Miccosukee Tribe: ‘Single species management of the Everglades must end’

THE EVERGLADES — As the rainy season raises water levels in the Everglades, once again the Miccosukee Tribe is concerned its cultural lands may be flooded to protect the nesting grounds of sparrows — sparrows that might not even be there anymore.

Federal protection for the Cape Sable seaside sparrow (CSSS) prioritizes a single species to the detriment of other endangered species as well as to the culture and way of life of Native Americans, according to Billy Cypress, chairman of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.

In a June 22 letter to Mary B. Neumayr, chairwoman of the Council of Environmental Quality in Washington, D.C., Cypress explained that limits on the flow of water under the Tamiami Trail to protect the nesting grounds of sub-population A of the CSSS causes water to back up north of the trail, damaging tribal lands.

“Because of the jeopardy opinion for the CSSS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recommended Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives (RPAs) that are neither reasonable nor prudent. Their discriminatory water management actions have flooded and degraded hundreds of thousands of acres of Tribal Everglades in Water Conservation Area (WCA) 3A that are vital to the culture and way of life of the Miccosukee Tribe.” He said the closure of the S-12A and S-12B water control structures causes high water levels, which pose a threat the health and safety of the Miccosukee community and has brought the snail kite and wood stork to the verge of extinction.

“Sadly, a vast area of the Everglades (approximately 915 square miles) which the government promised to preserve in a natural state in perpetuity for the Miccosukee Tribe, has been severely degraded. The closure of these two water control structures has resulted in the flooding of tribal lands in WCA-3, and often results in discharges to Florida’s coastal estuaries that are now experiencing harmful algal blooms. The FWC RPAs also result in overdrainage of western Everglades National Park (ENP) and causes hyper-saline conditions in Florida Bay, which is being starved of fresh water. Each year the FWS has monitored the steady decline in the number of (CSSS) birds in sub-population A. The secretary of the interior previously determined that sub-population A was not to be designated as a ‘critical habitat’ under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The final rule, published in the Federal Register, Vol. 72, No. 214, Nov. 6, 2007, states in several places: ‘the exclusion of critical habitat from the area of subpopulation A is expected to reduce or eliminate potential conflicts between hydrologic restoration efforts, including CERP, and the designated critical habitat.’ However, the FWS RPAs continue to require the yearly closure of the S-12s to benefit sub-population A, wreaking havoc on the entire ecosystem from Florida Bay to Lake Okeechobee.”

This expensive and destructive policy has been a failure for the CSSS and for the tribe, he notes.

“Spending approximately $1 million a year, CSSS monitoring efforts have confirmed the steady decline in the number of sparrow despite the FWC destructive RPAs. This year the helicopter survey indicated ZERO sparrows remain in subpopulation area A. Desperate to find even a single sparrow, an extensive ground search was conducted. The researchers claim to have found a single nest with three birds! This spring the Moon Fish wildfire burned 25,834 acres of Everglades National Park, much of it was located in sub-population area A. Whether the remaining three birds are even alive is in serious doubt.”

Holding water north of Tamiami Trail — a man made berm that cuts through the southern Everglades from Tampa to Miami — is damaging to the environment both north and south of the road, he explained. The water control structures were meant to allow water to pass under the road. But much of the wet season two of the structures remain closed.

“Each year, there is vast destruction of Florida Bay due to hyper-saline water and the permanent loss of tree islands (home to the endangered wood stork and snail kite — both of which are in their designated critical habitat) is destroying habitat for dozens of threatened and endangered species,” he continued.

“It is time for this discrimination to end. All of South Florida is suffering from the mismanagement of our resources.”

Cypress said for many years, state and federal agencies have tried to resolve this issue with FWC.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District have made numerous attempts to work around the closure of the S-12A and S-12B water control structures, yet the environmental damage to the Everglades continue every year as the water levels in WCA-3A drown our tree islands and kill the wildlife. South Florida is again entering the wet season, wawwter levels are again above the approved regulation schedule (rising rapidly), and once again the S-12A and S-12B gates remain closed. Time is of the essence to correct this injustice.”

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