Federal bureaucracy trumps science, it trumps common sense, it trumps public sentiment. Federal bureaucracy is the monster killing the Florida Everglades. I've been saying that for years. On Thursday in Fort Lauderdale at a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) meeting, the woeful state of the world's largest wetlands at the hands of the feds was made about as public and as plain as it's going to get.
With prolonged higher rainfall, as South Florida is receiving right now, comes too much freshwater in the Everglades. North of the Tamiami Trail, animals fight for their life in deep water. But thanks to federal regulations, water isn't allowed to flow south into Everglades National Park, where it could save a freshwater-dependent ecosystem dying of thirst.
The feds say no in all kinds of ways.
One part too wet, the other part too dry, federal bureacracy too arrogant.
That's what the conversation was all about at the FWC meeting. The commission's South Regional Director Ernie Marks, who has worked closely on Everglades issues with FWC Commissioner "Alligator" Ron Bergeron, presented a disturbing look at Everglades water levels and the many components of restoration in the big swamp.
When high water persists, as it did in 2013, it kills fur-bearing animals in the Everglades and impacts wading birds and tree islands for the worse. Marks reminded participants of another time of sky-high water levels -- 1994-95, when deep water caused the death of 159 white-tailed deer.
Bergeron said a short period of high water in the Everglades isn't going to do a lot of damage. But federal agencies should damn the regulations and let water flow south into the park when water levels don't drop on their own.
"An analysis of water levels in the 'Glades since 1943 shows that having no more than 2 feet of water is ideal." But, he said, when water gets to 3 feet, wading birds have no place to stand.
Panthers used to prowl the water conservation areas, he said. But after the high water of 1994-95 decimated their food sources, they moved to the Big Cypress National Preserve.
"For us to manage the wildlife, you have to have healthy habitat," Bergeron said. "We have to decide if we're going to have Everglades restoration or an Everglades reservoir."
Federal bureacracy at work: Federal agencies involved with Everglades restoration, including the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, don't care if the water conservation areas drown and the park becomes parched because, they say, phosphorus levels are not yet low enough in the water that would be sent into the park.
The levels get lower every year. But they're not low enough for the feds.
Like Bergeron and other commissioners, Capt. Rick Murphy of the "Chevy Florida Insider Fishing Report" suggested that sending the water south with a little more phosphorus than desired would do much less damage than depriving Everglades National Park and its wildlife and too-saline Florida Bay and its fish of fresh water.
Federal bureaucrats are hastening the demise of the Florida Everglades.
I trust Ron Bergeron. He lives the tragedy most Floridians never see. If he tells us that at critical rainy periods, state agencies ought to be able to save animal lives, feed the national park and help Florida Bay -- believe him.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith