Uproar about aquatic spraying unaffected by halt; environmentalists, sportsmen express joy clouded by skepticism

OKEECHOBEE — A virtual celebration has broken out in the internet forums of many different groups concerned about the aquatic spraying that’s been taking place on lakes around Florida over the suspension of the state’s program beginning next week. There’s been an especially joyous reaction in this region, with sportsmen and clean water advocates expressing relief at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s announcement Wednesday night.

But there’s also not a little bit of skepticism mixed in, still.

Ramon Iglesias, co-founder of Anglers for Lake O and general manager at Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort in Clewiston, was among the first to break the news on Facebook Jan. 23 that beginning next week, spraying for aquatic vegetation is being halted temporarily by order of the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation.

During that pause, announced the letter from divisional Director Kipp Frohlich, “staff will work to set up meetings where we can collect public comment regarding aquatic plant management.” A call to Mr. Frohlich Thursday morning was not returned by deadline.

Debbie Culp of the Florida Clean Water Network — a watchdog association of more than 300 groups and thousands of people who support and call for vigorous enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act — called it “great news, one big step in the right direction, and a long time coming.”

She posted thanks on the group’s Facebook page to several people in particular for their advocacy, “carrying the torch in enlightening FWC and increasing public awareness”: Pastor Scott Wilson of Williston; James R. Abernethy of North Palm Beach, a professional photographer and ocean/clean water activist who calls himself a “marine life saver”; Jim Watt of Jupiter, a self-described “wildlife guy” who argues that the state’s herbicide spraying program is violating Florida’s own environmental laws; Mr. Iglesias and Ms. Martin of Clewiston; and the 172,000 people who signed Mr. Abernethy’s petition on change.org titled “Stop the State-Sanctioned Poisoning of Our Lakes and Rivers.”

Ms. Culp singled out Dr. Jack Rudloe of Panacea “for first showing the dangers in glyphosate on sealife and bonding of other chemicals to glyphosate that can increase harm.” That chemical is the main active ingredient in the solution being sprayed on the lake vegetation.

Mr. Wilson posted: “Although I do appreciate the many thank-yous from around the state … great people have been in this battle for decades.” He also shared reservations: “There are things that don’t add up. ALL mechanical harvesters have been ordered to load up and be off all lakes by end of day Friday. Why would mechanical harvesting be stopped? These are the guys actually doing things right.”

He further claimed that “it has been suggested that this might be a public appeasement while more funding is secured,” adding, “This will be a time-consuming transition.”

Mr. Watt, as well, cautioned those celebrating the FWC move on his page: “Might be just a ruse to quiet us down. Don’t trust ’em. They (spraying contractors) are not walking away from cash cow this easy. We all need to show up in Gainesville in full force.” He was referring to the FWC’s next scheduled meeting of the seven commissioners that will take place in Gainesville Feb. 20-21.

Mr. Iglesias, though, does not believe funding has dried up or that spraying is being halted because of fishing tournaments and accompanying publicity, or that it’s just a ruse.

“The reason I don’t think that’s the case is that I think we’ve done our due diligence and made our case. They (the FWC) realize that there are problems. … For them to say, ‘We’re not going to spray the entire state,’ tells me that they’re listening to our message and they realize that they do have some work to do,” he said.

Mr. Iglesias said he expected “they’re going to sit down and … meet with us, and they’re going to reevaluate their program and possibly figure out there are ways for them to do it better.”

He explained: “We can’t stop spraying 100 percent, but if they can develop a program where they incorporate mechanical harvesting quite a bit more — yes, it’s going to be more expense, but if we’re all fighting for clean water, that’s one place to start. Number two: spraying smart, meaning we don’t spray during the spawn times, we don’t spray around beds, and we do better selective target spraying.

“Understand, this is a process to try to make the program better, not to make it go away,” Mr. Iglesias finished.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment