FCC News Brief - June 12, 2019

Read Lawsuit launched to stop toxic algae bloom releases from Lake Okeechobee - “Conservation groups sued three federal agencies today for failing to address harm to Florida’s endangered species from Lake Okeechobee releases containing toxic algae. Today’s lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of Florida, challenges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ refusal to address the harms to human health and wildlife like sea turtles and Florida manatees from the lake’s toxic, nutrient-rich discharges into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and their estuaries. “Our rainy season just began, and we’re already seeing toxic algae in the lake that will soon be released into our canals and coasts,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Summertime in Florida shouldn’t mean putrid, toxic waterways, dead marine life, and stagnant coastal economies. Floridians can’t wait four more years just for more of the Corps’ broken promises.” After receiving the conservation groups’ notice of intent to sue in December 2018, the Corps requested informal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. But the agencies have still not engaged in the formal, legally binding consultation required by the Endangered Species Act — the only process sure to lead to improved protections for wildlife… “Four more summers without relevant change to the Lake Schedule will further extend the damage to listed species, and jeopardize public health and the coastal economy while we continue struggling with recovery,” said John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper…” From Waterkeeper Alliance press release.

Read With toxic blue-green algae bloom, don’t eat Lake Okeechobee fish, Audubon biologist says- “People shouldn't eat fish caught anywhere in Lake Okeechobee after a blue-green algae bloom near the center tested positive for hazardous toxin levels, an Audubon Florida biologist said Monday. A bloom sampled June 5 in the open water about 10 miles southwest of Port Mayaca contained the toxin microcystin at a level of 17.6 parts per billion, according to test results the Florida Department of Environmental Protection released Monday. Contact with water containing 8 parts per billion and higher is deemed hazardous to humans by the Environmental Protection Agency. Microcystin can cause nausea and vomiting if ingested, and rashes and hay fever symptoms if touched or inhaled. The toxin also has been linked to long-term, sometimes fatal, liver disease. "As a precaution, I'd say don't eat any fish from anywhere in the lake right now," said Paul Gray, an Audubon biologist who's been studying Lake O for 30 years. "Even if you don't see algae in the water, there can still be toxins in the water because when the algae dies, the toxins remain…” Tyler Treadway reports for the Treasure Coast Newspapers.

Read Indiana businessman donates thousands of acres to St. Marks NWR - “Sam Shine, for years, quietly bought up North Florida property and set about conserving it. A successful Midwestern manufacturer, Shine made a number of under-the-radar land deals that received little notice outside the Panhandle conservation community. Until now. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just received 6,200 acres of ecologically critical pine lands and headwaters adjoining the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Shine is donating the land to the Service — a gift — not merely selling of a chunk at a good price or establishing a conservation easement. “This is the single most important acquisition I’ve witnessed in my seven-and-a-half years as regional chief, and one of the biggest I’ve seen in 26 years in the Southeast region,” said David Viker who’s in charge of all refuges from North Carolina to Louisiana. “Given the overall size of the acquisition, its contribution to the landscape, help for at-risk species and potential for recreation, the property makes it indeed a crown jewel in our system. Mr. Shine’s generosity is beyond my comprehension.” Shine, a man of few words who shuns the limelight, downplayed the significance of his philanthropy. “I’ve held this ground for 10 years and I was hoping that the Fish and Wildlife Service would buy it all, but obviously it was going to take more than my lifetime, so I decided, ‘Well there’s no point in continuing to pay taxes and insurance and all the things it takes to manage the property, so I’m just going to give it to them,’ ” he said in a phone interview. “So I did.”... The conservation benefits are manifold. It’s key habitat for endangered frosted flatwoods salamanders and threatened red-cockaded woodpeckers. Once-decimated populations of Florida black bears may thrive along the corridor. Waterfowl and neotropical birds will have more room to roam. “Eastern indigo snakes are in my long-range plans,” said Terry Peacock, the St. Marks refuge manager. “Shine’s property, though, is also a critically important watershed. All the water in the refuge comes down through his property. So our vision is to restore the hydrology and restore a lot of the longleaf pine.” Shine leased the property to the state for hunting. Hunting, fishing, biking, hiking and wildlife viewing will be encouraged by the Service. Peacock hopes to stay true to Shine’s long-range ecological vision. “I’d like to take the whole Southeast — the whole country — and put it back to the way it was in pre-white man days,” Shine said. “It was a wonderful country then and we crapped it up over the centuries. I’m doing my part. And that’s all I can do…” Dan Chapman reports for the Tallahassee Democrat.

