Friday, October 31, 2008

Florida environmental and wildlife news for the week ending 10-31-08

Lennar push to move Dade's development line criticized
By Matthew Haggman
Miami Herald
Days before a group led by home builder Lennar launches an effort to win government approval for a new suburb on Miami-Dade County's western fringe, two of Miami's most prominent developers said the project should be rejected.

What the Everglades needs
Palm Beach Post
The latest update on Everglades restoration contained nothing new, which should make the issue a priority for the state's new congressional delegation.

Oil drilling splits presidential field
By Jim Waymer
Florida Today
Whoever wins the White House, Florida's air and water stand to gain more protection than in the past eight years, if the budget allows it, environmental advocates say.

Coconut Creek suburbanites team with neo-hippies to fight Lowe's
By Amy Guthrie
Broward New Times
Brian Sprinkle dismounts from a blue ten-speed with a warm smile on his face.

Fla. panel delays tougher auto emission standards
By Bill Kaczor
Associated Press
Bowing to the auto industry and other business interests, a state panel Wednesday delayed a vote on adopting California's tough standards for car and light truck emissions.

Amendment 4 would give conserved land a tax break
By Melissa Nelson
Associated Press
Gulf County Commissioner Billy Traylor says he is supporting Amendment 4 on Tuesday's ballot because he prefers the tiny fishing villages and pine tree farms of his rural county to the widespread development of South Florida.

FWC to hold workshop in Tampa on freshwater turtle harvests
North Florida Daily News
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will begin hearing input on the harvest of Florida's freshwater turtles.

Plans For "Mahan Massacre" Withdrawn (includes video)
WCTV News Tallahassee
Following a resounding recommendation against approval by The Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) the proposed 'Mahan Massacre' development has been withdrawn prior to a final vote scheduled tomorrow before the Leon County Commission.

Leaders gather to support St. Johns cleanup plan
By Deirdre Conner
Florida Times-Union
Gov. Charlie Crist and other major players in the health of the St. Johns River gathered at its banks Monday to promote a sweeping plan to improve its health.

More water than we can use
By Doug Sword
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
During the height of the building boom, fear of a growing water shortage helped push through plans for a $128 million expansion of the region's key source of drinking water.

Turtle protection plan spurs debate in Florida
By Susan Cocking
Miami Herald
William Shockley and his teenage son are fishing for freshwater turtles the same way their family has done it for four generations in south-central Florida: deploying about a mile of nylon line on four sets of buoys holding 1,000 small hooks baited with bits of bacon in the clear, shallow waters of Lake Grassy.

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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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Plans For "Mahan Massacre" Withdrawn

See the exciting update below and thank you to everyone who signed our petition!

Plans For "Mahan Massacre" Withdrawn
WCTV News Tallahassee
October 27, 2008

Following a resounding recommendation against approval by The Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) the proposed ‘Mahan Massacre’ development has been withdrawn prior to a final vote scheduled tomorrow before the Leon County Commission.

The decision came in response to community-wide pressure to halt the project, including nearly 1,000 petition signatures from concerned area residents.

“This is a victory for Tallahassee and for everyone who cares about preserving the rural character and way of life in this area,” said Damien Filer, Political Director for Progress Florida.

A September 12th letter from DCA listed urban sprawl, site suitability, transportation impacts and energy-efficient land use patterns as reasons to reject the development.

Despite this defeat, the developer, Rockaway LLP, has said they plan to come back with a revised plan. Filer urged opponents of the “Mahan Massacre” to remain vigilant.


Located at the intersection of Mahan drive and Wadesboro road, the proposed ‘Rockaway’ development has been called "the poster child for urban sprawl," by Tallahassee City Commissioner Debbie Lightsey.

The Tallahassee City Commission voted unanimously to oppose this massive new development located outside the Urban Services Area, and the Planning Department for the city and county said this level of development is out of compliance with our own comprehensive plan. The Leon County Water Resources Committee also recommended denial.

Despite this opposition, and the opposition of a dozen neighboring residents who waited for hours to testify against the development, the Leon County Commission voted 5-1 to move forward with amending Leon County's growth plan to accommodate the wishes of one politically connected and deep-pocketed developer. Commissioner Cliff Thaell was the only one who voted against it. (Commissioner Bob Rackleff was out of town but strongly opposes this development.)

Rockaway proposal withdrawn before commission vote
By Bruce Ritchie
Tallahassee Democrat
The controversial proposed Rockaway development project will be withdrawn before a final Leon County Commission vote tonight, a project representative said Monday.

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

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, October 24, 2008

Florida environmental and wildlife news for the week ending 10-24-08

Florida's global-warming goals look like expensive hot air
By Mike Thomas
Orlando Sentinel
Florida has embarked on a noble mission to cool the globe and cut dependence on fossil fuels.

Environmentalists, auto dealers clash over emission standards
By Jim Ash
Tallahassee Democrat
Environmentalists turned up the heat Tuesday on Florida regulators ahead of next week's crucial vote to adopt California-style auto emission standards.

Environmentalists call for heightened regulation of Florida turtle harvesting
By Jim Ash
Tallahassee Democrat
Environmentalists are warning that China's new hunger for Florida freshwater turtles could doom the species and that new harvest limits that take effect on Thursday don't go nearly far enough.

Governor's climate team predicts Florida will beat emission targets
By Asjylyn Loder
St. Pete Times
An ambitious plan to slash Florida's greenhouse gas emissions will far exceed the targets set by Gov. Charlie Crist while saving the state billions of dollars, according to a report from Crist's climate team.

Florida's wild freshwater turtles are being raided to meet demand in foreign markets
By Matthew J. Aresco
Orlando Sentinel
Did you know that hunters are legally prowling Florida's public lakes, wetlands and rivers, snagging pickup-truck loads of freshwater turtles and selling them to Asian markets?

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, October 9, 2008

Precious resource plundered

See previous post for much more info on this issue.

Precious resource plundered
St. Petersburg Times
October 9, 2008

Once again, Florida is selling a precious resource, one that makes the state unique. This time it's the wild freshwater turtle. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports that each week thousands of pounds of softshell turtles are shipped to Asian countries where they are eaten and used for folk remedies. The wholesale decimation of this natural resource should be stopped.

"Asian countries are causing the extinction, the near extinction or the endangerment of every species of turtle they have over there, so now they're turning to the United States to supply their insatiable demand for turtle," Matt Aresco, a Florida biologist, told the St. Petersburg Times.

Florida is the commercial hunter's place of choice. Unlike other turtle-rich states, such as Alabama, Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, Florida hasn't restricted or banned the harvest of wild turtles. Last March, 34 of the nation's top scientists wrote to state officials urging them to ban harvesting. Two Florida-based environmental organizations and individual biologists also petitioned the wildlife commission for a ban or tight restrictions.

After harvesters protested, the commissioners caved and voted to allow ordinary people to take 35 turtles from the wild each week, or 1,820 per year. Each licensed commercial hunter can take 140 softshell turtles from the wild each week, or 7,300 each year. No limit was placed on the number of commercial harvesters, meaning that no one knows how many harvesters are taking turtles or how many turtles are being shipped annually. Biologists and environmentalists correctly called this an irresponsible move that is not based on science.

Commission biologist Bill Turner said the limits were implemented on an interim basis and that over the next year the staff will seek a compromise between the two sides. Biologists argue the current rate of harvesting must be stopped immediately.

The commission failed to effectively stop the slaughter of this precious natural resource. Gov. Charlie Crist should ask them to revisit the issue and ban or sharply limit the harvesting of wild turtles.

Consider emailing Charlie Crist at and urging him to ensure Florida's wild freshwater turtle harvest is banned or sharply reduced as has been done in numerous other states such as Texas, Alabama and The Carolinas.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

China gobbling up Florida turtles

China gobbling up Florida turtles
By Craig Pittman
St. Petersburg Times
October 6, 2008

A rising demand in China for turtles for food and medicine has led to the round-up of thousands of turtles from Florida's lakes, ponds and canals.

