Meetings, protest planned about spraying on lake

OKEECHOBEE — Those concerned about the use of chemical herbicides to control invasive aquatic plants on Lake Okeechobee will have opportunities this week to learn more and to voice their opinions.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) invites the public to provide input on the development of a management plan for Lake Okeechobee’s fish, wildlife and habitat. This plan will guide the FWC’s management on the lake. Public participation is essential to the responsible management of Florida’s natural resources.

All public meetings will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on the following dates and locations:
• Tuesday, Feb. 18 — Okeechobee County Civic Center, 1750 U.S. 98 North in Okeechobee;
• Thursday, Feb. 20 — South Florida Water Management District B-1 Auditorium, 3301 Gun Club Road in
West Palm Beach;
• Wednesday, Feb. 26 — John Boy Auditorium, 1200 W C Owen Ave in Clewiston.

These meetings will provide a brief update on current lake conditions and introduce the process and time line for the plan. There will also be opportunity for stakeholders to participate in drafting the FWC management plan. The public is encouraged to attend and will be provided ample opportunity for questions and feedback.

For more information, please contact FWC biologist Ryan Hamm at 904-424-4838 or LakeOkeechobee@MyFWC.com.

For general waterbody information, fishing forecasts, virtual tours, plant control operation schedules and annual workplans, boat ramp information, and more, visit the “What’s Happening on My Lake” website at MyFWC.com/Lake.

Anglers to protest spraying
Lake Okeechobee area residents who oppose the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s use of chemical herbicides to control invasive aquatic vegetation on the big lake are also planning a protest on Feb. 22 on the Herbert Hoover Dike, 600 Hoover Dike Road.

The protest will start at 8 a.m.

Guest speakers will start at 10 a.m. Speakers include professional fishermen, environmentalists and others. Scheduled speakers include Scott Martin, Brandon Metlock, Chris Wittman of Captains for Clean Water, Scott Wilson, retired turtle farmer Jim Watt, Alan Stewart, Steve Godley, Michael Lindel, Virgil Lindsey, Cody Duncan and Vik Chhabra.

Volunteers will provide free airboat rides so those in attendance can see the conditions firsthand.

“The FWC is poisoning our waterways throughout the State of Florida, and we are tired of the spraying,” stated protest organizer Jason Blair. “We had a very successful turnout at our first protest in Okeechobee, and I am planning another at the Hubert Hoover Dike in Clewiston on Saturday, Feb., 22 during the Major Fishing League tournament. I will be reaching out to the local VFW to have a chicken barbecue the day of the protest. I’m asking all birdwatchers, duck hunters, anglers and general public to attend. We had a ton of media coverage at the last protest and want to get national attention at this event. The people of Florida must fight back against the poisoning of our waters!”

The City of Clewiston has offered a stage and PA system for the protest.

The controversial Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) policy of using chemical herbicides to control invasive aquatic plants has drawn complaints from boaters and fishermen for years. In early 2019, after more than more than 176,000 people signed the “Stop the State-Sanctioned Poisoning of Our Lakes and Rivers” petition on change.org, FWC temporarily paused the spray program and conducted public meetings. Thousands of anglers turned out for the meetings, with the vast majority of participants calling for limits on use of chemical herbicides and more use of mechanical harvesting. The fishermen also called for more oversight of the contractors who do the spraying.

When the spraying resumed, some anglers took to social media, posting videos of the spray boats and photos of native plants, animals and fish they say were killed or injured by the chemicals.

FWC’s website, myfwc.com, includes the spraying plans in their “What’s happening on my lake?” page.

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