Read Free the snakes: Florida scientists release America’s longest snakes into the wild- “Scientists opened plastic storage bins to set 15 eastern indigo snakes free this month into a north Florida preserve. The release of 10 females and five males was part of an effort to repopulate the region with the native, nonvenomous apex predator, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Tuesday. Eastern indigos, which have all but disappeared from north Florida thanks to development, can grow up to 8 feet long. It's the third year in a row that snakes raised specifically for recovery of the species have been released at The Nature Conservancy's Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve in Bristol...“The eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) is the longest snake native to North America and an iconic and essential component of the now rare southern longleaf pine forest,” the FWC said in a statement. “It serves a critical function to balance the wildlife community — it consumes a variety of small animals including both venomous and non-venomous snakes.” Tiffini Theisen reports for the Orlando Sentinel.

Read DeBary conservation land deal stirs up more controversy- “Three years after agreeing to protect 940 acres of conservation land next to Gemini Springs, the Volusia County Council has agreed to give the city of DeBary two acres of the land to allow construction of a new road. A grassy trailhead at Fort Florida Road and U.S. 17-92 for the trail between parks at Gemini Springs and Lake Monroe would be replaced by a four-way intersection with a traffic light near the SunRail station. The changes, part of an agreement between the Florida Department of Transportation and a residential development going up in the area, was approved unanimously by the council last week — after a last minute flurry when DeBary residents who had protested previous plans to use the conservation land for development learned about the proposal on the eve of last Tuesday’s meeting. Following their questions, Councilman Fred Lowry pulled the item from the agenda for discussion, but it didn’t change the outcome. To the disappointed residents, the issue feels like deja vu all over again, and it fuels a growing controversy across Central Florida over the release of conservation easements. Three years ago, the city proposed acquiring 102 acres of conservation land in the same location, the Gemini Springs addition, from the St. Johns River Water Management District for use in the city’s SunRail-related transit-oriented development...DeBary resident Norm Erickson pointed out the issue is part of a growing controversy across Central Florida regarding conservation and mitigation. A group of environmental advocates in the region have raised questions about the frequency with which government agencies, especially the water management district, are releasing conservation easements…” Dinah Voyles Pulver reports for the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Read Jax Storm Resiliency Committee calls for drainage improvements, wetlands protection- “At its final meeting on Friday, Jacksonville’s Storm Resiliency Committee recommended the city take steps to protect wetlands. The members of the Storm Resiliency and Infrastructure Development Review Committee voted unanimously to propose an ordinance requiring developments to be an average of 25 feet and a minimum of 15 feet from wetlands, whether or not those developments are determined to have an impact on the wetlands. The city’s current comprehensive plan doesn’t require an average buffer distance, just a minimum of 15 feet. Local buffer requirements are common in Florida to provide water quality and habitat protection. Wetlands in the St. Johns River watershed absorb more than 2,400 metric tons of phosphorous and nearly 80,000 metric tons of nitrogen each year, according to a 2018 paper in the journal Wetlands Ecology and Management. Removing a similar amount of nitrogen at a wastewater treatment plant could cost as much as $150 billion dollars a year. Excess nitrogen and phosphorous in Florida’s waterways is considered one of the main drivers of harmful algal blooms...Committee members hope the recommended wetlands buffer change will help address what they see as a disturbing trend in Duval County: Between 2000 and 2018, 6,246 wetland acres were lost — nearly double the amount lost in any other county in the St. Johns River Water Management District. During that same time frame, 4,754 acres were preserved, enhanced or created — fewer than in many counties of similar size...Public hearings on the bill will be held on June 25 and July 16. Final City Council consideration of the measure is scheduled for July 23…” Brendan Rivers reports for WJCT.

Read Despite DeSantis vow, South Florida Water Management District ‘heartland’ board seat open- “Gov. Ron DeSantis has not yet appointed a board member to represent what he called "the heartland" of the 16-county district: an at-large position for an area that includes Glades, Highlands, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola and Polk counties. "I don't want to put a timetable in front of him," said DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Ferre, "but I hope he'll have a choice within the next four weeks." The governor's focus right now, Ferre said, is determining which bills and which sections of the budget the Florida Legislature approved this spring will survive or be victims of his veto pen...All the eight board members DeSantis has appointed are from coastal counties. Charlette Roman is an at-large member who's representation area includes those "heartland" counties, but she lives in coastal Marco Island. "I honestly do not know what the governor's delay is," J.P. Sasser, a former Pahokee mayor, said in an email. "I am hopeful he makes a decision soon. ... I don't know if it's politics (probably) (duh!) or if the governor wants to get it right the first time on his Glades choice for the SFWMD board." If DeSantis doesn't appoint an agriculture representative on the board, then it’s "the responsibility of each and every one of the board members to learn about agriculture," Gary J. Ritter, assistant director of government and community affairs for the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, said in an email. Ritter, a former member of the Okeechobee City Council, said he'll help teach them. "The board members I’ve met with have demonstrated a willingness to learn," Ritter said, "and I see that as a tribute to the type of people that have currently been selected…” Tyler Treadway reports for the Treasure Coast Newspapers.

