Wildlife declining in Big Cypress National Preserve

WEST PALM BEACH — The decline of Florida panthers, deer and other native wildlife in the Big Cypress National Preserve was highlighted by several speakers at the May 7 meeting of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Due to the concerns about COVID-19, participants gathered online via Zoom.

Aliese Priddy said her property borders Big Cypress National Preserve. She said she is concerned as to how Big Cypress National Preserve is being managed. “We manage our property to remove exotic vegetation,” she said. “We use prescribed burning. I don’t see that happening in Big Cypress.”

She blamed the falling panther population in the Big Cypress on poor land management. “If we can manage our property with the limited funds we have, I know the government should be able to do that also with Big Cypress National Preserve,” she said.

“I spend a majority of my free time in Big Cypress,” said Mike Melton. “It’s a very sad state of affairs. South of Tamiamai Trail has no mammals. There has been a gross mismanagement of Big Cypress.” He said there are areas where melaleuca trees have taken over. Pythons are killing game. Funding should be increased to address the land that should be managed and closer oversight and accountability is needed, he stated.

Harry Pickering of the Glades Conservation Sportsman’s Club said the recently published Florida deer study showed the effects of high water levels on deer mortality. He said there are particular concerns about how and when the water will move west into Big Cypress as part of the Western Everglades Restoration Project (WERP). It must not be permitted to reach dangerous depths during fawning season and fawn rearing season, he added.

“Use science, and not politics, to form policy,” said Mike Elfenbein. He contended that science indicates elevated water levels will have negative consequences for deer and for the panthers which rely on deer.

The budgets for prescribed fire and plant management are insufficient, he said.

“Ninety-nine percent of the preserve remains improperly managed,” said Mr. Elfenbein. “We are running out of time. Big Cypress is dying. The federal agencies responsible for its management are going to be responsible for its death.”

John Bob Carlos said the changes to Big Cypress Preserve planned in WERP, increasing the water level by 18 to 24 inches, “is going to cause major loss.” He said he has lived in the preserve all his life. “In recent years I have seen such a major loss of wildlife. I have seen more melaluecua.” Birds and animals have disappeared, he continued.

“In healing the Everglades, don’t exclude the people, the indigenous people, the Gladesmen,” he told the task froce.

Travis Thompson said invasive plants and animals must be managed in the preserve. “If we are not committed to putting money into fighting those invasives, that is really concerning,” he stated.

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