This week, legislative committees heard issues ranging from water to conservation lands to fireworks, and Audubon Florida was there to speak for birds and wild places. We saw progress on Everglades restoration, Congressional advocacy on behalf of climate, and water leadership from an unconventional (and fermented!) quarter. Read on for details and thanks as always for lending your voice in support of Florida and our birds!
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This week, legislative committees heard issues ranging from water to conservation lands to fireworks, and Audubon Florida was there to speak for birds and wild places. We saw progress on Everglades restoration, Congressional advocacy on behalf of climate, and water leadership from an unconventional (and fermented!) quarter. Read on for details and thanks as always for lending your voice in support of Florida and our birds!
Audubon Florida
Audubon Advocate | Your Policy Update
Wading birds in a wetland
Wading birds rely upon healthy wetlands to feed themselves and their chicks. Photo: Robbyn Spratt
Bills to Fight Florida’s Water Woes Begin to Move in Legislature
Water remains an important topic in the Legislature this year as we continue to see red tide blooms off the Gulf Coast, reminding us to strengthen state regulations to reduce nutrient pollution flowing into our overtaxed waterbodies. Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) and Representative Margaret Good (D-Sarasota), in an effort to reduce nutrient loading from urban stormwater runoff, filed SB 686 and HB 405 to require water management districts to improve the guidebook of stormwater practices and design criteria for stormwater projects. The bills also include requirements to develop measures for a consistent application of the “net improvement” standard to ensure new pollutant loadings won’t be discharged into impaired water bodies.

Senator Debbie Mayfield filed SB 712, the “Clean Waterways Act,” a comprehensive water quality bill similar in many ways to the one she filed last year, with one important addition.  Continuing in the vein of Senator Gruters and Representative Good’s stormwater bills, SB 712 includes requirements for the water management districts to update the State’s stormwater rules, as well as the stormwater design criteria, for new developments and redevelopments to reduce stormwater pollution to water bodies.
 
fireworks litter
Fireworks litter left behind on a Florida beach.
Bill to Expand Access to Personal Fireworks Clears First Committees Despite Concerns for Veterans, Pets, Special Needs Individuals, and Wildlife
While official fireworks displays are an integral part of key holidays, personal fireworks used in inappropriate locations can prove deadly to birds and their colonies. On Monday, the Senate Community Affairs panel unanimously approved SB 410 by Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Jacksonville) that would expand legal access to explosive fireworks on designated holidays such as Independence Day, Memorial Day, New Year’s Eve and Day. The house companion, HB 65 by Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral), narrowly passed the House Business and Professions Subcommittee on Wednesday.

Audubon’s Director of Policy Beth Alvi testified in the House Committee informing members of the dangers of explosive fireworks to nesting threatened species like Black Skimmers, Least Terns, and Wood Storks; as well as the risk explosive fireworks pose to initiating fires in public and private conservation areas. Committee members Rep. Jason Fischer (R-Jacksonville), Rep. Randy Fine (R-Brevard), and Rep. Wengay Newton (D-St. Petersburg) raised concerns about the negative impacts of personal fireworks on special needs populations, veterans, private property owners, and domestic pets.

Stay tuned for opportunities to lend your voice to birds and other wildlife negatively impacted by recreational fireworks use.
Screen-shot of South Florida Water Management District broadcast shows Audubon Florida board member Carol Timmis at the microphone.
Celebrating the Opening of the C-44 Reservoir
This morning, Audubon Florida board member Carol Timmis joined the Governor, DEP Secretary, and others to begin operations of Martin County’s C-44 Stormwater Treatment Area. This Everglades Restoration project will help protect the Indian River Lagoon from large freshwater pulses. 

According to the engineering firm HDR, Inc., “by traveling through a 3,400-acre, 15-foot-deep reservoir and 6,300 acres of stormwater treatment areas, the water will traverse constructed wetlands for sedimentation and nutrient reduction.”

Audubon’s Celeste De Palma says, “when finished, the C-44 Reservoir and STA will be an important component to bring the Greater Everglades Ecosystem back into balance. This project, along with the C-43 Reservoir to the west, and the soon to be constructed EAA Reservoir and STA are the domino pieces needed to reconnect the River of Grass to its upstream sources of water and correct the flow of water to flow south once again.”

“We are entering a new era, with many of these restoration projects nearing the finish line and that is exciting. Clean water is the livelihood of South Florida, and it is extremely evident here on the Treasure Coast. The C-44 project is a critical step in helping the recovery of the St. Lucie River,” she concluded.
 