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Upcoming Environmental Events:

June 10-14, June 24-28- Camp Kids in the Woods at the Austin Cary Forest - (Gainesville) - Is your 6th-9th grade child looking for fun adventure this summer?  Consider Camp Kids in the Woods! Campers will conduct various field explorations led by local scientists from forestry, wildlife, and water resources. Highlights include: fishing, handling wildlife, exploring local ecosystems, a trip to a local spring, camping out one night at the Austin Cary Forest, building wildlife nesting boxes, and participating in games and scavenger hunts. After a week of fun in the forest, campers gain a better understanding and deeper appreciation of their natural world and what is required to be a good steward of the environment. Camp Kids in the Woods summer program is a collaborative effort between the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation and the USDA Forest Service. Session 1: June 10-14, 2019; Session 2: June 24-28, 2019. For more information and to register visit: www.campkidsinthewoods.org , or contact the Camp Director, Molly Disabb at kidsinthewoods@ifas.ufl.edu

June 12, 6:00pm - Know your GREEN - (Orange Park) - The St. Johns Riverkeeper is already getting several reports of algal blooms across the Lower Basin of the St. Johns River from Palatka to Jacksonville. Read WJCT’s recent news story covering the issue. Now’s the time to take action and help us raise awareness to get the GREEN out! Join St. Johns Riverkeeper staff for this evening presentation to learn what causes these blue-green algal blooms and why they’re harmful for you and our River. We’ll also teach you ways to help us reduce algal blooms by living a more River Friendly lifestyle. You’ll also learn: What happened on nutrient pollution bills in the 2019 Legislative Session, How to report algal blooms when you see them, and Upcoming algal bloom outreach events, summer volunteer opportunities, and more! Light snacks and drinks provided. RSVP here. Location: Orange Park Town Hall, 2042 Park Ave, Orange Park, FL 32073.

June 13, 6:00pm - Know your GREEN - (Palatka) - The St. Johns Riverkeeper is already getting several reports of algal blooms across the Lower Basin of the St. Johns River from Palatka to Jacksonville. Read WJCT’s recent news story covering the issue. Now’s the time to take action and help us raise awareness to get the GREEN out! Join St. Johns Riverkeeper staff for this evening presentation to learn what causes these blue-green algal blooms and why they’re harmful for you and our River. We’ll also teach you ways to help us reduce algal blooms by living a more River Friendly lifestyle. You’ll also learn: What happened on nutrient pollution bills in the 2019 Legislative Session, How to report algal blooms when you see them, and Upcoming algal bloom outreach events, summer volunteer opportunities, and more! Light snacks and drinks provided. RSVP here. Location: St. Johns River Center, 102 N 1st St, Palatka, FL 32177.

July 8, 6:00pm - July Earth Ethics Environmental Educational Series - (Pensacola) -Join us at Ever'man Educational Center located at 327 W Garden Street. We will be viewing A PLASTIC OCEAN.  A PLASTIC OCEAN begins when journalist Craig Leeson, searching for the elusive blue whale, discovers plastic waste in what should be pristine ocean. In this adventure documentary, Craig teams up with free diver Tanya Streeter and an international team of scientists and researchers, and they travel to twenty locations around the world over the next four years to explore the fragile state of our oceans, uncover alarming truths about plastic pollution, and reveal working solutions that can be put into immediate effect. We'll discuss what you can do to help reduce your use of plastics! One lucky winner will receive a giftset to jump start a plastic reduced life. Check out the Eventbrite page here, and Facebook Event here. For more information, email earthethicsaction@gmail.com

July 11, 7:00pm - Toxic Puzzle Screening & Environmental Panel - (Orange Park)- TOXIC PUZZLE is a medical and environmental detective story where documentary filmmaker Bo Landin follows ethnobotanist Dr Paul Alan Cox and his scientific team around the world in a hunt for the hidden killer. The pieces come together in a toxic puzzle where cyanobacteria in our waters become the culprit. Are these organisms, fed by human pollution and climate change, staging nature’s revenge by claiming human lives? Join the St. Johns Riverkeeper at the Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts in Clay County (283 College Dr, Orange Park FL 32065) for a live screening and panel discussion on the issue of toxic algae blooms and the serious short and long-term health effects it’s having on our communities, wildlife, and habitats of our River and what YOU can do to help.

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