Exporters are shipping up to 3,000 pounds of softshell turtles a week out of Tampa International Airport, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A Fort Lauderdale seafood company is buying about 5,000 pounds of softshell turtles a week. They're worth about $2 a pound to the harvesters.

"Asian countries are causing the extinction, the near extinction or the endangerment of every species of turtle they have over there, so now they're turning to the United States to supply their insatiable demand for turtle," said Matt Aresco, a turtle biologist from the Panhandle.

The trend — which biologists worry threatens species survival — has surfaced at places like Newnan's Lake near Gainesville. Last summer, as Gary Simpson jotted down the license plate number of a suspicious-looking pickup, he wondered about the bulging sacks in the truck bed. Simpson, who manages a tackle shop, worried poachers had filled the sacks with fish.

After he used his pocket knife to slash open a sack, "Turtles started piling out," he said. There were at least a dozen in each of the 20 sacks, he said. "It was pretty obscene, it really was."

By the time the truck's owners had returned to the dock, he said, "those turtles were crawling all over the parking lot." Wildlife officers summoned by Simpson were waiting — but they had to let the turtle-catchers go because they had broken no law.

Other states — Alabama and Texas, among others — have recently restricted or banned the harvest of turtles. As those states have cut off access, the harvesters have focused more and more on Florida's turtles, Aresco said.

The harvesters target the larger turtles, the ones old enough to reproduce, Aresco said. Wipe out those and soon all the turtles will be gone.

Two environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and the St. Johns Riverkeeper, petitioned the wildlife commission to ban freshwater turtle harvesting. Turtle biologists asked the state to curtail it to just one turtle per person per day. The commission's own experts recommended a limit of five per person per day.

But several turtle harvesters showed up at a meeting last month to urge commissioners to hold off.

"There's nothing wrong with it," said William Shockley, an electrical contractor who often fishes for turtles around Lake Okeechobee. "It's a good, honest living. This is our survival."

For Shockley, a good day is when he can haul in 30 or 40 softshell turtles, about 500 pounds total. He sells them to one of 10 dealers around the lake. Some go to local restaurants, he said, but others go overseas. Shockley estimated there are between 100 to 500 harvesters statewide.

After hearing their appeal, the commissioners voted to impose a limit of 20 turtles a day per person for licensed harvesters -- to the biologists' consternation.

"That's 140 softshells a week per person," Aresco said. "That's not much different from what's going on now. That's no way to manage a species. It's not based on any science at all."

Commission biologist Bill Turner pointed out that the new 20-per-day limit is just an interim rule. Over the next year the staff will meet with both sides to forge a compromise.

Aresco contended that's not good enough: "We can't allow this to continue for a year."

Seminole City Council member Dan Hester would agree. When residents who live around Blossom Lake Park complained that someone was swiping turtles from the lake, Hester asked the city staff what he could do to stop it.

The answer: Not much. State and federal officials make the wildlife laws, not cities. Rather than give up, Hester said, the city posted signs at parks warning that no one could remove any wildlife.

"It's not enforceable," he conceded, but maybe it will scare off some folks.

Mark Ely, who did the research for Hester, said he couldn't figure out why the turtle harvesters would target Blossom Lake: "Why would you want to eat something that lives in a retention pond that takes stormwater runoff?"

Consider writing a letter to the editor (LTE) in response to the above article. It was published in the St. Petersburg Times, Orlando Sentinel, Lakeland Ledger and Fort Pierce Tribune. See newspaper websites for LTE submission guidelines. Stay tuned for additional action around this issue.

Florida Turtle Market
China’s insatiable demand for turtles is prompting hunters to trap tens of thousands in Florida and export them to Asian markets.
Associated Press
WMBB News Panama City
October 6, 2008
Turtle hunters face new limits
Those with a taste for turtles can only harvest five native Florida freshwater turtles per day. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission passed the new turtle harvest limit Wednesday during its regular meeting in Jacksonville.
Florida Today
September 18, 2008

Support the Florida Turtle Conservation Trust and click here to read their September 29th press release.
Support The Lake Jackson Ecopassage.
Support The Gopher Tortoise Council.
Check out the Center for Biological Diversity report: Unsustainable Commercial Harvest of Southern Freshwater Turtles.
 Wildwood Preservation Society is part of the Florida Endangered Species Network.

