If Everglades management isn’t broken then don’t fix it

An eighteen month plus study into new ways to manage resources in the Everglades National Park watershed (emphasis: Florida Bay and the Gulf Coast from Ten Thousand Islands to Flamingo) has been completed, and alternatives are now on the table.

Propeller scarring on sea grass seems to be one of the (if not THE) major concern which led to the proposed usage changes:

propellerscarring

I personally feel that anyone who scoots across less that a foot of water with their prop down has serious deficiencies in the mental department, and deserves to shear pins and be exempt from a tow. Pole your ass all the way home if you’re going to be that stupid. When you are on the water with professional guides, they are quick to point out the issue, and generally express the the same feeling I do. Navigable channels are already pretty well marked, and those tearing ass across the skinny aren’t doing much besides getting to their hot spot a minute earlier (and probably spooking a lot of fish by not throttling down sooner too).

Alternatives #3 (PDF) and #4 (PDF) of the proposal would significantly limit the accessibility of area to sportfishing, with some routes in and out of prime fishing zones almost obliterated from Tavenier to Layton (they’d be troll and pole only) under #4. Most of the restriction would be determined by water depth too, a barrier difficult (if not impossible) to enforce with the shifting tides. Either would have a huge impact on the local economies, which rely heavily on unabated use of the area.

Common to all proposals – essentially manage as is…

  • Improve national park boundary marking, channel marking, and navigational aids including recommended channel network and transit corridors/routes in Florida Bay.
  • Continue current management of Florida Bay keys; to protect nesting and rookery areas, all keys remain closed to recreational use except North Nest, Little Rabbit, Carl Ross, and Bradley keys.
  • Establish a seagrass restoration program for submerged marine wilderness resources and sites/areas damaged by groundings and propeller scarring.
  • Approach resource management from an ecosystem perspective, considering outside influences (e.g., Everglades restoration efforts, climate change, and socioeconomic considerations) on resources and ecosystem processes.
  • Also…implement the approved Flamingo Commercial Services Plan, including:

  • Rebuilding Flamingo facilities — an elevated lodge, elevated cottages, ecotents, RV campground with electric hookups, houseboats, and two backcountry camping platforms or chickees in Florida Bay — in a sustainable manner.
  • Provide increased education and recreational opportunities based out of Flamingo.
  • Provide additional land- and water-based transportation options at Flamingo, including circulator shuttle, bicycles, canoes and kayaks, and land and water trails.
  • Establish new, long-term concession contract for Flamingo.

Alternative #1 takes all the above into account – continued prudent management and some enhancement to facilities, but without further restrictions on use. I wouldn’t be opposed to adding some simple sea grass awareness and/or backcountry education requirement to the mix either – I don’t think USCG captains need it (at least not the ones I’ve hung around), but I’m certain a lot of other folks who venture into the area do. And while Alternative #2 does not add abhorrent navigation restrictions, it does implement a measure of pole/troll and/or paddle only zoning that I believe is going to be more trouble enforcing than it’s worth.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s all backcountry once you leave the dock. You shouldn’t set sail if you don’t know what you are doing, and I’m always going to be skeptical of any proposal that restricts the activities of many because of the mistakes of a few.

Man invented the four-stroke high output. But God invented the poling platform.

MG signing off (to hit the flats with the prop up)

Editor’s note: Thanks first to Tim ‘Fishman’ Emery for pointing this out a few days back. Also, the entire GMP/East Everglades Wildnerness Study is available here (big PDF). Review at your leisure, and please feel free to set me straight if I’ve missed anything here.

Comments

As usual Gracie, you have done your superlative job of discussing a long and thorny government study. Enjoyed the read. How many cups of coffee did it take to get thru that PDF?

The Colorado Flyman

Bruce Beyer says:

Michael, you have put to words a well written opinion of how you feel about ENP. Without ruffling to many feathers, I’d like to comment/oppose some of hat you say.

First, I’m a native of the area who fishes both from a high tech poling boat and from a kayak. The Everglades like most National Parks are really the property of the people of the USA. They are managed by the National parks system with the idea that the parks will be here for our children and beyond.

Folks from all over the world come to enjoy the Everglades. I think it’s to much to ask that boaters unfamiliar with the area be overlooked when they run up on the grass flats. Yes, I have exchanged words with boaters who blast past or up to me while I kayak fish. Some were even “pro guides” with clients.

In order for future generations to be able to experience the wonders of the Everglades, some areas need to be put off limits to any sort of watercraft that has the ability to destroy the flats.

@Marshall – Thanks!

