Monday, May 26, 2008

Please sign the Progress Florida Everglades petition!

Please take two minutes for the Everglades.

Pave what's left of the Everglades?

Dear Friend,

Governor Crist can stop this. But he needs to hear from us right now.

Nearly a century of draining, diking and digging have destroyed half of the historic Everglades. Now South Florida officials have just approved two new developments that will allow urban sprawl to continue its march right up to the edge of the Everglades. They're jeopardizing billions in federal funding for Everglades restoration.

The Everglades belong to all of us, not a few wealthy developers. Send a message to Governor Crist -- urge him to stand up to the developers and protect the Everglades. Click here to sign the petition:

We have the power to change Florida when we work together. And that's why Progress Florida exists -- to bring grassroots Floridians together and give us a stronger voice at the state and local level. Progress Florida offers busy folks fast, easy, and fun ways to make a difference. Stopping big developers from paving the Everglades is just one of our first online campaigns.

It seems like every day, some politically connected developer is proposing an unsustainable, poorly planned development somewhere in Florida. This time they're trying to move Miami-Dade County's Urban Development Boundary (UDB) so they can further expand their tentacles into the increasingly vulnerable Everglades. The Miami-Dade County Commission has approved the new developments despite objections from planning staff, a veto by Mayor Carlos Alvarez, and thousands of citizens and organizations mobilized by the "Hold the Line" coalition. Not only would eliminating the UDB impact the Everglades; it poses a serious threat to drinking water supplies; would cause further traffic problems; and pave wetlands critical for flood control.

This change in Miami-Dade's comprehensive plan must be stopped by Gov. Crist's Department of Community Affairs (DCA.) That's where you come in.

Please sign the petition to Gov. Crist urging him to stand up to deep-pocketed developers and protect the Everglades. Then, you'll be given the opportunity to ask your family and friends to help by forwarding this message to them.

To sign the petition, click on this link or copy and paste it into your browser:

Thank you,

The Progress Florida Team - Mark, Damien, Ray and Jon

Are you in Florida?
Click here to sign up with the Progress Florida network and start making a difference today.
Recommended reading: Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas.
Disclosure: Some Progress Florida staff members are also founding members of Wildwood Preservation Society.

Wildwood Preservation Society is a non-profit 501(c)(4) project of the Advocacy Consortium for the Common Good. Click here to learn more.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Today is Endangered Species Day

An epidemic of extinctions: Decimation of life on earth
Species are dying out at a rate not seen since the demise of the dinosaurs, according to a report published today – and human behaviour is to blame.
By Emily Dugan
The Independent UK
Friday, May 16, 2008

The world's species are declining at a rate "unprecedented since the extinction of the dinosaurs", a census of the animal kingdom has revealed. The Living Planet Index out today shows the devastating impact of humanity as biodiversity has plummeted by almost a third in the 35 years to 2005.

The report, produced by WWF, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Global Footprint Network, says land species have declined by 25 per cent, marine life by 28 per cent, and freshwater species by 29 per cent.

Jonathan Loh, editor of the report, said that such a sharp fall was "completely unprecedented in terms of human history". "You'd have to go back to the extinction of the dinosaurs to see a decline as rapid as this," he added. "In terms of human lifespan we may be seeing things change relatively slowly, but in terms of the world's history this is very rapid."

And "rapid" is putting it mildly. Scientists say the current extinction rate is now up to 10,000 times faster than what has historically been recorded as normal.

By numbers: the earth's wildlife in decline

As nations meet for the Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn, these alarming figures will cast a shadow over government pledges to make a "significant" reduction in biodiversity loss by 2010. In fact, the report's authors say that global inaction has already made such a goal totally unattainable.

"It's very damning for the governments that are party to the convention that they are not able to meet the target they set for themselves," said Mr Loh. "The talk doesn't get translated into action. We are failing, and the consequences will be devastating."

Tracking nearly 4,000 species between 1970 and 2005, the team has not only revealed the destruction of the Earth's wildlife, but also pointed the finger at the perpetrators of this devastation.

Ben Collen, extinctions researcher at ZSL, said: "Between 1960 and 2000, the human population of the world has doubled. Yet during the same period, the animal populations have declined by 30 per cent. It's beyond doubt that this decline has been caused by humans."

