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Florida CSI

Thursday, February 10, 2011

As we looked and took in all that Viera had to give us, we relaxed. We moved from one beautiful thing to the next. We all fell into the moment, let it stretch to hours, and didn't want it ever to end.

Phoebe found a pile of coot feathers, and the hunt was on to nail the murderer. For certainly it was premeditated.

Webb is an ex-cop, and he launched an investigation. 

 Figuring the coot was nabbed down by the water, he quickly found fresh pugmarks of a bobcat.

He'd had his suspicions anyway. He didn't think a raccoon would be quick enough to grab a coot.

The coot's wing feathers had saliva on them and looked chewed on, consistent with mammalian predation. An avian predator will bend wing feathers with its beak, but leave no saliva or fraying.

It was fun to puzzle out a natural mystery with a real live cop, one who taught crime scene photography, among other things. Webb doesn't miss much. He kept pointing out gators to Liam, for which Shoom will be forever grateful. 

Viera Wetlands is actually a water treatment facility, though you might not know it to look at the carefully managed vegetation in the impoundments. It has to be the most beautiful turd tumbler I've ever seen. A destination all of its own. And the management is to be congratulated for encouraging birders by maintaining nice diketop roads and making it accessible to us.

 The vegetation acts as a huge biofilter for the sewage, and the air is sweet and the birds are well-fed and healthy. Each impoundment has different chemistry and ecology, and it's fascinating to see.

And yet...A native Floridian I spoke with said, "I won't go there. I hate what's happened to Viera. You think it's beautiful now. You should have seen what was there before they made it into a sewage treatment facility." And this is the paradox that is Florida. People are always mourning what was there before the now. I understand, being one who remembers the before in my own region, and took her comments as sincerely as they were meant. I was glad I didn't know that when I visited. I was taken in by the birds and the marshes, and I hadn't stopped to think about what might have been replaced. Viera itself is bloated with strip malls, pavement, golf courses and planned communities, and there has to be a place for all that waste, doesn't there? 

I will say this. Viera Wetlands is a spectacular bit of  environmental mitigation. But mitigation it is, and I am glad there are those who still remember that, who treasure their memories of before. Head in hands, deep cleansing breath. Forge on. It is what it is...


The pain of the native is that the new ones take in what is, "what it is", and are awed by a remnant of "what it was".

Settling for fragments instead of the whole tapestry.

Okay, I'm done.

I do love seeing sweet, fragile Florida through your eyes though.

I hate to be one of those Florida whiners, but I too hate the fact that people are willing to settle for outdoor adventures in such places as landfills and effluent facilites.I fear that one day these will be the only places we will see what's left of the wildlife.
If we can't somehow stop the developers and destruction, we will be no better off than the people that have seen mountaintop mining destroy their wildlife habitat.
(who just last night attended a lecture that made it clear that her beloved Snail Kites will most likely be extirpated within her lifetime)

Even as someone who's only lived in Florida for a few years, I'll join the chorus of those who see what is as a poor reflection of what used to be.

...I have to say, my first impressions of Florida, as someone moving from Hawaii, were amazement at the diversity that remains. Though that's probably damning with faint praise- from a Hawaii perspective, any non-endangered native birds and plants, or protected coastal habitats, are exciting!

Posted by Anonymous February 10, 2011 at 1:47 PM

I read this after coming back from my first amphibian egg-mass monitoring session of the year. There's way more water than last year (and it's not the rainfall), way more eggs, and all of this is thanks to the voters purchasing more and more areas for restoration. (In this case, agricultural tiles that had been keeping the land dry had been disrupted.) So sometimes things go the other direction.

I grew up at the edge of the Everglades, as Raymond did in North Florida. I've seen the South Florida beaches go from deserted stretches where you could skinny-dip with impunity (not that I ever did that, you understand) to solid walls of condos where the dunes and jungles used to be.

I saw the Kissimmee River, a critical part of the watershed that feeds the Everglades, turned into an arrow-straight canal that, instead of depositing silt in a rich floodplain, took it straight into Lake Okeechobee, further clogging the already-shallow basin. And I've watched the efforts to return it, and the 'glades, to their "natural" condition.