@Bruce – certainly no feathers ruffled – you comments are appreciated. My main concern is that some of the restrictions proposed might very well prevent a large number of folks from enjoying the very area for which protection is sought. And while I’m not opposed to the idea of limiting access to some areas (i.e. LIttle Madeira and Joe Bays), enforcement issues are not hard to imagine. Thanks again.

Big Bone says:

My $0.02.

I on the other hand feel somewhat differently about the way the information was discussed here. Maybe it is my mood right now, but the process does not need to be inflamed by the use of 3rd grade language. I believe the process and the issue demands this. There is enough information out there right now, that alone, would tend to get folks split and possibly create a greater divide on the issue that is not warranted.

The follow statement appears to me to be showing a lack of time in the park . . .”Navigable channels are already pretty well marked”. The lack of proper channel marking is one of the large problems in the Florida Bay. The channels start right next to where the shallow grass flats start. There is no way to properly align prior to entering the channels for even the intermediately experienced shallow water navigator. Most, if not all of the channels need to be taken into deeper water to allow for corrective actions to be taken in advance of being in close proximity to the seagrass areas. This is clearly identified in the prop scar study, in the figure that has the prop scars overlaid upon a bathymetrics. I believe it is figure 14 or 15 in the short version. Concentrate on the flat that is being cut from Tin Can to the unmarked channel between Frank and Palm. Proper marking alone, would address this and other issues like it. There are some places where this will just not work, such as Garfield Bight, that would probably benefit the greatest from being solely Pole and Troll due to there not being any access, deeper water, into the area. One other note before I conclude. A majority of the channel markers in Coot Bay, for instance, are either gone or are in a complete state of disrepair.

I could go on and on about this topic at the current moment. I believe that the process will best be served by level headed discussions about a phased approach starting with Alt 2 and some elements of Alt 3 for the Florida Bay and Alt 1 for the areas north to Chokoloskee. The channels need to be redrawn in Alt 2 to allow access from the Keys. The education process needs time to work, it is not going to happen over night folks when little to nothing has been done to this point to avoid where we are today. Besides building some new flow ways in Taylor Slough to allow for sheet flow (that is not currently available), what has the Park done to benefit the Park’s seagrasses and overall health of the Florida Bay? 0-60mph is not the proper way to go about this.

Worth 1000X what you’re valuing it at, Big Bone.

First, while I’m a native of the area (who essentially spent the first half of his life without knowing what snow looked like) I haven’t spent any time in the Bay in the past five year. I’ll defer to you regarding the extent of prop scarring and the cause/effect relationship, although I remain somewhat suspect regarding how much of the issue is directly related to lack of marking. However, my last trip into the area was spent with very seasoned guides – as I recall we stuck the deep water while double-timing it, and the captains never missed a beat. That could just be the experience talking, but my impression has generally been watching people ‘cutting corners’ in a race to the prime locations.

I don’t think there is really a debate going on here as to whether improving existing channel markers, no matter the opinion on their existing sufficiency, would do harm – certainly nobody could argue that point. Nobody could argue that throttling down wouldn’t help either. Further, I think education (including but not limited to required education) should not necessarily be left to patience.

As for the alternatives, maybe channels could be redrawn, but I’m not hearing that as an option at present. I think you acquired the same impression I did – it’s 0-60 right now – I’m seeing distinct options that aren’t designed to please all. And while I’m concerned about long-term health of the area as much as the next guy, I am an angler at heart, therefore I’m forced to side with access until additional options are put on the table.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

Tom says:

Too many rednecks and Puerto Ricans buy boats and just rip around half cocked on blow and booze. My Florida mentor made it a point to teach me proper and safe boating practices in skinny water. This is a big problem all over the state. In my old home waters of Mosquito Lagoon, this was a serious problem, except for one area….THE NO MOTOR ZONE! I agree Gracie, leave em stranded. Did that ruffle feathers? Sorry about the Puerto Rican comment, but I will not apologize for the drunk redneck statement.

I’m inclined (i.e. want) to believe this isn’t a nationality-related issue, but I have been called a drunk redneck while downing my eighth rum runner at the Tiki Bar. Embrace thy inner redneck I always say.

Big Bone says:

For the most part, the seasoned guide I am sure caused damage when they too started shallow water navigation in the Florida Bay. I also believe that the ENP management, not the current one, is pretty responsible for not evaluating this issue sooner and instituting a education process that leads to a permit. I believe this will solve quite a few problems. As a newbie to the park back in the 1980’s, got a boat and headed on my way out of Flamingo. Back then, I got into quite a few problems. Now some 20 years later, I am a seasoned shallow water navigator. Had I been forced to take an online course which lead to a permit I believe that these first few interactions with the bay bottom would have been fewer and further between. There are problems with the permit system, such as no limitations on the number issued.

