An important mission of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society (DDWS) is to advocate with national, state, and local decision makers on issues that threaten the long-term health and viability of the J.N “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (JNDDNWR). The DDWS is currently advocating on three such issues:
- Federal Funding of the National Wildlife Refuge System
In recent years the annual operations and maintenance budget for National Wildlife Refuges has failed to keep pace with the needs of the system. At the JNDDNWR, the result has been a decline in staff levels, unfilled job openings, delayed maintenance, postponed research, and deferred projects. Even with the financial and staff support that our Society provides, the Refuge simply cannot fulfill its commitment to visitors and to the American public in general.
The JNDDNWR provides habitat for more than 250 species of birds, 35 species of mammals, 60 different reptiles and amphibians, more than 100 species of fish, and 14 threatened or endangered species. Wildlife refuges overall provide a unique opportunity for us to see nature at its best in a protected and natural environment, and to preserve that for future generations. Not only do these refuges provide a safe haven, but they also have a significant impact on local economies. In totality, they host more than 47 million visitors each year, generate $1.7 billion for the economy and create some 27,000 jobs. Our own Refuge welcomes more than 800,000 visitors each year, is the second most popular attraction (after our beaches) in Southwest Florida, and is estimated to return $34 to the local economy for every dollar of federal funding that it receives.
A Federal remedy to refuge underfunding is critical. Please contact your local elected congressman/congresswoman and senators, let them know how important the National Refuge System and the JNDDNWR are to you, and request their support for fully funding the National Wildlife Refuge System. Contact information for your local representatives can be found by clicking HERE and entering your zip code when the web page opens.
- Lake Okeechobee Water Releases that Threaten the Refuge and the SW Florida Economy
Periodic excessive summer releases of nutrient-laden water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River estuary continue to have a severe negative impact on San Carlos Bay, Pine Island Sound, and the waters of the JNDDNWR. This impact includes loss of submerged sea-grasses and oyster beds, severe water discoloration due to dissolved organics, the periodic appearance of red tide, and algal blooms on Sanibel beaches.
Although most of these releases have historically been during South Florida’s summer rainy season, the situation was made even worse when abnormally high early 2016 rains forced these same releases to be made at the height of the area’s tourist season. The result was a predictably devastating impact on the environment and ecology of the Refuge. But, in addition, severely discolored water around the Island and in the Refuge watershed caused significant alarm and concern to those visiting the area at a time when tourism is most critical to the local economy. Unless these high volume releases are eliminated, they threaten the long-term health and viability of the refuge as well as the economy of SW Florida.
Historically, water from Lake Okeechobee flowed south through the Everglades. Its current extensive diversion into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers not only negatively impacts these rivers and the Refuge but also the entire Everglades ecosystem. The Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), a critical component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), provide widely supported solutions to the problem. You can read more about both by clicking HERE.
Your help is needed to ensure that these plans are fully funded and expeditiously implemented by both the State of Florida and the Federal Government. Please contact your elected representatives in Washington to communicate the importance of the J. N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge to you and urgently request support for funding CERP and CEPP at the national level. Again, the contact information for these representatives can be accessed by clicking HERE and inputting your zip code when the web page opens.
If you are a Florida resident, contact information for your State senator can be accessed by clicking HERE and for your State representative by clicking HERE. During their early 2016 session the State legislature approved expenditures of $200 million/year over the next twenty years for Everglades restoration. Feel free to thank them for that commitment, but also request their ongoing support to ensure that the monies are used to make Everglades retoration an effective operational reality as expeditiously as is possible.
- Local Releases of Contaminated Water into the Refuge Watershed
As mentioned above, excessive summer releases of contaminated and nutrient-laden water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River represent, by far, the most serious water-related threat to the long-term health and viability of the JNDDNWR. However, local sources of contaminated water, whether to the River or directly into the Refuge watershed, can similarly cause significant problems. Such sources include fertilizer run-off from agricultural lands, golf courses and residential properties; and from municipal sewage treatment plants that lack denitrification equipment.
There are several things that each of us can do to help remedy this situation:
- Comply with local ordinances that stipulate the type, quantity and timing for residential fertilizer application. If your community does not have such an ordinance, promote its development and adoption
- Tell your municipal, county and state governments to require the use of environmentally-friendly fertilizers on agricultural lands
- Tell municipal and county governments to install denitrification equipment in all local sewage treatment plants
Additional information on each of the above issues can be requested by emailing us.