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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Climate change could ruin Florida's biodiversity

Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission preparing for effects of climate change
By Susan Cocking
Miami Herald
October 5, 2008

Scientists addressing the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's first climate change summit last week forecast a bleak future for the state's fish and wildlife over the next century:

• As many as 30 percent of native species could face extinction from habitat loss because of rising ocean levels.

• Coral reefs could begin dissolving in 10 to 12 years as increasing carbon dioxide levels make oceans more acidic.

• South Florida's mangrove forests could be greatly reduced or even lost, leading to increasing storm surges.

• Invasive species such as melaleuca trees and blue tilapia -- a hardy freshwater fish from South America -- will spread north, crowding out Florida's remaining native plants and animals.

''We don't have to wait for the future; it's already here,'' Hal Wanless, chairman of the geological sciences department at University of Miami, told workshop participants Wednesday.

The three-day session might have been the first of its kind organized by a state agency. Chuck Collins, FWC southeast regional director, said Florida really is on the front line of global climate change because it sticks out like a thumb from the rest of the North American continent with 8,000 miles of shoreline, making it very susceptible to sea level rise and forecast increases in major storms.

Ironically, the summit -- originally scheduled in August -- had to be postponed because of Tropical Storm Fay. It is expected to lead to the development of policies and strategies aimed at minimizing impacts on fish, plants and animals.

''We are experts on wildlife management but not climate change,'' Collins said.

Speakers at the summit's opening session Wednesday said Florida policymakers must act now to prepare for what Wanless called ``changes to Florida and Earth beyond your wildest imagination.''

As polar ice sheets melt, he said, South Florida could experience a 1 ½-foot rise in sea level over the next 50 years, and a three- to five-foot rise by the end of the century.

''Turkey Point is out in the middle of Biscayne Bay with a three-foot rise,'' Wanless said. ``With a four- to five-foot rise in sea level, all our barrier islands will be abandoned. The Everglades would be overwhelmed. The difference between a one- to two-foot rise and a three- to five-foot rise is all the difference between messy and wet, and totally unliveable and loss of coastal environments.''

Thomas Eason, in charge of habitat and species conservation for the FWC, cited several examples of how climate change already is affecting Florida's wildlife.

''There's been a 50 percent reduction in coral cover in the Keys since 1996,'' Eason said. ``The common snook is now seen off Alabama. Blue tilapia have expanded their range 50 miles northwest all the way up to Gainesville. Sooty terns are nesting 1-2 months earlier. The brown pelican and wood stork center of breeding has moved northward.''

Reed Noss, a professor of conservation biology at University of Central Florida, predicted that as sea levels rise, about half of Florida's population would be forced to move away from the coasts, crowding into inland regions such as the Lake Wales Ridge and Kissimmee Valley. The human influx, Noss said, would crowd out wildlife, such as the endangered Florida panther. He recommended the creation of large upland preserves with travel corridors for fleeing wildlife.

''Is it cost-effective to spend billions on Everglades restoration, or would funds be better spent to move species upland?'' Noss said.

To stem the loss of coral reefs, Robert van Woesik, a biology professor at Florida Institute of Technology, recommended designating networks of marine protected areas with no fishing allowed.

''Local protection leads to local benefits,'' he said. ``Protection really does matter.''

Other speakers advocated stepping up efforts to control non-native species; allowing natural coastal ecosystems -- not seawalls -- to buffer shorelines; reducing manmade stressors, such as carbon emissions; and restoring natural freshwater flows to lakes and rivers.

Said Len Berry, director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Florida International University: ``The message to take from this is that planning needs to start now. We want to come out of here with things we ought to be concentrating on.''

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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