Dedicated to the protection of birds, other animals, and their habitats through education and activism
Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170; president@SEVolusiaAudubon.org
There is presently a lawsuit brought by Derek LaMontagne et.al. that opposes a proposed 2.5-mile extension of Williamson Boulevard south of Port Orange. Opposition to this extension is principally due to the effects of road construction on this pristine wetland and recharge area within the Spruce Creek drainage. On November 18th there was an administrative hearing at the Foxman Justice Center in Daytona Beach at which public comments were solicited. At the request of my counterpart at the Halifax chapter (David Hartgrove) I gave the following public commentary. I was proud to note that three of the four persons who commented on the suit were from Audubon chapters, including West Volusia and Halifax.
The September-October 2014 issue of the Audubon Society’s national magazine was a special issue focusing on “Birds and Climate Change.” In his introductory essay to this issue CEO and President David Yarnold, stated the sobering conclusions of a seven-year study of the effects of climate changes, observed and projected, on North American bird populations:
As global temperatures rise, as weather patterns shift, as vital bird habitats dwindle and disappear, familiar and beloved species will leave for more suitable locales or die out completely.
This long-term study was in part supported by the data collected by citizen’s science—especially the on-going Christmas and Spring Bird Counts undertaken for over a 100 years by Audubon members. In this study 314 North American bird species were identified as imperiled. Over half of the present species, from shoreline birds to those that live in the inland prairies, are threatened by the many environmental effects of climate change, in addition to the loss and fragmentation of habitat. These changes reshape the patterns of water circulation, the carbon cycle, ocean currents, and living cycles of flora and fauna that are gathered under the phrase “eco-systems”.
One of the concepts linked to Audubon’s national initiative regarding the effects of climate change on bird populations is the concept of Climate Strongholds. A Climate Stronghold is “a geographic area that will provide shelter against the onslaught of climate change.” In the Audubon report on climate change and bird populations in North America the entirety of Florida is considered a major Climate Stronghold. Recently, this concept of strongholds that provide “essential habitats for migratory and resident birds” areas has been supported by the overwhelming passage of Amendment 1 (75% “Yes” votes), as well as by the on-going state efforts to identify and protect Important Bird Areas. The IBAs currently encompass over 2 million acres in Florida. This recent amendment to the Florida Constitution will direct a third of Florida real estate transaction tax revenues to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to “manage and restore natural systems and to enhance public access and recreational use of conservation lands.”
There is a long-standing tradition of creating and managing areas that support both resident and migratory birds and other wildlife in Florida, of protecting habitat that might be otherwise overdeveloped, to the detriment of many living systems. In part this shows the increasing recognition that the natural habitat is essential to the life of the human population, that the waters flow through the lives of all beings. This tradition of environmental protection also demonstrates, on the pragmatic level of day-to-day business, that the eco-tourism aspects of the Florida economy are assuming greater importance in the overall economy of the State. Tourism related to birding and viewing wildlife is approximately a 6-billion dollar yearly addition to the State’s economy.
Tourists do not come to Florida to walk around the same big box stores or drive the same 6-lane highways they have in their hometowns. They come to see what remains of the life of the natural lakes, streams, swamps, prairies, uplands and beaches of Florida, a state with over 60 unique ecosystems.
The wetlands affected by the proposed 2.5-mile extension of Williamson Boulevard south of Port Orange may seem small. An identified 16+ acres of wetlands would be affected by drainage and pollution problems caused by construction of this extension. But, better than talking about this area as 16 acres on a map, I view it as approximately 750,000 square feet of self-sustaining habitat for fish, frogs, turtles, snakes, birds, gators and other swamp critters that have existed since the rise of the Florida peninsula. This area goes by the name of Spruce Creek—the importance of which has already been recognized by the establishment of the Spruce Creek Preserve.
So much of Florida has already been overdeveloped and the local ecosystems have either been destroyed or have been pushed to the redline, that construction of this extension of Williamson Blvd, which will bring about the loss (and fragmentation) of a pristine and functioning wetlands eco-system and recharge area, should not be permitted by the St. John’s Water Management District, or other governing bodies. The “economy” of nature manifest in these wetlands and enjoyed by many residents and visitors in Florida should not be overwhelmed by the desires of a few developers who would enhance their personal economy at the expense of the quality of life—and the existence—of so many other beings, human and wild alike.