Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170;

December 2016 Conservation Notes

Critical Wildlife Areas and the Port Orange Colony

To provide additional protection to Florida’s most vulnerable wildlife populations the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) has established Critical Wildlife Areas (CWA) throughout the state.  CWAs were established under Rule 68A-19.005.  CWAs are areas that “host a significant concentration of wildlife subject to disturbance.”  This designation is important to both birds and to other wildlife (e.g. gopher tortoises, diamondback terrapins, and several species of threatened bats). 

A CWA can be instituted on private lands, with the permission of the owner, or on lands and waters that are in whole or in part state-owned.  The areas designated as CWAs are protected under Florida wildlife laws and are indicated by signage which defines the area and associated limits of human activity (by area and date). Until recently, all the CWAs in Florida were established from 1977 to 1993. The CWA process was revived in 2009, and in 2010 the FWC approved changes to the rules governing CWAs.  The first two areas under the new rules were established in Martin County in 2014, with a second CWA designated in Collier County in 2015.   At the beginning of 2016 there were 20 CWAs in Florida.

In 2016 10 new areas of land and water were identified as deserving of CWA status and five existing CWAs were designated for expansion.  Nine of the 10 new CWAs proposed in 2016 provide protection to shorebirds, seabirds and wading birds.  This protection is needed as nesting birds are particularly vulnerable to human activity. As noted by the FWC:

Disturbance is a primary factor affecting bird nest productivity.  When adults are disturbed they fly away from their nests, leaving eggs and young birds exposed to heat and predation.  Human disturbance can cause wildlife to abandon high-quality habitat that is necessary for their survival.

Given the current, in-process and proposed development in Florida, CWAs are increasingly important to maintaining avian populations.  One of the areas considered for CWA status is the spoil island that is just off the northwestern portion of the Dunlawton Bridge.  This island, which is designated as the Port Orange Colony in the FWC proposal, is known locally as Rookery Island.  It is an important nesting area for Brown Pelicans, as well as other species, such as American Oystercatchers and Double-Crested Cormorants.  This rookery, which has been established on the spoil island for over 40 years, is in an area which has historic and long-observed nesting populations.  The mangroves on the island are the living infrastructure for the northernmost Brown Pelican rookery on the Florida East Coast. As Clay Henderson has noted,

President Theodore Roosevelt issued 10 executive orders  protecting “bird reservations” in Florida….The 10th Executive Order 793 in 1908 established the Mosquito Inlet Bird Reservation which protected “small mangrove and salt grass islets, shoals, sand bars, and sand spits” as “a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.’”  [Correspondence]

Locally, there was a public meeting to present information about CWAs and discuss the proposed Port Orange Colony.  This meeting took place on July 26th 2016 at the Piggotte Community Center in South Daytona and included FWC staff, Audubon representatives, Coastal Conservation Association, Boat US, the Marine Discovery Center, Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND), and other stakeholders.   The original FWC proposal for the 1.86 acre island which holds mangroves that birds use for nesting was to post a buffer and boundary area of 50-150 feet and close the area year round.  Following a request from FIND the buffer and boundaries were changed from 10-150 feet (to match existing signage and to ensure the ICW right-of-way on the east side of the island) and the closure became seasonal (Jan 1 to Aug 31). 

FIND is presently considered the “land owner” and written authorization must be obtained from FIND before an Order stablishing a CWA would be in effect.  There is ,however, some need to clarify  ownership as the Volusia County property records show that the island is owned by the Florida Internal Improvement Trust Fund.

In a November meeting of the FWC all proposed CWAs were approved, except for the Port Orange Colony.  This was due to an objection from FIND, which stated in a letter on Nov 15th 2016 to the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation that:

District staff are concerned that the CWA designation will have negative impacts on the District’s ability to maintain the IWW, boating activities at the Dunlawton Ave boat ramp and FIND’s permeant easement rights to use V-7 [Note: FIND’s designation for the Port Orange Colony island] for dredge material management.  The District believes the CWA will place unnecessary and costly restrictions on the future maintenance dredging, widening or deepening of the IWW by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) or FIND as well as on the potential use of V-7 for mitigation or the material deposition during maintenance events.

Basically, FIND objects to the CWA designation because there might be some need to use this long-established rookery for depositing spoil material from some potential but unplanned dredging operation in this area.  FIND wants to reserve the right to despoil a rookery used by many generations of Brown Pelicans and other birds, and which is in one of the areas designated by Theodore Roosevelt, our “Conservation President” as a “bird reservation” 108 years ago.  In brief, FIND would reserve the right to destroy, rather than continue to preserve, this rookery for some vague “future maintenance dredging, widening or deepening” to support an unknown project for reasons that remain opaque.

Some words from a recent essay collection (Upstream) by poet Mary Oliver (formerly of Martha’s Vineyard, now a Florida resident):

Teach the children.  We don’t matter so much, but the children do.  Show them daisies and the pale hepatica.  Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen.  The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers.  And the frisky ones—inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries.  And the aromatic ones—rosemary, oregano.  Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school.  Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit.  Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love the green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.

Attention is the beginning of devotion.

Lamont Ingalls
SEVAS, Conservation Chair