U.S. Panther Refuge West of Fort Lauderdale
Called One of 10 Most Endangered

By David Fleshler
Staff Writer
Posted October 6 2005
The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge was named one of the 10 most endangered refuges in the United States in a report released Wednesday by Defenders of Wildlife.
The refuge, north of Interstate 75 about 80 miles west of Fort Lauderdale, is part of a network of public land that forms the core of the endangered panther's habitat.
While panthers are safe on the refuge, they roam far beyond it, and their habitat is being destroyed by the development of golf courses, subdivisions and a new university, according to the report. The report called on the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to look at the long-term effect on panthers before approving more construction.
" "The Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and state and local planners must start looking at the big picture of what their actions are doing every day to the Florida panther as well as other valued wildlife and special places in this state," Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a written statement.
Tom MacKenzie, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which runs the national wildlife refuge system, said the service didn't disagree with the report's assessment.
"Destruction of habitat is the most important threat to the Florida panther," he said. " ... But there is not enough public land in southwest Florida to provide adequate habitat for the remaining panther population.
Without additional public-private partnerships and additional land preservation, the panther will not survive, nor will all the other animals that depend on the same habitats."
Other national wildlife refuges on the endangered list are Arctic, Alaska; Browns Park, Colorado; Buenos Aires, Arizona; McFaddin, Texas; Mingo, Missouri; Moapa, Nevada; Oyster Bay, New York; Pocosin Lakes, North Carolina; Sonny Bono Salton Sea, California.

The Everglades not fair game for developers
By Ana Menendez
Posted on Sat, Nov. 19, 2005 - Miami Herald (In My Opinion)
For Thanksgiving, the generous people of South Florida are serving up turkey, cranberry sauce and the Everglades.
The holiday trimmings come courtesy of your local charity. The rest is up for grabs from the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, first-come, first-served.
Commissioners meet Monday to consider, among other things, nine applications to extend the county's urban development line -- a move that would allow new subdivisions and offices to be built to the county's south and west on what is now undeveloped land.
More alarmingly, The Herald reported Friday that developers are also asking commissioners to approve a measure that would make it easier to move the line in the future.
The details are impossibly boring -- I personally would rather be chewing on a chair leg. And the dry complexity of the subject is enough to put off the thousands of ordinary people who have an interest in making sure developers do not get what they want Monday.
''Spending a day at the County Commission is like going to the dentist,'' said Alan Farago, a longtime environmentalist.
Or worse. The seats are more uncomfortable, and the drilling lasts all day. Ordinary citizen activists won't get paid for their suffering. Lobbyists, on the other hand, make a good living at it. And more than 50 have already registered on behalf of developers eager to push the boundaries of decency. The thing is, all of us will pay dearly if commissioners allow developers to gorge themselves silly on open land. Developers of suburban subdivisions used to make the argument that their projects stimulated the economy. Study after study debunked that myth. So now they're singing about affordable housing and the American Dream.
Also turkey baloney.
To sit in a confusion of taillights on State Road 836, the disaster of Miami traffic spread before you in all its smoky smugness, is to understand the fool's promise of progress. The county is struggling just to keep up with the development we do have. Road resurfacing has a backlog of 39 years at current funding, according to the draft of a report put together by various county departments. That's better than drainage, with a backlog of 113 years. For guardrails, we'll have to wait until the year 2689.
The draft I'm quoting from was filed in October. But it hasn't been released to the public because the figures have not been verified, said Roger Hernstadt, capital improvements coordinator for the county manager's office. ''Whatever the opposite of final is, that's where that report is,'' he said.
There are many other costs associated with sprawl. The same people who complain about subsidized apartments for the poor overlook the way subdivisions and the developers who build them are subsidized by the rest of us. Many of those proposed homes will likely require federally subsidized flood insurance, and USA Today just reported that FEMA has run out of money for payouts.
Who will pay for new roads, water lines and schools to serve all the new homes? Not developers. Sure, they're charged impact fees, but those don't begin to cover the costs to the county's already-weakened infrastructure, the impact on hurricane evacuations or the environmental degradation that hurts everyone.
Development of any kind brings costs with it. It is the larger society that needs to decide whether to spend the money upgrading existing homes and apartment buildings (buildings that, as Wilma showed, have been shamefully neglected). Or whether to plow money into a scheme that makes a few people very wealthy at the taxpayer's expense.
The poor deserve their free turkey. Developers, on the other hand, can afford to get fat all by themselves.

