I have this dream that I am enjoying walking around in my garden, I look down, and there is a seventeen-foot python curled up under my house. Sounds ridiculous, but one day this may not be that far fetched.
This past week, the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) https://myfwc.com held their meeting at the Hutchinson Island Marriott, just over the Ernest Lyons Bridge from Sewall’s Point. One of the things they discussed was the overpopulation of Burmese Pythons that are ravaging native wildlife in Everglades National Park and other parts of South Florida.
I have been vaguely aware of this for years. My previous Sewall’s Point neighbor was a python enthusiast. Around 2012, he wrote TCPalm a letter to the editor in the python’s defense arguing that the Burmese Python did not bring itself to South Florida, people did! According to FWC pet pythons have been released since the 1960s but it was after Hurricane Andrew’s 1992 destruction that a breeding facility was destroyed, pythons escaped, the population exploded, and a breeding community arose.
I do believe “in all God’s Creatures,” but this is a nightmare-dynamic for Florida’s native wildlife. Public speakers noted Everglades National Park is “devoid of small mammals.” This is not an exaggeration, perhaps down 98%, and “small mammals” are not just what’s for dinner. Meals also include birds, eggs, bobcats, deer, alligators and who knows what else. Mr. Kipp Frohlich of FWC estimates a range from tens-of-thousands to over three-hundred-thousand snakes could be living in the Everglades. We really don’t know. One was even found in Florida Bay all curled up on a buoy. Oh yes, they can swim.
If I were a python and my friends and I had eaten everything down south, what would I do? I’d slither north…
Opossums, armadillos, and families of raccoons visit my yard a few times a week. ~For now…
Please see links to learn about what is being done to controll and educate ourselves on the python:
Division: Habitat and Species Conservation
Authors: Sarah Funck, Kristen Sommers, and Melissa Miller, Ph.D. Report date: July 2019
*Florida still allows breeders of Burmese Pythons in Florida, but they can only sell the animals outside of the state. All things considered, at the meeting, FWC Commissioner Gary Lester questioning the wisdom in this. I agree. Considering this is how pythons got out of control in the first place.
The Florida Channel videos of FWC meetings in Hutchinson Island; pythons: day 2:
“We must prioritize fish and wildlife habitat connectivity in future.” Manley Fuller, President, Florida Wildlife Federation, http://www.fwfonline.org
The Florida Wildlife Commission could have more authority to protect wildlife should Constitution Revision Commission proposal #48 be introduced on the 2018 ballot. This proposal, submitted by Cape Coral environmental legend, former service member, teacher and school principal, Mr Carl Veaux, would amend Section 9 of Article IV of the Florida constitution “to provide that the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shall exercise the regulatory and executive powers of the state with respect to habitats, including wildlife corridors…”
Full text proposal # 48: http://www.flcrc.gov/Proposals/Commissioner/2017/0048/ProposalText/Filed/HTML
Before I continue, I would like to state that I have sponsored Mr Veaux’s public proposal, #801227, that is one of thousands of proposals, many addressing wildlife and conservation issues, that were submitted to the Constitution Revision Commission, (CRC) and brought to the attention of the commissioners during the public hearings.
Mr Veaux, though, stood out. He was very persistent in his communications with me. I came to learn through his multiple calls and emails something that I had not listened hard enough to hear. When he sensed my fatigue, Mr Veaux informed me, “…don’t you know, I speak for the animals.” I woke up.
I am also supporting this proposal because there is a need to define “wildlife corridors,” and work through the controversial details. We must step up and do this, as a CRC body, because protecting wildlife corridors in our constitution is the most logical and effective way to address and direct wildlife conservation for future generations.
So just in case you do not know, what is a “wildlife corridor” is anyway…To animals, lands that are not connected for travel, territory, food, shelter, raising young, and “socializing” are not as valuable as those lands that are CONNECTED.
You may have been exposed to this terminology through “The Florida Wildlife Corridor?” In my opinion, The Florida Wildlife Corridor is the most impressive conservation effort happening in Florida today. You can learn about its ambitious goal to connect lands throughout Florida by clicking on the link above.
Years ago, I heard through the grape vine that Attorney General Pam Bondi likes this program. Although I have never asked her about it, every time I walk by her office in Tallahassee I notice the most beautiful eagle painting hanging in her office. A clue!
The Florida Wildlife Commission is part of the executive branch; they are an executive agency. Their board members are appointed by the governor; however they are very independent. Their mission is to “managing fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being and the benefit of people.”
So how would this work to affect the the constitution?
According to Florida Audubon, (http://fl.audubon.org) the “Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission operates with Florida Constitutional authority to regulate direct impacts to fish and wildlife including protected species. For state Threatened species, they can require minimization or mitigation for impacts to the habitat of species that are designated as state Threatened, but there is no comprehensive way for them to engage on threats to the habitat of not-yet-listed species, or impacts to habitat that individually may not cause take to threatened species, but cumulatively will cause tremendous harm.”
The protection of wildlife cannot be accomplished without protecting their habitat; this amendment would give FWC the authority they need to achieve the work they’ve been tasked with. And that authority would extend to corridors needed by certain species.
So the proposed change would simply allow, but not require, the seven person appointed FWC to establish rules and permits limiting impacts to habitat in the same way they currently establish limits on impacts to individual animals.
Proposal #48 belongs in the constitution. There will be a things to work out, there always are but I think “we’re covered.” When I asked Mr. Veaux, who is 79 years old, if he could come to Tallahassee to speak on the issue, he said not, “Tallahassee is a long way, but that should not be a problem the wild animals all over the state are spreading the word!”
Proposal #48 is sponsored in honor of Mr Carl Veaux
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch is a commissioner on the 2017/18 Constitution Revision Commissioner, *this proposal will go before the Executive Committee November 28th. You can support this proposal by writing the Executive Committee here: https://flcrc.gov/Committees/EX/
As the possibility of a direct hit from Hurricane Irma approaches, I can’t help but reflect.
Looking back, we see that it was the severe flooding and the hurricane season of 1947 that led Florida and the U.S. Government down the track to where we are today through the creation of the Florida Central and South Florida Flood Project, (CSFP).
In 1947, during the United States’ post World War II boom, Florida had a very active and destructive hurricane season. This slightly edited excerpt from the ACOE’s book River of Interest does a good job giving a short overview of that year:
“…Rain began falling on the Everglades in large amounts. On 1 March, a storm dropped six inches of rain, while April and May also saw above average totals. The situation became severe in the summer…
As September approached and the rains continued, the ground in the Everglades became waterlogged and lake levels reached dangerous heights. Then, on 17 September, a hurricane hit Florida on the southwest coast, passing Lake Okeechobee on the west and dumping large amounts of rain on the upper Everglades, flooding most of the agricultural land south of Lake Okeechobee.
George Wedgworth, who would later become president of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida and whose parents were vegetable growers in the Everglades, related that his mother called him during the storm and told him, “ this is the last call I’ll make from this telephone because I’m leaving. . . . “We’ve got an inch or two of water over our oak floors and they’re taking me out on a row boat.”
Such conditions were prevalent throughout the region. Before the area had a chance to recover from the devastation, another hurricane developed, moving into South Florida and the Atlantic Ocean by way of Fort Lauderdale. Coastal cities received rain in large quantities, including six inches in two hours at Hialeah and nearly 15 inches at Fort Lauderdale in less than 24 hours.
The Everglades Drainage District kept its drainage canals open to discharge to the ocean as much of the floodwater in the agricultural area as it could, exacerbating coastal flooding. East coast residents charged the District with endangering their lives in order to please ag- ricultural interests, but this was vehemently denied…
Whoever was to blame, the hurricanes had devastating effects. Although the levee around Lake Okeechobee held, preventing the large numbers of deaths that occurred in 1926 and 1928, over 2,000 square miles of land south of the lake was covered by, in the words of U.S. Senator Spessard Holland, “an endless sheet of water anywhere from 6 to 7 feet deep down to a lesser depth.” The Corps estimated that the storms caused $59 million in property damage throughout southern Florida, but Holland believed that the agency had “under- stated the actual figures.” The destruction shocked citizens of South Florida, both in the upper Everglades and in the coastal cities, and they demanded that something be done.”
Well, what was done was the Central and South Florida Flood Project.
Key Florida politicians, and the public demanded the Federal Government assist, and as both the resources and will were present, the project was authorized in 1948 with massive additional components making way not only for flood protection, but for even more agriculture and development. In Martin County and St Lucie County this happened by the controversial building of canals C-23, C-24, C-25 and “improving” the infamous C-44 canal that connects to Lake Okeechobee. This construction was basically the nail in the coffin for the St Lucie River and Southern Indian River Lagoon.
But before the death of the environment was clear, the Corps developed a plan that would include 1,000 miles of levees, 720 miles of canals, and almost 200 water control structures. Flooding in coastal cities and in the agricultural lands south of Lake Okeechobee would be minimized and more controllable.
Yes, a goal of the program was to provide conservation areas for water storage, protecting fish and wildlife habitat. Although water conservation areas were constructed, conservation of wildlife did not work out so well, and has caused extreme habitat degradation of the Everglades system, Lake Okeechobee, the southern and northern estuaries, the Kissimmee chain of lakes, and Florida Bay. Nonetheless, this project made possible for over five million people to now live and work in the 18,000 square mile area that extends from south of Orlando to Florida Bay “protected from flooding” but in 2017 living with serious water quality issues.
With problems apparent, in 1992 the Central and South Florida Project was “re-studied” and we continue to work on that today both for people and for wildlife…
Irma many be the system’s greatest test yet…
Yesterday’s Army Corp of Engineer Periodic Scientist Call was focused on saving people’s lives and safety. After the built-system was discussed, Mr Tyler Beck of the Florida Wildlife Commission, and Mr Steve Schubert of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported on the endangered Everglades Snail Kites and their nests at Lake Okeechobee. Like most birds, pairs mate for life. There are presently fifty-five active nests, thirty-three in incubation, and twenty-three with baby chicks…
In the coming days, as the waters rise on Lake Okeechobee, and the winds scream through an empty void that was once a cathedral of colossal cypress trees, Mother Nature will again change the lives of Florida’s wildlife and its people, just as she did in 1947. Perhaps this time, she will give us vision for a future where nature and humankind can live in greater harmony…
This is one of my favorite historic aerial photos of Sewall’s Point; I have used it before. It is on page 11 of my mother’s book “Sewall’s Point a History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast.”
Taken in the 1950s, the peninsula is basically undeveloped. The spoil islands, from dredging the Intercostal Waterway, sit to the east of the island lone and unattached…
One very special spoil island is in this photo as well. I think it is the one furthest north: Bird Island, or MC 2, is a small spoil island now off the Archipelago. Comparing the photo above and below you can see the changes to the east side of Sewall’s Point and Bird Island.
I visited Bird Island yesterday with the Florida Wildlife Commission preparing for a field trip for their board who is meeting in South Florida this week. Bird Island was the first Critical Wildlife Area in the state of Florida designated in 20 years in 2014. This was an enormous accomplishment!
Kipp Fröhlich who was aboard boat yesterday said, “Yes it is amazing, we still don’t totally understand why the birds choose this particular island!” This is true. There are many to choose from.
One thing is for sure, the birds and humans love it here! It is a wonderful thing when wildlife and humans can reside together. Thank you FWC!
Don’t get me wrong… the first time I read that coyotes were “here,” in Marin County…the first time I saw Bud Adams’ picture on the back page of “Indian River Magazine,” the hair went up on the back of my neck. Old wives tales and ancient fears gripping me….
Since that time, I have read a lot and learned more. I am cautious but not afraid. In fact my roommate at this month’s University of Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute class was a coyote expert for the Florida Wildlife Commission. We stayed up late into the night; she showed me photos of all the things coyotes eat and told me first hand stories of how places like Hernando County, Florida, are dealing with the issue.
I sat in silent awe….
One of the most interesting things she shared was that the population of coyotes goes up the more populated an area is–you would think the opposite. “Coyotes have moved in and adapted so well we sometimes wonder who the suburbs were actually built for, us or them.” Her excellent article is at the end of this post.
Last night at a Sewall’s Point Commission meeting, a resident came forward during public comment to report about the coyotes in her subdivision. Passions flared! The discussion included guns, protected wildlife, unprotected wildlife, trapping, not leaving out cat food, not leaving out cats, as well as not leaving your small dogs or small children outside unattended. In the end, it was decided comprehensive town education was the best approach.
I find my self struggling with the image of coyote. Last night after the meeting, I took a walk and kept waiting for one’s red eyes to shine in the reflection of my iPhone. At every corner I was sure one was standing….They do intimidate me, but I am intrigued with their success. I respect them.
This animal is deeply associated with Native Americans who of course “we” eradicated. Remember the Seminole Wars? The US relocation plans? Not that long ago really. Perhaps this is our karma?
For many Native American tribes the coyote, known as a trickster for his ability to “be everywhere at once,” was the most powerful of creatures. In fact, it was believed that tribal members of tremendous power could “shift” shape into a coyote achieving amazing things….Why the coyote? The reasons are many, but one is because “Coyote,” just as in the Greek story of Prometheus, —-(also a clever trickster)—-brought fire from Heaven to the Earth, betraying the Gods, to help us survive.
Perhaps there is a greater message here? I don’t know…but it has me thinking…One thing is for sure: smart, master-adapter, coyote is here in Sewall’s Point, and throughout Martin County. And he is so smart and adaptable that “he is not going away.”
—Coyotes are now reported in all 67 counties of the state of Florida. They also live throughout much of the nation.
–Due to agriculture/rancher and landowner complaints, California spent 20 million dollars to eradicate coyotes with no success and now ironically the population is perhaps higher than ever.
—Coyotes are omnivorous, like people, eating everything especially insects, pet food, vegetation, road-kill, rodents, and “trash.” Thus they adapt easily.
—-Coyotes have flourished and spread since the human eradication of the larger canine family wolf —in Florida and through out the U.S. When top predators are removed others expand.
—Coyotes hunt in family groups not “packs, or alone; ” They mate for life and their social nature is part of their success.
—Read article below for tips on how to live and/or deal with coyotes.
Hutchinson Island is located on the east side of the Indian River Lagoon–
I find myself thinking of bears…recently I was in Silver Springs with my UF Natural Resources Leadership Institute class. We were staying at the Florida Wildlife Commissions’ Ocala Conservation Center and Youth Camp. That night, I couldn’t sleep, tossing and turning—the springs under my mattress squeaked relentlessly through the dead-aired, dark, dusty cabin. I knew I was keeping my bunk-mates awake. It was 2:00AM. I decided to get up. Walking out the door into cool darkness the stars shone like diamonds in a velvet sky; Orion looked down on me as he has since my childhood.
Standing alone in glory of the night, I wondered if I would see a bear. After all, I was in “bear country”…There had been a lot of talk about bears and the controversies of hunting during our session. I imagined that if I did see a bear, I would do what they say to do. I would stand tall and slowly back up. I would not run.
Later that night I fell asleep in my car, and dreamt of bears. In my dream, I forgot the rules and I ran. The bear did not chase me, but rather stood up like a human and summoned me to a large rock; I went to him and he told me a story… his story of being the last bear shot on Hutchinson Island in Martin County, 1926…
The bear looked me straight in the eye and began speaking in a steady, low voice:
“For countless centuries there were black bears on Hutchinson Island…they co-existed with the Indians whose mounds are found there. We roamed the beaches on the long summer nights, digging up loggerhead turtle eggs. When the white settlers came a few sailed over from the mainland to put out bees on the island and we knocked over the hives to get the honey…
It was tough being a bear….white men and bears were enemies in a one-sided war. In 1926 I was shot by Captain Billy Pitchford. I was the last bear on Hutchinson Island…”
Suddenly I awoke. My car window was open; I heard owls hooting close by and the wind whistling through the spanish moss. My bones ached and moisture coated everything. I rolled on my side thinking about my dream. Thinking about the last bear shot on Hutchinson Island and the old Stuart News article my mother had given me…
Bears, I though…
“A one-sided war….”
That was the message.
The Florida Wildlife Commission sanctioned bear hunt, the first since 1994, will begin in two days on October 24th. There is nothing wrong with hunting, but a man of dignity should never take pride in winning a one-sided war.
Just the other day, one of my readers sent me a funny but educational video on Lake Okeechobee and the continued sightings of Pacu fish. Pacu Fish are related to Piranhas and both fish live in the Amazon River of South America. Both have TEETH.
Since my husband pulls out wisdom teeth and replaces teeth with implants, teeth are often a topic of discussion for us, even at the dinner table….when we first met, he told me my teeth were great, except my “lateral incisors were too prominent…..:) —-the vampire teeth! 🙂 I was not happy…:)
Anyway. Today’s blog post is meant to be fun but serious.
Invasive species are forever changing South Florida. Between pythons in the Everglades, Lion Fish in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, Cuban Tree Frogs as well as Bufo Frogs in Sewall’s Point, and Pacu Fish with their “human like teeth” in the Lake Okeechobee—that of course is periodically dumped into our rivers—our world is changing. Native species are being replaced and overwhelmed.
In their 5th Biennial Review of Progress in the Everglades or lack thereof, the National Reasearch Council noted Invasive Species as a top concern for Everglades Restoration.
I read about all this and get upset at the invasive species problem…then it dawns on me that some may say “we, modern man, in South Florida, are an invasive species too.”
Food for thought anyway….
Thank you to Ricardo Zambrano and Kelly Gestring of the Florida Wildlife Commission for replying to my question about PACU and Lake Okeechobee as seen below:
Dear Commissioner Thurlow-Lippish,
To the best of my knowledge, this report of a singleton pacu being caught by a commercial fisherman in Lake Okeechobee is true. The reporter contacted several FWC people and I was asked to confirm the identity of the fish.
We receive numerous reports every year of singleton pacu being caught (primarily in HOA ponds) every year from locations around the state. However, there is no indication that pacu are reproducing in any of our waterbodies. This strongly suggests that the illegal releases of pacu are by owners who no longer want their pet.
Pacu are primarily herbivores and pose little threat to native species. Anglers should be careful removing the hook as pacu’s have very strong jaws and their molar-shaped teeth could inflict a lot of damage to a finger.
We encourage anglers that catch a pacu to remove them to reduce any potential impacts they may have on the environment.
Thank you for your concern and if you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Non-Native Fish and Wildlife Program Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 10216 Lee Road Boynton Beach, FL 33473 (561) 292-6007 office (561) 234-9925 cell firstname.lastname@example.org