The Everglades conservancy raises a number of issues in Florida that vary from economics, politics, and social perspectives. Since the early 1920s, the populace faces challenges of environmental sustainability against economic growth. This has led to conflicts in the region with regard to policymaking. Various interest groups in the region hold different opinions on the management of Everglades’s ecosystem. A series of initiatives continue to take place amid resistances. More notably has been the conflict between economic activities and their influences on the ecosystem. Another war is in the legislative framework where different political interests and different legal structures of the federal government and state laws continue to dodge the Everglades conservancy. This essay analyses the political, economical and social issues surrounding Everglades with the intention of suggesting possible solutions.
Background to the Everglades Conservation Initiatives
The history of Everglades’ conservation dates back to almost a century ago. In early 1920s, there was a national initiative to conserve Florida Everglades. The immediate impact of the initiative was realized in 1934 when Everglades National Park was created. This was an effort to make the park a natural habitat for both flora and fauna. With the eminent population growth and the need for land for development, there was a standoff between conservation and human inhabitance in the region. At hand was wetland reclamation program to reinstitute agricultural production and cater for food demand of the population in the region. As noted by Caffey and Schexnader, “In 1948, Congress authorized the Central and Southern Florida Project (C&SF) to provide water and flood control for urban and agricultural lands.” (3) Following this Congress’ authorization, C&SF project managers begun the drainage of a bigger section of the Everglades region. The construction of water system encouraged population growth along the east coast.
Everglades offers a unique ecosystem because the inhabitants of the natural environment are specially adapted to life in the region. Biodiversity of both plant and animal species is outstanding. Conventionally, ecosystem suffered due to soil infertility, low nutrients levels of the waters due to poor rain patterns. Most plants and animals in the Everglades are indigenous, particularly to the wetlands and any change to the existing ecosystem, threatens the existence of these species. The changes in water management programs are a threat to a number of endangered species. “The Greater Everglades is home to 61% of the 111 Threatened and Endangered Species (TES) federally listed in Florida. Some of the most notable are the Wood Stork, the West Indian Manatee, and the American Crocodile,” (Caffey and Schexnader 5).
Human encroachment led to a complete alteration of the ecosystem and this degraded life quality at the Everglades National Park. Conflict of interest in the region again led to the enactment of legal framework to resolve the standoff. The effort of the Florida Land and Water Conservation Act sought to resolve the debacle. The passage of this act was motivated by a series of scientific researches that concluded that if urbanization of the region continued, then there was a likely occurrence of severe environmental hazard. Research alone was not sufficient to convince the masses. This led to establishment of a politically motivated strategy to engage the people and make them understand the effect of the C&SF project. “Now referred to as the “Restudy,” this evaluation led to development, and ultimately Congressional authorization, of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program (CERP) under WRDA 2000,” (Caffey and Schexnader 3). CERP’s main objective was to restore the natural ecosystem in the Everglades region. Nonetheless, the CERP initiative also included other developmental goals. Among the projects under CERP was the restoration of wetlands and building reservoirs.
Agriculture in the Everglades Region
South Florida is an important region in the Greater Everglades due to its agricultural roles in Okeechobee, Kissimmee, and Everglades’s watersheds. Corps through C&SF Project instituted the Everglades Agricultural Area, (EAA) in the upper region of Everglades’ wetlands. Agriculture is concentrated on dairy farming and crop production. Agriculture forms a significant portion of annual earnings in the region. EAA utilizes most of the surface water and this causes ecological imbalance that is imbalances to ecological system. “Overall, agriculture-related wetland losses have been dramatically curtailed in recent years with the advent of environmental regulations and Farm Bill conservation initiatives,” (Caffey and Schexnader 2).
Half of the area in EAA is under sugar cane plantation. Despite the area being non-supportive to agriculture, it has received a lot of government support and as such, it survives in the noose of political policies. The government does restrict the limit of sugar importation and this translates to more market for local sugar. In addition, the government provides loan services to sugar cane growers. These efforts ensure that even though the production faces challenges, the producers and key stakeholders can still earn profit from the sugar cane business.
Another agricultural activity in the region is vegetable and dairy farming. Dairy farmers live outside the EAA, north of Okeechobee, but their farming activities contribute to the agricultural economy of the Everglades region. However, vegetable farming follows sugar cane farming with regard to land under agriculture. Vegetable farming is vital in the nutrition of the local residents and the entire American citizens, more so, the farming of winter vegetables. This is necessitated by an even rainfall distribution and general favorable condition.