Commentary ...
Shifting wetlands oversight imperils protection
Daytona Beach News-Journal - http://www.news-journalonline.com
Last update: November 19, 2005
Last summer's battered coasts offer Florida a lesson: Hurricanes are getting fiercer, and our years of destroying wetlands are making the damage worse.
Wetlands absorb the storm surge that comes rushing at our coasts. But year after year, developers are getting leaders to weaken the regulations that keep wetlands intact. Developers pushed a bill through the Legislature last spring that ordered the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to start taking over wetlands permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, initially for projects that cover 10 or fewer acres. More than 90 percent of all wetlands destruction requests affect 10 acres or less. After the bill passed, the St. Petersburg Times got records showing that a Florida Home Builders Association lobbyist, Frank Matthews, helped write the bill. Now, developers are pressuring our elected representatives in Washington to get the Corps to turn over wetlands permitting to the state DEP, so that the state can issue wetland destruction permits faster. This is a bad idea. The Corps' wetland protection program has been abysmal, that's true. The agency issues more wetlands destruction permits in Florida than anywhere else in the United States, according to an investigation by the St. Petersburg Times. In Florida, the Corps has denied only five permits in the last six years and has granted 12,000 permits to destroy wetlands, the Times found.
Putting the program in the hands of the Florida DEP would make a bad situation worse. State and federal wetlands permitting programs differ in the types of wetlands that are included for protection. Florida's list of wetland "indicator plants" is less inclusive than the federal government's. The Corps' rules protect 3 million more acres of Florida's wetlands than the state rules do. The Florida DEP also has no authority to require developers to avoid wetlands or minimize impacts. The Corps, on the other hand, considers the public interest of destroying a wetland, whether a development will degrade water quality and also whether a project can be built elsewhere to avoid wetlands altogether. And the Corps can require an environmental assessment or impact statement before wetlands are destroyed. Now, DEP officials are saying that they would need more money from the Legislature to take over the federal program. In the current political climate, we'd likely get an underfunded program with fewer protections. It's also important to take a hard look at what happened when Florida DEP took over another federal program -- the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES -- which regulates discharges from industrial sites, sewage plants and other polluters. DEP has allowed exemption after exemption to the rules that are supposed to keep polluters from dumping toxins into public waters. The exemptions are violations of the Clean Water Act, and they go on daily. In several cases, the DEP has "solved" pollution problems in rivers and bays by permitting long pipes to send the toxic stuff farther out into public waters. That's environmental protection?
Florida has a long history of allowing politically powerful polluters and developers to bend the rules for profit. We shouldn't allow Congress to delegate another federal permitting program to the state -- especially when our state's vanishing wetlands leave us vulnerable to the ocean's fury every summer. Forty-eight environmental and civic groups recently sent a letter to the Florida Congressional delegation urging it to fight this weakening of wetlands protections. Take a minute and call your elected representatives in Washington to tell them it's a bad idea to give wetlands permitting to the DEP. We can't afford to lose more buffers from storms.
Young is director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, a coalition of 155 grassroots organizations working to protect Florida's waters.
Click Here for Article...

For A Roadside Relic, Wilma Hastens A Revival
By JEREMY COX, jgcox@naplesnews.com
Naples Daily News - http://www.naplesnews.com
November 27, 2005
Monroe Station looked like a hurricane had struck it even before Hurricane Wilma tore gaping holes in walls, shattered glass and punched out floor planks at the U.S. 41 East landmark.

