Saturated South Florida brings wildlife concerns
Published: Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 6:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 6:35 p.m.
MIAMI— The heavy rains that have saturated South Florida could force wildlife such as deer and panthers to cluster together on high ground in the Everglades if water levels continue to rise, said a wildlife conservationist.
Animals can also quickly run out of food and shelter, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commissioner Ron Bergeron. As he kept a close eye as the water rises around tree islands and levees, Bergeron was calling on state and federal agencies to begin lowering water levels in the 700,000-acre conservation area.
He feared a repeat of what he called the "massacre" of the mid-1990s, when months of high water wiped out 90 percent of the deer herd and other animals, the Miami Herald reported (http://hrld.us/16sShhj ) on Sunday.
"It's natural in a 100-year act of God to have extreme high water," Bergeron said. "The weak die and the strong survive. When you extend that event like in 1994, it becomes a man-made event, and that's unnatural. I don't want to wait till it's too late."
In response to Tropical Storm Fay in 2008, state and federal agencies temporarily raised water levels in a canal that runs along Tamiami Trail and pushed that water into Everglades National Park, and eventually to Florida Bay. Water levels dropped about a foot in a month, he said.
"I'm not asking for something that hasn't already been done," he added. "We need to be proactive rather than reactive."
Lt. Col. Tom Greco, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deputy district commander for South Florida, said they were working to find alternating means of moving water out of the conservation area and an analysis would be completed in the next few days.
Increased flows could flood communities south of the Trail and east of Everglades National Park, he cautioned.
"We don't have all the data and information to make a change right now," he told The Miami Herald. "We're going through the data to see what kind of flexibility there is. We've got to look at other components of the system so it doesn't have adverse impacts somewhere else."
July's soaking capped the wettest start to the season since 1968 and the last four months have been the wettest April-through-July time period since 1932, according to the South Florida Water Management District.
"Our continual challenge with heavy rainfall is balancing flood control for 7.7 million residents while protecting the region's wildlife and natural system, including the Everglades," said Susan Sylvester, the chief of the district's water control operations bureau, in a statement on Friday.
The Army Corps has been making regulatory releases and water levels were currently at or above scheduled levels in the Everglades conservation area, officials said.