The study picked out five reasons for species decline, all of which can be traced back to human behaviour: climate change, pollution, the destruction of animals' natural habitat, the spread of invasive species, and the overexploitation of species. At a time when America has finally added the polar bear to the endangered species list, it is emerging that the scale of species destruction reaches far beyond the headline animals. But as in the case of the polar bear, mankind's behaviour needs to be radically changed in order to stop this pillaging of the Earth's biodiversity.

The Yangtze river dolphin is a case in point. Scientists believe it is extinct, as successive searches for the freshwater mammal have proved fruitless. There are many reasons for its rapid path to extinction: collisions with boats, habitat loss and pollution. These factors all point back to one perpetrator: mankind.

Aside from tackling global emissions, the report recommended two ways that species decline could be combated – by avoiding the destruction of animals' natural habitat by overdevelopment or cultivation; and in avoiding the over-farming or fishing of individual species.

The implications of such drastic reductions in biodiversity are already having an impact on human life. "Reduced biodiversity means millions of people face a future where food supplies are more vulnerable to pests and disease and where water is in irregular or short supply," said James Leape, director general of WWF.

"No one can escape the impact of biodiversity loss because reduced global diversity translates quite clearly into fewer new medicines, greater vulnerability to natural disasters and greater effects from global warming. The industrialised world needs to be supporting the global effort to achieve these targets, not just in their own territories where a lot of biodiversity has already been lost, but also globally."

Support the Florida Endangered Species Network, of which Wildwood Preservation Society is a proud member organization.

Wildwood Preservation Society is a non-profit 501(c)(4) project of the Advocacy Consortium for the Common Good. Click here to learn more.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Once again, lawmakers fail to protect Florida springs

Once again, Florida springs protection fails in session
By Bruce Ritchie
Tallahassee Democrat
May 12, 2008

To some springs supporters, it seemed a modest proposal.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, called for a pilot project in Marion County to establish protection zones for Silver and Rainbow Springs. Creating the zones would lead to reductions in nitrogen from farms, sewage treatment plants and septic tanks.

The same thing has been pitched for Central Florida's Wekiva Springs and for Wakulla Springs. But efforts to begin a statewide springs-protection strategy have failed in the Legislature in recent years. And it happened again in the 2008 session.

With home builders saying that new septic tank requirements could increase the cost of homes, Saunders said sponsors of other springs bills only wanted studies. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection supported the Saunders bill.

Florida's springs are "something that attract people to Florida, that attract our tourists here," Saunders said. "The home builders may be killing the goose that laid the golden egg if they don't spend some extra effort protecting it."

A spokeswoman for the Florida Home Builders Association said her group raised concerns about the bill during a workshop early in the session but she also said her group didn't work to kill the proposal.

Some of Florida's springs have become choked with weeds and algae. Nitrogen from septic tanks, sewage treatment plants, fertilizer and livestock operations are feeding the plant growth, scientists say.

Saunders, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation and term-limited out of office this year, said he introduced the bill at the request of Marion County officials. Silver and Rainbow springs in Marion County have had increasing nitrogen levels in recent years, said Jerry Brooks, director of DEP's Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration.

The senator's bill would have required "protection zones" around Silver and Rainbow springs. The bill effectively would have required advanced sewage treatment plants or nitrogen-reducing "performance-based" septic systems.

In Tallahassee, the city has agreed to spend $160 million to provide advanced treatment at its sewage plants to protect Wakulla Springs. Wakulla County last year began requiring performance-based septic tanks and Leon County this year is considering a similar requirement near the springs.

But some home builders and developers say the advanced septic systems are too expensive or are unproven. The Florida Home Builders Association says the systems can cost $15,000 more than standard systems.

"Our concern was it would become an unnecessary financial burden on homeowners," said Edie Ousley, association spokeswoman.

The Florida Department of Health estimates the cost of performance-based septic systems at $3,000 to $5,000 more than a standard system.

Saunders' bill also would have required DEP to establish pollution limits at the Marion County springs. DEP has proposed pollution limits at Wakulla and Wekiva Springs in Central Florida.