In its heyday, the two-story, clapboard-covered building was the only place between Naples and Miami where weary travelers could grab a bite to eat, gas up or make a phone call. But when the oasis finally closed in the early 1990s, it fell into the hands of the National Park Service.
Park officials couldn't think of a use for the aging roadside relic amid Big Cypress National Preserve's cypress trees and palm hammocks, so they boarded it up. For the next decade, dust collected on the vinyl booths inside, green mildew clambered up the front faade and the white paint peeled away in clumps.
Oddly, though, Wilma's shrieking winds have breathed new life into the nearly 80-year-old building.
The former restaurant and convenience store had been scheduled for a $490,000 makeover that would remove newer additions to the building and restore the original portion to a like-new condition.
Park officials plan to turn Monroe Station back into an asset for travelers, where they can buy refreshments, rent bicycles or kayaks and view exhibits highlighting Tamiami Trail's history.
When it was built in 1928, Monroe Station was only 12 feet deep and 24 feet wide, but it was solid. The original portion was constructed from old- growth cypress trees and strong Dade County pine, while later additions to the east and west sides were fashioned from flimsy plywood.
Wilma ravaged the additions, which were set to be demolished anyway. Meanwhile, the historic heart survived largely intact, said Bob DeGross, chief of interpretation at the preserve. "It was kind of fortuitous," he said.
Bright yellow tape and a chain-link fence sprouted around the structure after the hurricane. The east-facing wall blew down, allowing a mild breeze to drift through the building. Stringy insulation clings to another chain- link fence that had been erected before the storm.
Water intrusion has triggered square pieces of linoleum to curl up, exposing the wooden floor beneath. Walking where diners once sat is even more treacherous because of the yawning holes in the floor, which expose an earthen, gravel-strewn foundation a foot or two below.
Margo Schwadron, a Tallahassee-based archaeologist with the National Park Service, tip-toed through the decrepit building Wednesday morning with a digital camera in tow and saw hope. "I look at this," she said, "and I see it's very doable to restore this." Monroe Station's history is intertwined with the two-lane road out front.
Tamiami Trail's opening in 1928 ushered in an influx of growth in South Florida that continues to this day. Before the Trail linked Tampa with Miami (hence the name), the only way to travel great distances was by boat or train.
Barron Collier, Collier County's namesake and founder, was one of the road's biggest proponents. The streetcar advertising entrepreneur sank $1 million of his own money into finishing the road. But even with a paved road, the going wasn't easy through the recently opened frontier. Drivers found the long, straight roadway to be monotonous. And those who ran into car trouble or had accidents would be surrounded by nothing but miles and miles of Everglades.
Collier solved the isolation problem by building six stations at 10-mile intervals through the county, according to a recent historic study by the National Park Service. Long before the concepts of rest stops and highway patrols evolved, the stations were sources of comfort to masses of Model Ts. From west to east, drivers encountered identical stations at Belle Meade, Royal Palm, Fakahatchee, Turner River, Monroe and Paolita. On the first level of each was a convenience store and gas station; on the second were living quarters for families hired to run the stations. From the Trail's dedication ceremony until about 1934, the stations were the headquarters of Collier's brainchild, the Southwest Florida Mounted Police Force. While women stayed behind at the stations to manage the stores, their husbands patrolled the highway for five miles in each direction on Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Monroe Station stood guard about 20 miles east of the present-day intersection of U.S. 41 and State Road 29 on the south side of the road. Just six months into the job, William Irwin, the first officer to serve there, died in a car crash. His replacement, W.J. Weaver, quit within a year. Patrolling eastern Collier County proved to be dangerous, lonely work. The stations were sold to private interests and slowly disappeared over the years. Some probably were razed in a mid-1950s widening project, the National Park Service report speculates. At least one was destroyed by a hurricane. Today, Monroe is the only one left that retains its historic integrity; in 1998, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Another still stands at the intersection of U.S. 41 and County Road 92 and serves as a gas station, but it has lost virtually all of its historic character, historians say.
In the last chapter of its life, Monroe Station operated as a restaurant, convenience store and pool hall under "Big Joe" and Susie Lord. Evidence of its popularity could be found on the wood paneling, which customers blanketed over the years with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of business cards. "It was a place with character and characters," said Steve DeLine, 58, who has made frequent trips from his Jupiter home over the past 30 years to hunt at Big Cypress. A few years ago, he started a Web site devoted to telling the preserve's story from a hunter's perspective. When the park assumed control of Monroe Station, "we just mothballed the building," DeGross said. Because of that, the interior looks much the way it did when the restaurant closed more than a decade ago, except most of the tables and appliances are missing.
As for the business cards, they remain stapled to the wall. Untold numbers of yellow and fraying cards carry addresses in places such as Naples, Bonita Springs, Hialeah, Fort Lauderdale, Cambridge Springs, Pa., and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Some belong to regular customers. Others belong to people who were just passing through. Burnie Frazer took his visiting brother on a drive through the Everglades one day in the early 1990s in search of alligators and other eye-catching wildlife. Their stop at Monroe Station was so brief, Frazer can't remember handing over his business card from Dan's Fan City or what he had to eat, if anything. "Where is that?" the now-78-year-old Frazer asked when told about Monroe Station and its business card memorial. "My brother came down several years ago. He's passed away now. We were out just piddling around. That's just about the only time I can think we were down there."
DeGross said that although the business cards don't have any historical value, they will be saved for posterity when the restoration begins. For years, former customers and preservationists feared the abandoned restaurant was on a path toward demolition. DeLine, long wary of the National Park Service's management of the preserve, sneaked onto the property to document Wilma's damage for his Web site, www.bigcypressswamp.com. "This is probably the end of Monroe Station," he wrote afterward. "Even though it is in the National Register. This is what the NPS has been waiting for, a reason to bulldoze it. If you want one last look, I would visit soon."
Not true, DeGross said. "We want to get the word out to the public we're not tearing down the building. We're just removing the parts that aren't historic," he said. The $490,000 grant, which came from the state Department of Transportation and awaits the Florida Legislature's approval next spring, will go a long way toward that goal, DeGross said. Finishing the job, particularly restoring the interior, will require more money, he added. Wilma exposed a long-running problem at Monroe Station, DeLine said. While skilled at preserving nature, park officials have proved less capable of caring for history. "I think if it would have been maintained a little better, it would have held up better," he said.

