goals are to assess and appraise the existing ecological value of the conservation lands, and develop criteria to evaluate alternative strategies 36 proposed as a part of the watershed plan.

Conducted a Big Cypress Basin Science Workshop which will contribute toward producing a Big Cypress Basin Science Plan.

Began to focus project goals on evaluating the impact and importance of the "River of Sand' on the subsurface system. This is important to gaining an understanding of ecosystem problems.

Initiated the Big Cypress Basin Workshop Steering Committee that will eventually produce a Science Plan for Southwest Florida.

Involving the Public

Initiated, with community organizations, the process to designate U.S. 41 as a Scenic Highway.

Eradication of Invasive Exotics

Initiated a habitat restoration project resulting in control of exotic Melaleuca trees within an area exceeding 120,000 acres within the BCNP.

Water Management

Initiated process to pass Survey Resolution by Interior Subcommittee authorizing initiation of a Reconnaissance Study of Seminole Water Conservation Plan.

Lush pockets of bromeliads and wild orchids are common in the Fakahatchee Strand wetlands.

Initiated design of BMPs for the Big Cypress Reservation.

Began work to design and construct Water Conservation Plan.

d. 1997 Goals

Involving the Public

Distribute information to foster new development that complies with the guiding principles established by the Florida Legislature to protect the area's sensitive environmental resources.

Water Management

Complete construction of Lucky Lake Water Control Structure to enhance ecologic functions of the Florida Panther National Refuge.

Ecologic Programs

Augment the Florida panther population and breeding capabilities by returning two captive males to the wild.

Inventory current science programs in the basin as a first step in development of a science plan for the Big Cypress Basin.

Complete the ecological assessment and the hydrologic model development for the Big Cypress Basin Watershed Plan.

Analyze existing cores and drill new cores to further delineate the subsurface units. Data will be collected to begin determining the potential for ground water from these formations affecting Florida Bay. The analyses will include seismic surveys and ground-water chemistry.

Begin nutrient threshold work for native Cypress areas on Big Cypress Reservation.

Eradication of Invasive Exotics

Continue and expand habitat restoration by controlling exotic melaleuca in the Florida Panther National Refuge.

Coordinate on exotics control and removal program.

Water Management

Implement the management practices outlined in the Florida Panther National Preserve's Water Resources Management Plan.

Install twenty-five additional culverts under Loop Road to continue the sheet flow restoration project.

Initiate designs of BMP's for Seminole Big Cypress Reservation.

Design and begin land acquisition for water quality improvements in the western basins.

Conduct baseline water quality and quantity modelling on Big Cypress Reservation.

Negotiate landowners agreement regarding monitoring along border between Big Cypress Reservation and Big Cypress Preserve Addition.

Land Acquisition

Step up land acquisition efforts on Belle Meade, Fakahatchee Strand and Southern Golden Gate Estates projects provided that Farm Bill funding becomes available.

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