FCC News Brief - May 13, 2019

Quote of the Day: “The single biggest threat to our planet is the destruction of habitat and along the way loss of precious wildlife. We need to reach a balance where people, habitat and wildlife can co-exist. If we don't, everyone loses...one day." -Steve Irwin. 

Read Former Gov. Bob Graham asks Gov. DeSantis to veto multi-billion-dollar toll road plan and bill that punishes anyone who challenges development - “Former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, chair of the Florida Conservation Coalition, is joining the calls for Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto two bills that pose significant threats to Florida’s environment. One bill (SB 7068) to build a massive toll road network through rural areas was called “the worst environmental bill in twenty years” by one long-time environmentalist. It would dedicate billions to toll roads that haven’t been called for in any state transportation plan. Legislators voted on it without having any exact routes to look at – just general corridors. The other (HB 7103) says anyone who challenges a development’s approval and loses has to pay legal bills for the local government or developer. Experts say it is the final nail in the coffin for Florida’s landmark 1985 Growth Management Act, a landmark law passed to make sure development’s impacts are properly planned for and infrastructure is in place to support it. It was tacked onto an unrelated bill late in the legislative session, and wasn’t debated or voted on  in any committees before that…” Julie Hauserman reports for the Florida Phoenix.

Read Plastic straws are out: Ron DeSantis vetoes prohibition of local straw bans - “Gov. Ron DeSantis flexed his veto power for the first time late Friday, declining to sign an environmental bill that would have prohibited local governments from banning plastic straws for the next five years. In his veto letter to Secretary of State Laurel Lee, he said municipalities who prohibit plastic straws have not “frustrated any state policy” or “harmed the state’s interest.” Under the bill, a study of “each ordinance or regulation adopted” by local governments related to single-use plastic straws would have to be conducted by the Department of Environmental Protection and then submitted to Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes. The study would focus on the “data and conclusions” used in adopting local ordinances instead of the environmental impacts, which had irked environmental groups that argue that there’s enough evidence of the effect of plastic pollution. The bill initially was meant to ban plastic straws, but was heavily amended during a March committee meeting to do the opposite. “The state should simply allow local communities to address this issue through the political process,” DeSantis wrote. “Citizens who oppose plastic straw ordinances can seek recourse by electing people who share their views…” Samantha J. Gross reports for the Tampa Bay Times.

Read Algae conditions in the St. Johns River could be the ‘perfect storm’ - “The St. Johns Riverkeeper and scientists with Jacksonville University toured the St. Johns River Friday looking for the blue-green algae. "You're starting to see green algae particles in the water column, "St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said.  They didn't see any of the algae on the top of the water between Jacksonville and the Shands Bridge. "Sometimes you don't have scum on the surface but you can see it underneath the water and that can be just as dangerous as on the surface," Rinaman said.  Indeed, there have been reports of blue-green algae further north in "Julington Creek and in Doctors Lake. This is the furthest north we've actually seen it," Rinaman said. The algae appears to be moving north because further south, such as in Putnam County, the algae is thick and coats the water's surface. Rinaman said toxin is being detected in the algae, "They're not high levels at this point."  But scientists, such as Dr. Melinda Simmons with Jacksonville University, are worried about what they're seeing on the river and under the microscope. "The species that we are currently seeing," Simmons said, "seems to be setting things up for the perfect storm for the rest of the summer." She explained because it's an aggressive kind of algae and because it started appearing so early in the year, the algae bloom could get a lot worse and spread a lot more…” Jessica Clark reports for First Coast News.

Read What did Florida lawmakers do about red tide? Not enough, critics say - “When an unshakeable red tide bloom left residents devastated, Florida politicians promised strong action. Environmentalists say they didn’t get it. Numerous bills that would’ve made at least incremental progress in regulating water quality were stalled and died in Florida Legislature subcommittees. Critics call it an about-face from those, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, who promised to keep the environment healthy. “I’m just dumbfounded that the Legislature managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and pass not one single bill — good or bad — that will have one meaningful impact on red tide,” said Andy Mele, an activist with Suncoast Waterkeeper...However, a red tide mitigation bill filed by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, won widespread bipartisan support. The Senate and the House both approved the bill, which would create an “ongoing cooperative red tide research and monitoring program between the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and Mote Marine Laboratory,” with the goal of developing new technology to control or lessen red tide impacts. It provides $3 million in funding each year for the next five years. But mitigation technology only goes so far, said Solutions To Avoid Red Tide (START) CEO Sandy Gilbert, who argued for more control and regulation over nutrients entering Florida waterways. “I’m not a big mitigation fan anymore. I’d rather spend money on figuring out how to slow down the nutrient loading, because once red tide is here, you can’t get rid of it,” Gilbert said... Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who sits on DeSantis’ Water Policy Committee, described the Legislature’s work as a step in the right direction. In future sessions, she suggested, they may want to take a look at the effect fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals have on the quality of Florida’s water…” Ryan Callihan reports for the Bradenton Herald.

Read Officials reach deal on Fish Island in St. Augustine - “Property owners of Fish Island in St. Augustine have agreed to sell the property, according to the North Florida Land Trust. The land trust, a nonprofit organization, began negotiating to preserve part of the property in 2018 after the city’s Planning and Zoning Board rejected a proposal to build a residential development of up to 170 homes on about 70 acres at the site. The land trust’s deal is for 57 acres of the property, which is on the Intracoastal Waterway adjacent to the State Road 312 bridge on Anastasia Island. North Florida Land Trust President Jim McCarthy said people made a difference by speaking at public meetings in support of preserving the land. “We truly appreciate the people came out to express their opinions,” he said. “Now they get to reap the benefits.” The land trust received commitments from the state of Florida to pay for purchase with Florida Forever funds, according to a news release. McCarthy declined to disclose the sale price, but he said the organization will release the information after the sale is final. It’s up to Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet to approve the purchase, but the land trust is “is optimistic” the sale will go through, according to the release…” Sheldon Gardner reports for the St. Augustine Record.