But who's to say what's "natural?" South Florida is crowded with exotic plants now, pushing out the native vegetation, yet only 5,000 years ago, the entire portion of the peninsula south ot the Big Lake was a shallow part of Florida Bay. When the water receded, ALL vegetation was exotic -- some from the north, the rest from the Caribbean and the Antilles. It all came from elsewhere else. It, and we, are exotics too.

Incredibly extensive drainage for the sake of development has altered the water table and the natural flow of water in the entire peninsula. Commercial water companies bottle our groundwater, and houses fall into sinkholes, their foundation stone no longer supported by hydraulic pressure.

This is all a shame -- but it is what it is. There is no going back. Attempts to return Florida to its natural condition are as futile as trying to push toothpaste back into the tube. We would have to begin by sending 12 million people someplace else, and go from there. Ain't happenin'.

We need to preserve what remains, while accomodating the influx of humans that will not stop. Reality bites, but there it is. If we have to convert a natural marshland to a wastewater treatment facility in order to keep from pouring effluent into other bodies of water, rendering it harmless instead and producing in the process some good habitat for other creatures, it's better than dumping the shit in the ground water or the lagoon. It certainly wouldn't have helped the Banana River estuary.

Bottom line, like it or not, we have to live with reality, mitigate what we can, and hope for the best.

I meant to add "it's the mitigation effort where we can all make a mark. If you're not putting your energy and time on the line to improve things, then you're blowing smoke when you lament."

Raymond it. I am. Who's going to join us?

Mitigation in Fla is pretty much a corrupt political process that does not work. And fragmentation of habitat doesn't work either.
We need to stop building and admit that we can stop people from coming -there are over 60K empty homes in So FL alone and no jobs to support persons who might buy them,
The rest of the state isn't much better off.
My Commissioners know me and certain big developers snarl when they remember my comments at commission meetings.
So that makes three of us that still care.

Posted by Anonymous February 11, 2011 at 6:46 PM

Every time I go to Florida I swear that we will soon end up with no more than 20 square miles of something we'll call the Everglades, instead of what was once the lower third of the state. It's more than sad that we have allowed such rampant development; it's an utter tragedy. Just one more truly wild place that will become a mere shadow of itself. Mostly I've come to hate Florida for it's no more than an endless strip mall and parking lots. The best thing the state has to offer is swiftly becoming a thing of the past and that will be just another theme park.

Posted by Stefanie Graves February 11, 2011 at 6:55 PM

Re: Endless strip malls.

All you have to do is get more than twenty miles from the coast, just about anywhere, and there's still a lot of Florida left. Check out Lake Wales Scrub State Preserve, Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring, Everglades City, Fisheating Creek, SR 60, SR 70 and SR 80 between the coasts, the Green Swamp, little towns like St. Helen, Cassadega, Dade City, Live Oak, Sopchoppy, Wewachitka, Blackwater River State Forest (possibly the home of the last Ivory-Bills), and on, and on.

It's true that much of Florida has been despoiled, but it's a big state, with more than 1500 miles of shoreline and over 2000 lakes in the central ridge alone. There's a lot still there. Just get away from the "destinations" and look for the real thing.

I've worked within the Louisiana Chapter of the Sierra Club to fight to keep public lands from being destroyed to make tree farms or from having streams destroyed by cattle on public lands. I've fought against the oil companies that build canals that allow the saltwater to destroy fresh water marshes. I've fought the same battles over and over, and finally saw many of them lost.

Now I still work to restore natural habitats in public lands but think that only if groups like the Nature Conservancy own natural lands, will they be saved in their natural state.

And programs that encourage landowners to restore habitat are also helpful, but are not permanant solutions.

Cities, like Austin, Texas that are buying lands and restoring grasslands to help keep the Edwards Aquifer filled and then using them for public recreating and place where wildlife can find a home are also solutions to protect against urban sprawl forever displacing native plants and animals.

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