But he said the possible House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Debbie Boyd, D-Newberry, only wanted to do a study of springs statewide -- a study that Saunders said had already been done. Boyd said this week that Marion County officials told her during the session they were concerned about the Saunders bill.

Saunders said he let his bill die in a Senate committee, while Boyd's bill to study the springs died in the House.

"There was no sense in doing another study," Saunders said.

A tour boats cruises the surface of Wakulla Springs.

Support Friends of Wakulla Springs State Park.
Click here and here to learn more about springs via the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Recommend reading: Florida Springs blog.

Wildwood Preservation Society is a non-profit 501(c)(4) project of the Advocacy Consortium for the Common Good. Click here to learn more.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Floridians weary of rapid, uncontrolled growth

Voters fortify the rural border
By Doug Sword
Sarasota Herald Tribune
May 7, 2008

SARASOTA COUNTY — Anger over years of rapid growth fueled voters' overwhelming approval Tuesday of a ballot question aimed at protecting the county's rural portion from dense development.

Sarasota County commissioners are expected to vote next week to approve issuing bonds to cover the cost of public works projects.

The first round, about $55 million for expanding Fruitville Road to four lanes east of I-75, the extension of Honore Avenue and a bevy of sidewalk projects, is expected to come up for approval in July.

Plans are to borrow money in July and August for two other sets of projects. The first involves borrowing $14 million to pay for road resurfacing projects including one on Swift Road.

The second would be $15.5 million for projects including the remodeling of Elsie Quirk and Selby libraries, and construction of Honore Trail Park. The first projects expected to be completed include replacing the boardwalks at Ken Thompson and Lemon Bay parks, and the replacement of playground equipment at some county parks.

The anti-sprawl vote makes Sarasota County one of the toughest counties in Florida for new development, if not the toughest.

It marks the third time in 14 months that voters have approved a ballot question aimed at making it tougher for developers to bulldoze rural land.

An unprecedented alliance between the business community and slow-growth advocates -- two groups that have been at each other's throats in the past -- got credited with Tuesday's landslide vote.

"At the end of the day, the community really did come together," said Henry Rodriguez, an Osprey developer.

With all precincts reporting, 79 percent of voters approved the growth measure -- which requires unanimous approval from county commissioners for any project that would result in denser development in the county's rural half.

A low turnout determined the election, however, with only 16 percent of registered voters casting ballots.

Voters also overwhelmingly approved a measure promoted as an economic stimulus package for a local economy ailing from the real estate slowdown. Sixty-nine percent of voters approved giving the county the power to borrow up to $300 million to fast-track about 60 projects, which include four-laning Fruitville Road east of Interstate 75 and replacing the county's aging beach bathrooms. Money from a sales tax voters approved in November will pay back the bonds.

In a scene once considered unthinkable, developers, environmentalists, business leaders, county commissioners and neighborhood groups partied and celebrated at a restaurant in downtown Sarasota as Tuesday's results came in.

"Did you ever think you'd see this?" asked a stunned Cheri Luehr, a member of Citizens for Sensible Growth, the political action committee that spearheaded passage of all three slow-growth ballot questions.

Tuesday's vote marked the culmination of a citizen-led campaign to make it tougher for developers to win approval for projects on undeveloped land.

Last March, more than 70 percent of voters approved giving the county power over how North Port and Venice develop land that is annexed.

In November, 61 percent of voters approved a requirement that at least four out of five county commissioners agree on making changes to the county's master plan, which controls whether and how land can be developed.

Bill Earl, one of Citizens for Sensible Growth's founders, called Tuesday's vote "the capstone" of the effort to give neighborhood groups and citizens more clout in fighting big developments.

This latest anti-growth measure tapped into an electorate that worries about worsening congestion on local roads, the region's ability to find enough water to sustain growth and projections that the county's population will double in just a little more than 30 years.

It will be the last time voters will be asked to change the county charter to make growth tougher for a while. Part of the agreement between the two groups was that neither would launch another petition drive to get a growth issue on the ballot for at least six years.

