Photo by Laura Mahoney/USFWS
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Photo by Laura Mahoney/USFWS
An ambitious infrastructure project promises relief for the Caloosahatchee River system and new opportunities for sportsmen and women
The Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida has long been troubled by erratic changes in water quality and quantity. A wet summer season brings too much water, while drier times of the year bring too little, and changes in salinity for extended periods of time put the system under great stress. Adding to these problems are excessive loads of nutrients entering the water due to changes in land-use and an ever-increasing human population.
In recent years, these problems have resulted in a large-scale loss of sea grass beds, which in turn affected the local fishery and anglers’ opportunities to chase snook, redfish, and trout.
But thanks to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and collaborative efforts by resource managers, conservationists, and local and state officials, a solution is on the way that will restore habitat, improve water quality, and boost opportunities for sportsmen and women.
Originally the Caloosahatchee drained a basin west of Lake Okeechobee and was fed by rainfall and springs in the region. In the 1880s, however, a canal connecting the river to Lake Okeechobee resulted in a permanent change in the hydrology of the system.
Continued population growth and changes in land use continued over time until the system reached a breaking point. Frequent algae blooms and a recent outbreak of blue-green algae now represent a threat to domestic animals as well as fish and wildlife, and may also pose a health risk to people.
In addition to water quality concerns, sustained periods of very high or very low flows of freshwater result in stress on sea grasses and other marine life. In recent years this produced a large-scale loss of sea grass beds. With the loss of sea grass the local fishery suffers, and opportunities for anglers to enjoy snook, redfish, and trout have diminished.
A solution to these problems started to take shape in 2015, when construction began on the C-43 West Basin Reservoir. When completed, this reservoir, located adjacent to the Caloosahatchee, will span nearly 11,000 acres and provide the capacity to store 170,000 acre-feet of water.
Stormwater runoff and releases from Lake Okeechobee would be stored in the reservoir and released to replicate historic flows in the system. An added benefit will be the reduction in sediment and nutrient loads entering the river and estuary. In addition, a water quality component is being developed while construction is underway. Restored sea grass and filter feeding organisms will also help to improve water quality in the river and estuary.
Major partners in the project include the South Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Construction funding is being provided by the state with operations and maintenance shared jointly by the federal and state governments.
The project has received support at the highest levels, including the Florida state legislature, the Florida congressional delegation, and Governor Ron DeSantis, who visited the site on October 25, 2019, for the initiation of work on the 15 miles of perimeter canals and 19 miles of embankments needed to complete the project. Overall construction is expected to be completed in 2022.
The finished reservoir will provide resource managers with the ability to regulate water quantity and quality in the Caloosahatchee River, San Carlos Bay, and the greater Caloosahatchee estuary. This capability will in turn mitigate potentially harmful releases of water from Lake Okeechobee and allow the lake’s water levels to be managed more flexibly. These measures will help to improve sea grass beds, a valuable marine fishery, and provide more recreational opportunity to fish for trout, redfish, and snook.
While the project’s fundamental purpose is to benefit the river and estuary, the reservoir and perimeter canals will provide new angling opportunities since funding has been included for a recreational component to the project. Anglers will be able to use boat ramps and fish the perimeter canals once the reservoir is operational and fish populations have become established.
All told, this project will be a big win for sportsmen and women and a great example of how conservation partnerships can produce healthy habitat and clean water, as well as the hunting and fishing opportunities that go with them.
Jon Andrew is the Florida outreach coordinator for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. He is recently retired from a 35-year career as a biologist and refuge manager with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, where he eventually became responsible for management of all refuge lands in the southeastern U.S. and Caribbean. In his spare time, he enjoys saltwater flyfishing and poling his skiff in the shallow waters along the southwest Florida coast in search of snook.
Top photo: South Florida Water Management District
After years of hard work, legislation to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters becomes a reality.
Bipartisan legislation to keep the government open and invest in conservation to become law
Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have passed a bill to safeguard hunting traditions, while paving the way for new investments in conservation.
Bipartisan legislation to fund the government through September 2020 cleared both chambers and included language allowing excise taxes on firearms and ammunition to be used to address declining hunting participation. The Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act was one of several key wins in the year-end appropriations bill.
“In times of political rancor, it’s clear that conservation and outdoor recreation unite people from all walks of life,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This legislation invests in the future of hunting and fishing, public land access, habitat restoration, and ensuring healthy waterways. We are thrilled that it is making its way to the President’s desk and we look forward to seeing it become law.”
The bill also included $495 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, $200 million for Everglades restoration to reduce harmful algal blooms, $55 million for WaterSMART grants to strengthen fisheries and water efficiency, and $175 million for NRCS Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations, and $73 million for the Chesapeake Bay.
Field staff take to the woods to capture images of elk, deer, and sheep on the move
Like many hunters over the past few months, here at TRCP we’ve been paying close attention to the migration corridors and seasonal ranges used by big game species like mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelope.
As landscapes across this country are increasingly fragmented by roads, fences, and human development, maintaining the functionality of these habitats has become an urgent conservation challenge. Meanwhile, a mounting body of scientific research shows that the loss of or disruption to migration corridors and winter range has a severe, negative impact on the health of big game herds.
There’s an old truism that a picture is worth a thousand words, so this fall TRCP took to the field armed with trail cameras to capture some images of these habitats in use. We focused our attention on the Santa Fe and Carson National Forests in northern New Mexico as well as the Rio Grande National Forest in southern Colorado.
We chose these places because ongoing planning efforts by the U.S. Forest Service will determine how these public lands are managed over the next 20+ years. It is imperative that land-use plans for our National Forests and Bureau of Land Management public lands incorporate the latest research on migration and seasonal range in order to ensure the health of wildlife. And where more research is needed to safeguard these habitats, it is critical that our fish and game agencies receive the resources needed to complete this important work.
By no means was our trail cam experiment a scientific effort—we simply thought it would be a fun way to raise awareness about the issue (and a good excuse to stretch our legs while exploring public lands). Besides, there are many other groups and agencies documenting big game migration using the latest methods and technology to improve our understanding of the issue.
So if you don’t already, follow us on Instagram and over the coming weeks you’ll see some of the wildlife images captured on our trailcams.
Or return to this blog, which will be updated as we release new photos on our social media accounts.
Above all else, be sure to support migration corridor conservation and let decision-makers know that sportsmen and women across the country won’t stand by while threats to our big game herds go unaddressed.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More