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Audubon Florida
The Advocate
In the second to last legislative committee week before the session begins, members met to discuss water quality, resilience, infrastructure, and more. On the federal level, Audubon is concerned that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed the delisting of the Wood Stork, stripping the iconic wading bird of its Endangered Species Act protections.
A Wood Stork stands above its nest. The viewer can see the head of a tiny stork chick.
Audubon Florida Concerned that the USFWS Proposes Removal of Wood Stork from Endangered Species Act Protection
Audubon Florida is concerned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's imminent proposal to remove the Wood Stork from Endangered Species Act protection.

The Greater Everglades Ecosystem used to be this species’ heartland, supporting massive colonies of this iconic wading bird. Today, the region’s megacolonies are a distant memory and in many seasons, chicks starve in their nests for lack of food due to loss and degradation of wetland habitat. While storks have recently spread northward, it’s unclear whether these outposts can survive long-term, especially with the loss of habitat protections that would accompany delisting and the uncertainties posed by climate change.

With the release of the species assessment, we look forward to vetting the findings cited in this proposal and providing additional resources that document the significance and vulnerability of this species in the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. South Florida’s Wood Storks were the anchor of the U.S. population for a very long time, and could be crucial to the species if the gains of recent years prove short-lived. While we celebrate many delistings, we have grave concerns for the future of the Wood Stork, especially if it is left without the protections afforded under the Endangered Species Act.
Wood Stork. Photo: Adam Bass/Audubon Photography Awards.
Common Gallinule juvenile walking on vegetation mat in the middle of the water.
Water Updates Come from DEP
At the Water Quality, Supply & Treatment Subcommittee (Chair, Rep. Cyndi Stevenson (R- St. Johns)) Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) leadership provided information to the committee members.

DEP Presents on Water Quality

Also on the agenda was a presentation by DEP Deputy Secretary Adam Blalock on water quality in Florida, the Blue-Green Algae Task Force, and the Biscayne Bay restoration plan process.

Why This Matters

You will remember that the Blue-Green Algae Task Force members informed many of the provisions included in SB 712, the Clean Waterways Act. These recommendations included removal of septic tanks in sensitive areas of the state, upgrades to wastewater treatment facilities, and updating and strengthening rules for stormwater, wastewater, septic tank permitting, and reclaimed water use. Deputy Secretary Blalock provided an update on the status of these efforts to the committee members along with an overview of the current status of adopted Basin Management Action Plans across the state.

Audubon continues to work with DEP, encouraging staff to collect actual data to show progress rather than relying on their modeling to show what project benefits might be.
Common Gallinule. Photo: Lynn Cleveland/Audubon Photography Awards.
An aerial photo of the Atlantic Ocean and a beach.
Invasive Species and the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection: Updates in the Agriculture, Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee
The House Agriculture, Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee, Chaired by Rep. James Buchanan (R- Osprey) heard presentations by Melissa Tucker, Director of the Habitat and Species Conservation Program at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Alex Reed, Director of the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection.

FWC Shares App and Summarizes Past Successes

Director Tucker provided an overview of the agency’s progress on invasive species control and shared the IveGot1 cell phone app, which is a multi-agency tool that the public can use to report invasive fish, wildlife, and plants. Notable agency successes include the removal of 8,000 pythons since 2000 and approximately 13,000 tegus since 2012.

What is the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection?

Director Reed presented an overview of her office, established by Governor DeSantis in his Executive Order 19-12. This office provides for comprehensive management of the state’s coastal resources while overseeing 5.3 million acres of submerged and coastal lands. It includes 10 distinct programs that focus on protecting Florida’s coastline. The Resilient Florida Program was added in 2021 to support community resilience through grants.
Florida's Atlantic coastline. Photo: Pixabay.
waves wash onto a beach during a hurricane
Two Programs to Improve Florida's Climate Resilience
On Tuesday, the House Agriculture and Natural Resource Appropriations Subcommittee (Chair, Representative Thad Altman (R-Brevard)) convened to learn about DEP’s resiliency funding programs from Alex Reed, Director of the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection.

Resilient Florida Program

The Resilient Florida Program aims to approach inland and coastal resiliency in a coordinated manner throughout the state. DEP highlighted their success of providing planning grants to all 67 counties and their respective municipalities to complete vulnerability assessments. Assessments are expected to be completed by 2026. Once the vulnerability assessments are completed, national, statewide, and local critical asset data will be compiled. To date, the Resilient Florida Program has awarded more than a billion dollars for 263 projects to communities across Florida to address the adaptation and mitigation needed for their critical and regionally significant assets.

What are the Grants Funding?
  • More than half of the projects addressed stormwater management. Other projects included nature-based solutions, retrofitting of facilities, and structural elevation.
  • In addition, the state has provided $40 million to communities to conduct vulnerability assessments to identify critical assets and future adaptation projects – step one in the process to receive grant funding to implement projects that will protect these critical assets.
  • Regional resilience entities that comprise counties and municipalities working together have received $4 million for community planning and implementation of programs that build regional resilience.
  • $66 million has been allocated towards other statewide resilience initiatives.

Beach Management Funding Assistance Program

The Beach Management Funding Assistance Program allows local governments along Florida’s coastline to apply for beach and inlet sand management for areas with critically eroded shorelines and altered inlets. The projects are required to be consistent with a Strategic Beach Management Plan or Inlet Management Plan to allow for economic planning, long term sustainability, and effective storm recovery.

Audubon’s Take

With these two promising programs in place, resiliency planning and funding will be expedited as climate change continues to impact the State of Florida.
A hurricane comes ashore in the Florida Keys.
Close up of a perched Pine Warbler looking at the camera.
Governor's Proposed Budget Includes More than $1 Billion for the Environment
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government (Chair, Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford)) received a breakdown of the Governor's recommended budget for fiscal year 2023-24.

DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton stated that Governor DeSantis' proposed budget included $1.1 billion for the Everglades and water quality as well as additional funding for land conservation programs. Funding recommendations included allocations for infrastructure improvements, stormwater and wastewater improvements, alternative water supply projects, septic to sewer conversions, specific funding for the Indian River Lagoon and Florida’s springs, as well as funds for harmful algal blooms, red tide mitigation, and more (for details – see last week’s Advocate).
Pine Warbler. Photo: Richard Miller/Great Backyard Bird Count.
An aerial view of a Florida highway.
FDOT Promises Collaboration and Considerations of Environmental Impacts
The Infrastructure Strategies Committee, chaired by Rep. Bobby Payne (R- Palatka), heard presentations from the Department of Transportation (FDOT) Secretary Jared Perdu and Environmental Program Director Jennifer Marshall on their environmental policies and processes.

Director Marshall focused on the collaborative nature of her staff’s work during FDOT planning processes.  Programs such as FDOT’s Efficient Transport Decision Making makes them a national leader in coordinated planning. 

Why is Coordinated Planning Important?

FDOT works with DEP and FWC to make sure that their engineering plans don't affect wildlife, habitat, or water.  Collaboration can minimize harmful environmental effects of infrastructure projects.

  • A good example: The Wekiva Parkway planning process was one such model of success.
  • A second example: Post-hurricane recovery processes took into consideration not only the longevity of the rebuilt infrastructure, but also its effect on the environment. As FDOT develops their Resiliency Action Plan, focus will include green infrastructure and hybrid plans – not just hardening.
Additionally, FDOT is collaborating with a range of stakeholders in future project planning, including the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
Photo: Pixabay.
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