Laurie Macdonald, Florida Program Director
Last month, we celebrated the First Annual Everglades Day, designated by the Florida legislature in recognition of America’s unique and intriguingly diverse Everglades ecoregion. The date, April 7th, was also the birthday of the late Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, an iconic heroine and newspaper reporter who spent many years writing about and advocating for Everglades protection.
The Everglades region is recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site and a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. The area encompasses three national parks, and a dozen national wildlife refuges and marine preserves, as well as a host of state, regional and local parks, forests and wildlife management areas. Extensive private land holdings in the region are also an integral component of valuable wildlife habitat ranging from 100,000-acre ranches to thousands of one-acre lots.
Biodiversity here is among the highest in the nation, with many species found nowhere else in the U.S. Many of Defenders’ key species are in the region, including Florida panthers, manatees, sea turtles, gopher tortoises and other listed species such as the Everglade kite, wood stork, Big Cypress fox squirrel, American crocodile and Key deer.
The Everglades are truly a national treasure and deserve the utmost protection and management. Without adequate funding, we’d be unable to acquire the habitat and linkages that species like panthers and bears need, protect water quality or work to protect natural systems from degradation and invasive species.
Throughout the month of April, we took action to protect south Florida’s Greater Everglades region. Defenders’ Florida Representative Elizabeth Fleming, our lobbyist Travis Moore and I, as well as other Everglades Coalition members, met with volunteers from around the state in Tallahassee to speak with our state senators and representatives who were in the midst of the Florida legislative session. Our message: The state budget needs to provide adequate funding for Everglades protection and restoration projects that protect our water and wildlife. One third of all Floridians rely on clean water from the Greater Everglades Ecosystem, and more than 120 federal and state endangered and threatened species depend on the region’s varied wetland, upland and marine habitats. The health of the Everglades brings economic health to the region. Quite simply, what’s good for the Everglades is good for southern Florida and beyond, because its visitors and migratory wildlife come from around the globe.
This was the first trip to the state capital for Will Johnson, a Defenders volunteer who made the nearly 7-hour drive to Tallahassee from Naples, who said, “Everglades Action Day is a great opportunity to engage with legislators and a wonderful group of activists to help preserve and protect the beauty and wildlife of Florida.”
Another volunteer, Magdalena Braker, took the long ride by joining others on a chartered bus that the Everglades Coalition reserved for the event, starting in Miami and picking up activists along way. Magdalena urged legislators to provide funding and support for the Everglades with this message: “La riqueza natural y servicios ambientales de los Everglades se están marchitando debajo presiones urbanas y venimos para emfátizar la importancia de los Everglades tanto para las especies silvestre como para los ciudadanos del sur de la Florida.” Which means:
“The natural resources and ecosystem services of the Everglades are withering under the pressures of urbanization, and we come here to emphasize the importance of the Everglades, not only for the native wildlife, but for South Floridians.”
The nearly 60 volunteers who made the trip from around the state to Tallahassee attended more than 30 meetings with their elected officials, asking them to make funding for the Everglades a priority. And it made an important contribution to Everglades protection! Just last week, as the 2013 legislative session concluded, the Florida Legislature designated $70M for Everglades restoration projects. Thanks for all who participated in our action day! If you’re in Florida, join us next year for lobby days at the state capital! And no matter where you live, get to know your state representative and senator back in your district. It always makes a big difference when elected officials hear directly from their constituents.