Venice resident Jim Greenwood, 66, blames the current housing market malaise on unchecked growth. On Tuesday, he voted to strengthen the boundary on county land-use maps that separates urban from rural land.

"It's just greed and poor planning," Greenwood said. "I'm tired of it."

Venice resident Charles Ahrens, 83, agreed with Greenwood.

"I've been here 28 years and seen quite enough development," he said.

Even those who say they are not anti-growth complain that Florida's surge of growth during the first half of the decade was not managed well.

"I think we've got to be able to manage growth better than we have before," said Allie Lucas, a Sarasota business owner who also voted in favor of the ballot question.


Support Citizens for Sensible Growth if you are in the Sarasota area.
Support Hold The Line if you are in the Miami-Dade area.
Support Hometown Democracy if you are in Florida.
Recommend reading: Green Empire: The St. Joe Company and the Remaking of Florida's Panhandle by Kathryn Ziewitz and June Wiaz.

Wildwood Preservation Society is a non-profit 501(c)(4) project of the Advocacy Consortium for the Common Good. For more information click here.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Legislators find $50 million for Everglades

Legislators find $50 million for Everglades
By Lloyd Dunkelberger and Carol E. Lee
Naples News
April 29, 2008

After declaring that Florida's budget woes were so grim that they had to cut off funding for the restoration of the Everglades, legislative leaders quickly reversed themselves Monday, finding an extra $50 million to fund the massive environmental cleanup project.

Eliminating funding for the Everglades, even for a year, could have had far-reaching consequences for the long-term project.

"It would have sent a horrible message to Congress," said Eric Draper, a lobbyist for Audubon of Florida.

Even the last-minute decision to salvage 25 percent of the $200 million that the state spent on the project this year may still set back the state's efforts to get the federal government to pick up 50 percent of the cleanup tab, Draper said.

So far, the federal government has put up $360 million to the state's $2.4 billion.

"It is going to send a signal to the federal government that it is OK to slow down," Draper said. "I think it makes it easier for Congress to not appropriate as much money to the Everglades."

When lawmakers declared that they had settled the new $66 billion budget for 2008-09 early Sunday evening, they said the bill contained no money for the Everglades cleanup -- even though Gov. Charlie Crist had asked for $200 million for both the Everglades and nearby Lake Okeechobee.

But House budget chairman Rep. Ray Sansom, R-Destin, said the Everglades funding was an "unresolved issue" as of Sunday evening. House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, and Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, decided to move $50 million from a Department of Environmental Protection trust fund used to control invasive plants to the Everglades project.

"It was probably the right thing to do," Sansom said. "I think they made a good decision."

Some credit Crist for calling Rubio and Pruitt and making a plea for the project. Asked if he had had any influence on the decision, Crist said: "I hope so." He also said he was "enormously grateful" to the legislative leaders for funding both environmental projects and children's programs in the budget, which takes effect July 1.

Rep. Stan Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, who oversees environmental spending in the House, said he wanted to be able to fund more for the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee projects.

"I'm a little disappointed that we didn't get the other $50 million," he said, adding: "I think it'll be enough to keep the programs going and shouldn't have much of a detrimental impact to what we've got going."

Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, chairman of the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, said he disagreed with the assertion that the new budget reduces the Everglades funding by 75 percent.

In addition to the $50 million -- which is likely to be split between the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee cleanup efforts -- Saunders said the South Florida Water Management District will have about $229 million that can be used for projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which is eligible for the federal matching funds.

All together, Saunders said, Everglades funding may be a little lower next year than in previous years, but he said with the additional decision to fund $300 million in Florida Forever environmental land projects, environmental spending fared pretty well in a tough budget year.

"When you put it all together, I think the environment scored very well in light of where we have been with our budget," Saunders said.

Environmental lobbyists said many programs would face cuts in the new budget year.

Draper said he feared that, with only one-fourth of the current funding, the cleanup effort for Lake Okeechobee "will take that much longer" and more of the lake's polluted waters will flow into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee river systems.

"They have been seriously damaged by the lake's polluted water," Draper said. "That is just really going to set us back."

Draper said he was also disturbed by other cuts, including the loss of personnel at the Department of Community Affairs, which is the state's major planning agency, and deep cuts to other water projects.

