Category Archives: Florida

First Chicks Born in Captivity for Highly-Threatened Florida Grasshopper Sparrow

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This May, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that Florida grasshopper sparrow chicks were successfully hatched for the first time in captivity. The chicks, born at the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in Loxahatchee, Fla, go one step forward in helping protect this highly endangered subspecies, one of North America’s most threatened birds.

With only an estimated 150 Florida grasshopper sparrows left in the wild, conservationists began a captive-breeding program in 2015, collecting five chicks from two different clutches in the wild, as well as two juveniles who would “tutor” the nestlings as they matured. In April 2016, the birds began to couple off, and a female hatched four nestlings on May 9. However, things are still less than rosy for these non-migratory, ground-dwelling birds, whose nest success rates are low (10-33%) to begin with.

Audubon Florida reported that 85 percent of the dry prairie land the sparrow depends on has been destroyed, mainly through conversion into pasture land. The exciting births come at a vital time, as experts are not optimistic about 2016 population counts for Florida grasshopper sparrows. “This breakthrough is great news because the Florida grasshopper sparrow couldn’t be more vulnerable,” said Sandra Sneckenberger, an FWS biologist helping lead the bird’s recovery effort.

Frequent Florida storms have taken a toll on the birds as well. As Sneckenberger noted in her May 11 statement: “Unfortunately, last week’s storms flooded most of the wild birds’ first nest attempts of the season. That brought the need for this captive-breeding program into even sharper focus. The four hatchlings are hopeful signs that bode well for producing options for recovery.” Let’s hope the joyful news of the recent hatchlings portends a newly positive direction for this threatened population of tiny creatures whose songs sound much like the grasshoppers they are named for.

Source: Discovery News. “Endangered Florida Sparrow Chicks Hatch in Captivity.” 19 May 2016.

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Manatees may lose Endangered status

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The West Indian Manatee will lose their status as endangered species under a proposal announced by federal wildlife managers, who say the marine mammals have made a robust recovery since first receiving protection in 1967.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to reclassify the manatee from endangered to threatened in response to a review initiated by a petition from the Pacific Legal Foundation, a free-market legal advocacy group that represents property owners on the Gulf coast. The petition was submitted on behalf of Save Crystal River, a group of property owners concerned about boating restrictions in King’s Bay in Citrus County.

“It’s really a success story,” said Jim Valade, Florida Manatee Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, on Thursday. “They still need our attention without a doubt, but they are no longer in intensive care per se.”

The agency said the species, one of the first in the nation to be classified as endangered, has increased in numbers over the past few decades and appears robust enough to face a very low risk of going extinct. “Current population estimates are 6,350 manatees in the southeastern continental United States and 532 manatees in Puerto Rico,” the wildlife service wrote in a notice to be officially published Friday. “These numbers reflect a very low percentage chance of this animal going extinct in the next 100 years.”

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A species classified as threatened retains virtually the same protection against being killed, harmed or harassed as one classified as endangered. Government agencies must take them into account in approving construction or other activities that could affect them. No-wake zones and fines for boaters who ignore them will remain in place.

The agency said the reclassification would not affect conservation measures that it credits with the manatee’s rebound, such as the establishment of more than 50 protected areas and restrictions on the construction of docks. But the reclassification would be a step toward removing the manatee altogether from the protected list, which would cost it much of its legal protection. Threatened means the species can become endangered in

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans a public hearing and will accept public comments before announcing a final decision. The 90-day comment period begins Friday. Conservation groups denounced the decision, saying the same threats that landed manatees on the endangered species list persist today.

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Manatee’s have come a long way, but is still threatened by boat strikes, cold stress and undiagnosed mass die-offs in the Indian River Lagoon. An estimated 60% of the state’s manatees rely on artificially warm water generated by power plants to survive.

There are fines for boaters that hit manatees and while these fines would remain  who speed through a “manatee protected area” , most are never caught. 87 manatees were killed in 2015, that is 14 more than in 2014. The record number of manatees killed by boats is 95 back in 2009.

This female manatee seemed to be checking on this young male manatee and having some social interaction. She isn't the mother, but possibly the young one's mother left him up in the springs while she went to feed. He looked bored and forlorn. Is this female manatee a friend of the family?

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Fracking in Everglades

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“Fracking” in Everglades on temporary hold

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) ordered the Dan A. Hughes Company, LP to stop all exploratory “fracking-like” drilling activities at five wells in Collier County, on the edge of the Everglades, until further notice, saying that the DEP will review results of monitoring efforts by the company.

The “fracking-like” drilling refers to a request from the company to the DEP which “proposed an enhanced extraction procedure that had not previously been used in Florida.” According to the DEP, the Dan A. Hughes Company proposed injecting a dissolving solution at sufficient pressure to create some openings in the oil-bearing rock formation, which would then be propped open with sand in pursuit of enhanced oil production. The department subsequently requested that the company not move forward until additional information could be collected.

Ignoring the DEP’s request, the Dan A. Hughes Company commenced the “fracking-like” extraction method and in December 2013, officials caught the company conducting “unauthorized activities” at a well south of Lake Trafford in Collier County, northeast of Naples, FL.

The possibility of groundwater contamination worries opponents of oil and gas drilling in the area, as well as the fact that the ecologically fragile region is already endangered by agricultural runoff, invasive species, rising sea levels due to climate changeand other threats. Because of environmental damage due to construction and the chance of potential oil spills, drilling poses far too great a risk to wildlife.

Locally, resistance has been building to potential oil and gas operations and recently, Sen. Nelson (D-FL) wrote a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asking that they investigate the company’s illegal drilling practices. “We cannot tolerate expanded industrial drilling activities that pose a threat to the drinking and surface water so close to the Florida Everglades. The recent discovery of a fracking-like incident there raises serious concerns about whether outside wildcatters would soil one of the world’s great environmental treasures,” Sen. Nelson’s letter read.

Hopefully, Sen. Nelson’s letter, along with the work of non-profit organizations like South Florida Wildlands Association and concerned citizens, will help draw nation-wide attention to the contentious issue.

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“Fracking” is not worth the destruction of the Biodiversity of this unique ecosystem

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Potential victim of Everglades “fracking”

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 The everglades is not one ecosystem but many, no where else on earth is there a place like this

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