Political Turbulence in the Conservancy Efforts
For a sustainable development in the Everglades area, there must be an integration of agriculture, ecological balance, and urbanization. The proposed initiatives mentioned above seek to restore and replenish the physical landscape of the region. The greatest hurdle, however, lies in a set of different proposals from the various groups in the region. All these opposing forces are liable to the political mechanisms of the day. Nothing is either good or bad. As always, there are losers and winners of any political decision depending on matter under redress. In the economic front, the region’s population is divided on the basis on pro-agriculture and non-pro-agriculture. From this viewpoint, the section of population engaged in agricultural production supports the pro-agriculture policies and hold that the ecosystem cannot be improved. Since most of the residents in Everglades engage in agricultural production, agriculture is the backbone of the economy. This view is important to politicians who must stick with popular notions.
Political influence is also notable in the various levels of administration. Residents of Florida are the victim of bad political decisions or beneficiaries of remedial measures in the end. It is a majority wish to have environmental sustainability of the region, but this is difficult due to the drive for agricultural production and economic benefits. According to Zubrow as quoted by Aubrey, “Increased distance away from the problem decreases importance of an issue, and since majority of population does not have direct contact with Everglades wetlands, this pushes emphasis away from the central issue, that of the restoration of an ecosystem.”
Another political perspective of Everglades is the policy battle between the federal government and state organs in Florida. In the year 1988, the federal government for letting pollution reach compromising level in Everglades National Park, sued Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, (DER). In a retaliatory response, the DER claimed that the Corps’ C&SF Project started the initiative. The legal war was put to rest after the state surrendered in the year 1992. Eventually, agriculturalists were forced cut phosphorus concentration in the soil to set levels in year 1997 and later revised in 2002. Sugar cane growers went to court to challenge remediation ruling upon which, the plan by Babbitt “allowed for growers to meet the standard previously established and required agriculture to pay only a fraction of the total costs,” (Aubrey).
Plans for Everglades Conservation
The Everglades region and relevant stakeholders are getting together to advance a collaborative process curb landscape-scale and relevant land protection measures in south-central Florida. Greater Everglades Partnership Initiative is the recent organizational framework that aims at resolving the current challenges. The challenge is balancing land use, conserving water resources, and enhancement of wildlife service in the Greater Everglades. The new initiative subdivided the region into three main areas: Fisheating Creek, Everglades Headwaters, and area covering Florida Panther NWR alongside Caloosahatchee. According to Pelizza and Ehrhardt,
The Greater Everglades landscape is a vast approximately 4.5 million-acre region of wilderness and working ranch lands that extends from the outskirts of the Orlando metropolitan area south through the Kissimmee River valley to Lake Okeechobee and southwest to Florida Panther NWR and Big Cypress Preserve. (1)
The region under description has savanna and grassland vegetation and is ideal for wildlife. The intent of the initiative is important as it addresses the agricultural needs of the region and at the same time protects, improves, and restores the natural ecosystem. In this way, the project brings quality of wetlands while still benefiting the local residents. Apart from the economic perspective, the Greater Everglades Partnership Initiative aims at bringing the political front to own the project. This is evident by the engagement of federal agencies, local county administration, Non-Governmental Organizations, (NGOs), the private sector among other significant stakeholders.
Proposal on table aims at allowing the partners to adopt wildlife adaptation programs to roll out real work on the ground. A significant aim of the roll out plan also includes assisting the naturally existing species to adapt to changing weather and environmental conditions. Overly, the Greater Everglades Partnership Initiative has the intention of working as a group with the ranchers and private landowners to conserve wildlife and agricultural production. Secondly, the initiative has a proposal of developing a 150,000-acre sanctuary in addition to the above-mentioned projects. The vision of building a complex building that houses and holds forums for stakeholders and local residents to engage in conservation discussions is also the goal of Greater Everglades Partnership Initiative.
Political and economic influences in the Everglades region continue to destabilize lives of the residents. Significant steps have been made towards achieving a sustainable environment. The planning phase discussed above is a bold step towards meeting long-term goals of Everglades’s conservancy. These plans will ensure that the past mistakes of degrading the natural environment of the region are resolved while at the same time addressing the needs of the population. However, the proposal is still at planning stage and implementation of the proposal may face influence of economic bigwigs who would prefer the status quo. The process is likely to take longer than planned.
Secondly, the discussion identifies water problem in the region, which may scuttle the restoration program. This is because this may reduce area covered with water, (wetlands) that is the unique ecosystem of Florida’s Everglades region. Florida experiences high growth rate in America, with most residents living in the eastern coast. This is likely to put pressure on social amenities and important resources like water. Therefore, a substantial research should be carried out to project the possible impacts of drainage system in the new initiative plans