There will be an option to present and place channels back in the Florida Bay if the Superintendent initiates the working group that he has promised to put together prior to the Preferred Alternative process.

After having gone to many of the public meetings over the last three weeks as well as a few other meetings, there will be some need to institute select Poll and Troll zones in portions of Snake Bight and Garfield Bight, which is considered right out front of the Flamingo launch site. There are many other issues that need to be addressed to maintain access in the park and provide for an education process. In a need to prevent a long post, TGUNN in the thread below, basically spells out what needs to happen from my perspective, about half way down.

http://outdoorsbest.zeroforum.com/thread?id=851616&page=2

And for those of you that doubt the abililty to establish an on-line course, please check out the following link that will be fully open for public viewing on April 23rd after it is unvailed on Earth Day in Islamorada on the 22nd. Much like many of the public meetings, I will be attending this function as well.

http://www.ecomariner.org

The angler that goes to Flamingo is a bit more educated than the average person or has a certain appreciation for the outdoors and mosquitos.

🙂

I have no problem with educational immersion (even as a prerequisite to permitting), and I think online is a great way to go. And I’d love to get a report back on the Earth Day event too!

Big Bone says:

You bet. I have actually been granted access to the Ecomariner site by some folks from the NPCA. It is a really great beginning to assist with the procecss. It needs work but definitely in the right direction. I would suggest that anyone wanting to learn about shallow water navigation, resource related issues and some basic rules of the road, this will be a great website to pass along.

There are going to be quite a few people at the event and it should be a nice evening as we are having a “cold” front pass through this evening.

Bruce Beyer says:

Having followed this and the 2005 effort for protection/preservasion of ENP, I think the decisions that will be made have already been decided. The meetings and calls for comments are, in all likelyness, a requirement by the Federal agencies involved.

This is not to say all the comments made by email and at the meetings were not considered but in the spirit if the responsabilities of Park management, the decisions are up to the managers.

Big Bone says:

Bruce, I believe there is some validity to your comments, especially after the meeting at the IGFA Hall of Fame last week when a park employee stood up, did not introduce himself as a ENP employee and declared that nothing short of Alternative 4 was acceptable. All the work that the Superintedent did with the exhaustive public outreach where he was declaring that no decisions have been made, was completely wiped away in the 5 minute rant by this park employee. He set the entire process back to 2007 and compleetely discredited the Superinntedent and other Park managers that have declared that no decisions have been made.

I still believe in the Directors Order #12 though, that public comment is worth quite a bit.

On the matter of Ecomariner, it was a nice evening in the Keys. The great thing about the evening was all walks, no matter a position on the alternatives, all came together in 100% support of Ecomariner. Politicians, Sanctuary Managers, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Directors, fishing guides, ENP Managers, and the like were all in accord on the long over due need for this outreach program

@Big – Thanks for the link to Ecomariner – good stuff.

@Big/Bruce – So you folks think Alt. 4 will be the conclusion? If so, how is the depth-based limitation on such a large swath of water going to be enforced?

PS: Thanks so much for all the insight!

Big Bone says:

No, but it was really bad for the park service to standd up and declare 4, even if he was dressed in plain clothes. I believe it is going to be somewhere between 2.25 and 2.5 as the baseline moving forward and implementation of the adaptive management process. The park cannot go from zero to 100 over night when there is no funding to implement even Alt 3. We need to avoid a “paper park” that will only serve to create criminals out of law abiding citizens when the LEs are not out there to enforce the new laws.

Well said…thanks!

The park cannot go from zero to 100 over night when there is no funding to implement even Alt 3.

Isn’t that what it’s all about in the end…the ability to enforce? I’ve heard a lot of people troubled by the depth-related limitations, and that’s a lot of water to cover in Alt. 4.

Big Bone says:

It is a lot of water to cover by the existing LE staff as the park resides right now. Hopefully the funding and retention issues at ENP with LE staff can be resolved and we move forward with a plan that maintains access while protecting the resources.

There are illegal netters still working the waters off of Shark River/Ponce de Leon Bay as of 4 weeks ago. 19,000 pounds of net and fish were pulled from the water by FFWCC (state) and NOAA LEs.

We will see where this all goes. I will check back here when the Preferred Alternative is released for Public Comment in the coming months based on the recent public comments.

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