Read Highly endangered Florida grasshopper sparrows reared in captivity are released - “Three of the rarest birds in Florida took an extraordinary adventure Monday, slipping out of a large pen into the freedom of an expansive, treeless prairie south of Orlando. The year-old Florida grasshopper sparrows were hatched and raised in captivity, and designated as pioneers in a perilous bid to save their kind from oblivion. Staffers of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other organizations lined a dirt road, observing the pen in the far distance as a pair of biologists removed panels from the enclosure...There are fewer than 80 of the sparrows in the wild – residing exclusively in remote, open spaces of southern Central Florida – and fewer than 70 in captivity. With such a small population, they are thought of as a blink from oblivion…” Kevin Spear reports for the Orlando Sentinel.

Read Turning the Toxic Tide: Our 5-part playbook for saving Florida’s waters - “If you had a crystal ball, you might gaze into the orb for a glimpse of Florida's future. Fifty years from now, will Florida remain the lush, green paradise of tourism brochures? Or will the toxic tides that have swamped our state turn us into a blue-green dystopia? Toxins in cyanobacteria — blue-green algae — that routinely clogs Florida waters are linked to Alzheimer's, ALS and Parkinson's disease. Imagine the potential fruits of this poisonous tree a generation from now: communities in Florida where clusters of these ailments emerge. Imagine waterfront homes that go begging for buyers, beaches continually littered with dead wildlife, coastal communities where economies have crashed because no one wants to go in — or even near — the water. Imagine oil spills off the coast, springs and streams ruined by pollutants. Our tourism industry could wither; development could grind to a halt as the state's ecological problems mount. It may sound like the stuff of apocalyptic science fiction. But for too long, Florida has been willing to pay an environmental price for continued growth and prosperity...Since October, the USA TODAY Network-Florida has detailed the challenges facing our waterways and called upon elected leaders to embrace a five-pronged approach for solving them:  1. Fix the broken environmental regulatory system in Florida, making sure the priority is to protect our waters — not protect the regulated community from enforcement. 2. Reinvent Florida's stripped-down approach to managing growth.  3. Fund and finish building long-planned Everglades and estuary restoration projects. 4. Curtail the problem of human waste, including pollution from septic tanks, sewage plants and biosolids. 5. Ban offshore drilling in federal waters near Florida's shores. There has been some progress. But it's not nearly enough…” From the USA Today Network-Florida Editorial Boards.

Read Not a good legislature session for environmentalists- “As far as many environmentalists are concerned, the recently ended session of the Florida Legislature was the “session from hell.” How everything will sort out still depends on whether Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoes any of the environmentally damaging bills that landed on his desk last week. At the top of environmentalists’ veto list is the proposal to expand the toll highway system into rural sections of southwest and north Florida. The projects, as I noted in this space last week, are bad news for wildlife and urban planning while not really offering the promised congestion relief for commuters and sucking large amounts of money out of the state budget...Legislators also passed a bill in the session’s final hours that would seriously discourage legal challenges of local growth decisions by citizen groups. That’s because the bill, which is also on growth-management advocates’ veto list, requires the loser to pay the winner’s legal fees. In addition, the bill imposes one-size-fits-all deadlines on all development reviews by local planners. That’s a recipe for forcing local officials to rubber stamp development approvals. The next serious hit the environment took that the governor is powerless to fix — he can veto budget items but he can’t increase them — is the paltry dime-on-the-dollar appropriation for the Florida Forever and Florida Rural Lands Stewardship programs. Legislators again decided to flip off Florida voters who approved a constitutional amendment to restore the $300 million annual funding for the land-acquisition program. The Legislature appropriated $33 million…” Tom Palmer writes for The Ledger


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Upcoming Environmental Events:

May 16th - Clean Water Paddle Series - (Pensacola Beach) - Join the Healthy Gulf for the Clean Water Paddle Series every Thursday at 6 pm. Paddleboards, kayaks, canoes—all paddlecraft are welcome. Paddleboards will be available for rental. We’ll paddle around Little Sabine Bay for up to one hour, then enjoy the sunset from The Shaka Bar. Environmental education will be provided before, during, and after the paddle by Healthy Gulf and others. Learn about seagrass, clean water, marine life, and how you can help to protect it all. For more information about the Clean Water Paddle Series please visit Healthy Gulf on Facebook or call 850-687-9968 or christian@healthygulf.org. Meet at Aloha Wine and Liquor, 649 Pensacola Beach Blvd, Pensacola Beach.

May 16-19 - 39th Annual Florida Native Plant Society Conference - (Crystal River)- Our theme this year "Transitions" is pertinent to the Nature Coast region of Florida in a number of ways - sea level rise, migrations of ecosystems due to climate change, and the transition zone between north and south Florida.  You will be delighted by mind-expanding experiences, tempted by sumptuous meals (including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free) and amazed by the networking and social opportunities. As always, we will offer an abundance of presentations and workshops. 9301 West Fort Island Trail, Crystal River, FL 34429 . Click here for attendee and vendor registration.

June 10-14, June 24-28, 2019 - 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

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