Collier commissioners OK $970M budget
Tax rate to remain the same

By LARRY HANNAN, ljhannan@naplesnews.com September 23, 2005
Collier County will have the same tax rate as previous years, but most property owners will still be paying more money in property taxes.
Thursday night, county commissioners adopted a $970.8 million budget for fiscal 2006 that includes a millage rate of $3.90 per $1,000 of taxable property. This is the fifth straight year the tax rate has been the same.
With the value of land continuing to increase by leaps and bounds, the cost most people pay in property taxes will increase even with the tax rate staying the same.
Excluding new construction, the county's taxable property value increased by about 15.7 percent in 2004.
Taxable values are the property values minus homestead and other tax exemptions.
In fiscal 2005 the county's budget was $920.5 million.
Most of the money in the upcoming fiscal year's budget had already been allocated before Thursday's hearing. About $9.2 million in unallocated money was on the table to be divvied up.
Commissioners agreed to scrap a plan that would charge people $20 for beach stickers in unallocated Collier County. The county would have generated $660,000 a year under the plan for increased beach access.
The county took that $660,000 out of the unallocated money instead. Beach stickers are now free, and will remain that way.
Commissioner Frank Halas has previously argued charging for beach stickers was a good idea. But on Thursday Halas said he'd changed his mind.
Halas said he'd decided charging for the stickers was unfair because Naples residents would still be allowed to park for free at county beaches. Naples also hands out free beach stickers and isn't interested in charging a fee, and the city and county now honor the other sticker so that there is uniformity at all the beaches.
Commissioners also allocated $1.7 million in the 2006 budget to build Sheriff Don Hunter's agency a new special operations building that will house the sheriff's operations staff. This building will cost about $17 million and county officials plan to take out a loan to pay for the structure and allocate roughly the same amount toward paying for the loan every year for the next decade.
Sheriff's Chief Kevin Rambosk said they had hoped to break ground on the building by the end of this year. Construction will take about a year.
The county did not allocate more money toward the possible purchase of Caribbean Gardens. But county officials will consider taking the zoo and gardens via eminent domain at a commission meeting next week.
Other projects that were funded on Thursday included:
• $175,000 for panther mitigation around Immokalee Regional Airport.
• $750,000 for an interchange justification study that argues that interchange is needed to connect Everglades Boulevard to Interstate 75.
• $275,000 for extra security at the W. Harmon Turner Building at the Collier County government complex at the intersection of U.S. 41 East and Airport-Pulling Road.
• $1.9 million for beach access initiatives.
The county still has $725,000 in unallocated money that will go into reserve funds. Commissioners Fred Coyle and Tom Henning supported lowering the millage rate and returning that money to the taxpayers. But commissioners Jim Coletta, Donna Fiala and Frank Halas favored keeping that money in reserve.
"We've already kept the millage rate the same as last year," Coletta said. "I think that money is best left in reserve in case we have any emergencies."
Henning said the county has already budgeted millions of dollars to its reserve funds, so the county didn't need the $725,000.
Copyright 2005, Naples Daily News. All Rights Reserved.

