Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Crisis
SFWMD Governing Board Adopts Statement of Principles
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board on Nov. 10 unanimously passed a groundbreaking Statement of Principles to protect the Loxahatchee Refuge for the public. This Statement details the Governing Board's intent for managing a critical piece of the Everglades if the continued failure of the federal government forces SFWMD to terminate their lease on that land.
The Statement of Principles outlines how the Governing Board will manage the Water Conservation Area 1 property, where the Loxahatchee Refuge is located, for public access and ecosystem restoration if it is forced to terminate the contract that gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) the right to use that property. The District has owned the land for decades, but the USFWS has leased it since the early 1950s and used it as part of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
For more information:
- Letter from SFWMD General Counsel to USFWS – Nov. 16, 2016 [PDF]
- Statement of Principles: Governing Board Vows to Protect Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge [PDF]
- News Release: Governing Board Stands Up for Loxahatchee Refuge – Aug. 11, 2016 [PDF]
- Notice of Default Under License Agreement – Aug. 11, 2016 [PDF]
USFWS failing to meet obligations to control invasive plants
A severe, uncontrolled infestation of non-native Old World climbing fern (Lygodium microphyllum) has caused significant ecosystem damage to the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. As a result, the last remaining intact, northernmost portion of the original Everglades is in crisis. Old World climbing fern has aggressively invaded tree islands, where much of the biodiversity in the Everglades is concentrated. If not controlled, the infestation causes the eventual collapse of the tree canopy.
A 50-year license agreement*, renewed in 2002, authorizes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to operate the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge on land owned by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). Under the agreement, the USFWS is responsible for controlling invasive exotic plants in the Refuge, requiring:
- 50 percent control of Old World climbing fern infestation by 2012 – NOT MET
- 100 percent control of Old World climbing fern infestation by 2017 – WILL NOT BE MET
* The license agreement gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife a non-exclusive right to the use of the property in question. As a consequence of this agreement, USFWS operates and staffs the Refuge.
Consequences of USFWS not meeting license agreement requirements
A "restored" Everglades overtaken by invasive plants is not restored at all.
With concern for protecting a valued Florida resource, the SFWMD and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission signed a memorandum of understanding with USFWS in April 2015 to help the USFWS meet its obligations. However, Congress still is not funding invasive plant management control in the Refuge.
If congressional funding is not secured for much-needed treatment, these invasive plants will continue to expand, further degrading wildlife habitat and displacing native plant communities. The SFWMD may be required to:
- Amend the licensing agreement governing the USFWS's use of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge,
- Require the USFWS to develop a recovery plan, or
- Send the USFWS a Notice of Default for its failure to live up to its obligations in the agreement.
Invasive Plant Management Under License Agreement
SFWMD Role in Loxahatchee NWR
- The South Florida Water Management District owns land interests within Water Conservation Area 1 (WCA-1).
- A 1951 agreement between the SFWMD and USFWS, under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, established the 143,954-acre Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, the 216th refuge in the federal system within WCA-1.
- Under a license agreement with the SFWMD signed in 2002, the USFWS is responsible for managing the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, including controlling invasive exotic plants.
- In 2015, surveys documented a 600 percent increase in the abundance of Old World climbing fern in the Refuge compared to 20 years ago.
- Due to the failure to fund by Congress, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has invested $2.9 million since 2014 to treat 62,000 acres of the Refuge for Old World climbing fern. The SFWMD has coordinated the work.
USFWS Not Fully Funding Invasive Plant Management
- Currently, the USFWS has an annual budget of $1 million for exotic plant control and has allocated an additional $1 million in other discretionary funds toward invasive plant control at the Refuge over the last three years.
- Due to the scale of invasive plant infestation at the Refuge and requirements for second and third control treatments, this level of funding is insufficient to make progress toward maintenance control.
- At a minimum, Congress needs to invest an additional $5 million per year for the next five years, or $25 million total, to complete the initial treatment of invasive plant infestations in the Refuge.
- Letter from SFWMD Executive Director and Reply from USFWS – Nov. 16 - Dec. 24, 2015 [PDF]
- Letters between SFWMD Executive Director and U.S. Department of the Interior – April 15 - June 30, 2016 [PDF]
- Reply from SFWMD Executive Director to Letter Sent by Audubon Society of the Everglades – Sept. 5 - 14, 2016 [PDF]