"It's not a good year for the environment and it's particularly disappointing that we lost that much money out of the Everglades," Draper said.

Click the picture to visit the Friends of the Everglades website.

The Everglades restoration effort is one of the largest and most ambitious environmental initiatives ever undertaken.

The basic aim of the project is to restore a more natural water flow to the 2.4 million-acre marsh, which is a critical habitat for many threatened and endangered species. The water restoration will also provide a reliable drinking water supply for millions of people in South Florida.

The central element of the cleanup effort is the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, a $10.9 billion restoration project covering 16 counties over an 18,000 square-mile area. Funding is expected to be split between the federal and state governments.

Additional cleanup efforts are aimed at Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie river systems.

Wildwood Preservation Society is a non-profit 501(c)(4) project of the Advocacy Consortium for the Common Good. Click here to learn more.

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State negotiators rescue money to treat injured manatees

State negotiators rescue money to treat injured manatees
Naples News
May 2, 2008

Money to treat sick and injured manatees was saved from the budget ax in the final days of the legislative session this week in Tallahassee.

A bill to raise boat registration fees by about 55 percent to help manatee hospitals pay their tab for manatee rescue and rehabilitation cleared its final hurdle Thursday night.

The fee increase would raise $1.15 million to reimburse manatee hospital costs, replacing documentary stamp tax revenues that have paid for the program since 2000. The slowing economy had reduced that revenue stream, putting the reimbursement program in jeopardy.

The higher registration fees also will raise $3.9 million to keep 66 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement officers on the job and $1.6 million for derelict vessel removal.

The bill passed the Senate by a 35-0 vote, and the House followed suit with a vote of 111-8. The bill now heads to Gov. Charlie Crist, who is expected to sign the bill into law.

The Save the Manatee Club and the Marine Industries Association of Florida, often at odds over the state’s manatee policies, came together to back the fee increase.

“Marine mammals will be better off. Boaters will be better off,” Save the Manatee Club Executive Director Pat Rose said.

Marine Industries group leader John Sprague said the registration fee increase would go toward protecting human lives and the environment.

“Loss of law enforcement just is not acceptable,” said Sprague, the group’s government affairs chairman.

Boat registration fees would increase from $3.50 to $5.50 for boats less than 12 feet in length up to an increase from $122.50 to $189.75 for boats 110 feet long or more.

Non-motorized boats are exempt from registration fees.

The fee increase took a tortuous path to passage.

State Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, chairman of the Senate’s environmental preservation and conservation committee, shepherded the fee increase through the Senate. However, the House had blocked the increase.

The budget bill hashed out last weekend included the money for the reimbursement program, law enforcement officers and derelict vessel removal _ contingent on the fee increase passing the Legislature.

State Rep. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, expressed concern about increasing the fees but voted in favor of the bill after the money survived budget negotiations.

The money will be divided among the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Sea World in Orlando and the Miami Seaquarium. The three hospitals treat about 60 manatees a year, releasing about half of them back into the wild.

The Tampa zoo, where manatees rescued from Southwest Florida waters usually end up, would have had to turn away patients had the reimbursement money dried up, the zoo’s deputy director Craig Pugh said.

Three manatees from Collier County currently are patients at the zoo and are doing well, zoo spokeswoman Rachel Nelson said.

An orphaned manatee was rescued from a drainage ditch at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, and a baby manatee and its mother were rescued near Goodland, the apparent victims of a boat strike.

The zoo’s manatee hospital spends about $1 million a year, of which about a third is reimbursed by Florida, Pugh said.

He credited legislative leadership and diverse grassroots support for the bill’s passage.

“It shows that the communities in Florida, that we get it,” Pugh said.

Amber Rogers, zookeeper at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, takes care of a manatee that showed signs of being struck by a boat. Courtesy of Lowry Park Zoo.

If a manatee appears to be in trouble or is exhibiting unusual behavior, call the Wildlife Alert hotline: 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).
Please visit and support Save the Manatee Club.

Wildwood Preservation Society is a non-profit 501(c)(4) project of the Advocacy Consortium for the Common Good. View/subscribe to our blog here.

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