Painted Bunting. Photo by David Morgan
M-CORES Toll Roads Task Forces Raise Important Questions About Need, Financial Feasibility
Legislation championed by Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) last session paved the way for the development of Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES). Its goal is to build three new toll roads in the next 10 years — extending the Suncoast Parkway to Jefferson County; connecting the turnpike to the parkway, and building another toll road connecting Polk and Collier counties.

Task forces assigned to each potential corridor have met twice and are tasked with evaluating the feasibility and routes of these impactful proposals. Audubon staff is represented on all three task forces by Charles Lee (Suncoast and Turnpike) and Dr. Paul Gray (Polk to Collier). At the latest of these meetings, both elevated concerns that the need and financial viability for these roads have not yet been demonstrated. They are also vocal advocates for mandatory protection elements for wildlife and conservation and agricultural lands in the planning process.
 
December brings the Suncoast Connector task force meeting #3 as well as another community open house. See the schedule below, and click here for additional information. Past meetings have been televised live on the Florida Channel, so if interested, check listings closer to the date of the meetings.

Suncoast Connector Task Force Meeting #3
December 17, 2019, 10 a.m.
IFAS Auditorium
203 Forest Park Drive
Perry, FL 32348 United States

Suncoast Connector Community Open House
December 19, 2019, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Alton Family Life Center
2365 East US 27
Mayo, FL 32055 United States
 
Press conference
Press Conference. Photo by Rikki Miller
U.S. Rep. Castor & Audubon Florida Sound Alarm on the Climate Crisis’ Impact on North American Birds
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL-14), Chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, was joined by Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell and Tampa Audubon Society President Mary Keith in Tampa Tuesday to outline the Audubon’s projections for climate impacts to Florida’s birds and the urgent steps that need to be taken to protect them and us. 

The National Audubon Society’s new report details the devastating effects the climate crisis will have on North American bird species- 389 American bird species are at risk for extinction if warming reaches 3 degrees Celsius. Florida species such as Black Skimmer, Wood Thrush, and Brown Pelican are among species facing extinction due to sea-level rise, wildfires, heatwaves, and urbanization.

“Just over the past few months, July was the hottest month on record for the planet, in history. Right here, in the Tampa Bay area, the month of October was our hottest October, ever, since they started keeping records. In fact, the Tampa Bay area set another unfortunate record, where we had more consecutive days over 70 degrees than ever before. That simply broke a record from 2018,” said Castor.

“We’re seeing very damaging sea-level rise, more intense tropical storms. So, it’s important that Audubon — along with many other organizations — is urging us to take action,” she concluded. 
Electric Car.
Take Action! Model Ordinance Toolkit Update
Audubon Florida’s Model Ordinance Toolkit includes examples of how cities and counties around the country have improved their energy efficiency and switched to renewables—examples that you can take to your own city and county leaders! The toolkit’s latest update now includes resources on greenhouse gas emission inventories.
 
Cities, counties, and other entities all generate carbon emissions in the course of their operations, from the conventionally generated electricity they use to the fossil-fueled vehicles they employ. Reducing these emissions by improving energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy sources is essential, but you can’t gauge progress without first knowing where you’re starting.

Greenhouse Gas (GHG) inventories establish a baseline for the size of an entity’s carbon footprint, against which the success of a reduction action plan may be measured. Inventories can cost from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, though. Check out the newest section of our toolkit for strategies to help lower the cost of inventories, and shepherd your city, county or university through this important process. 
Everglades Brewers Council logo
Everglades Brewers Council logo
Audubon Florida and South Florida Breweries Launch the Everglades Brewers Council
Audubon Florida and a coalition of South Florida breweries have teamed up to launch the Everglades Brewers Council. Our members are driven by a united goal: to protect South Florida’s water and amplify regional resilience by promoting Everglades restoration and other vital conservation policies.

Brewers are acutely aware of the importance of having a steady supply of clean water; beer is, after all, 90% water. In South Florida, clean water is inextricably tied to the health of the Everglades ecosystem. 

“Craft breweries bring people together,” says Celeste De Palma, Director of Policy at Audubon Florida, “Audubon protects the places birds love because we know that where birds thrive people prosper. This new partnership reinforces the notion that the Everglades is key to South Florida’s prosperity, and that everyone has a stake in protecting the ecosystems that sustain us.”

Current challenges like recurring algal blooms and sea-level rise prove that the time for significant funding is more important than ever to accelerate restoration. That’s why Audubon Florida and the members of the Everglades Brewers Council delivered a letter to leadership in the House and Senate urging them to come together and pass a spending bill that includes $200 million for Everglades restoration in FY20 and ensure that the residents, businesses, and wildlife that depend on the Everglades ecosystem continue to thrive.Learn more about the Everglades Brewers Council and its members
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