Florida Panther Killed On Interstate 95 Near St. Augustine
Associated Press
June 7, 2005, 9:50 AM EDT
ST. AUGUSTINE -- A Florida panther was killed by a vehicle on Interstate 95 in St. Johns County, far away from the normal range of the endangered cats in southwest Florida.
The cat was a 6-foot-long, 120-pound male and probably died instantly when it was hit last weekend, Mark Cunningham, a veterinarian with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said Monday.
``Otherwise, he was healthy and in good condition, probably 3 years old,'' Cunningham said. He believes the male was looking for female companionship.
Joy Hill, a spokeswoman for the commission, said this is the farthest a panther has ranged since a restoration project began in South Florida in 1995. Panthers rarely stray north of the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida.
The carcass was spotted Saturday on the highway just north of the Flagler County line by St. Augustine Beach Mayor Frank Charles. It was not tagged and did not have a radio collar, which is fairly common for animals tracked to the south.
The panther population was down to about 30 in 1995. To increase genetic diversity, seven female Texas cougars were released in the wild. Since then, several hybrid litters have been produced, and the population count is now 87, not including kittens.

Panther Advocate Fights to Get Job Back
Biologist Takes On Fish and Wildlife Service
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Eller was dismissed from his biologist job the day after November's presidential election. He was escorted out of his 18-year career. Eller has mounted a one-man campaign against what he says is a corrupt system within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that favors politically wired real estate developers over, well, fish and wildlife.

Now read the outcome .....
Fish & Wildlife Service Persists in Trying to Fire Vindicated Scientist

Washington, DC — The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) today formally conceded that it has been using flawed science in assessing the habitat and population of the endangered Florida panther, according to a letter from outgoing Director Steve Williams. The agency announcement came in a decision to uphold a legal complaint filed jointly by one of the agency’s own biologists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that studies relied upon by FWS in approving proposed development in Southwest Florida inflate panther population and inaccurately minimize habitat needs.
Andrew Eller, Jr., an 18-year USFWS biologist, in the Florida panther recovery program who filed the complaint with PEER, was fired by FWS the week after the November election. PEER is contesting Eller’s termination; that case is slated for hearing in April.
The PEER/Eller complaint contends that FWS engaged in scientific fraud by:
- Equating daytime habitat use patterns (when the panther is at rest) with nighttime habitat use patterns (when the panther is most active);
- Assuming that all known panthers are breeding adults, discounting juvenile, aged and ill animals; and
- Using population estimates, reproductive rates, and kitten survival rates not supported by field data.
“While we are gratified by this decision we are mystified why the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service insists on firing the biologist who risked his career to expose this scientific fraud,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the Service embraced flawed science in order to sign off on mega-developments planned in the Western Everglades on the basis that the projects would have no adverse effects on the panther. “We are concerned that the Fish and Wildlife Service has charged the very officials who perpetuated the fraud with correcting it.”
The Florida panther complaint was filed under the Data Quality Act which requires each federal agency to ensure and maximize “the quality, objectivity and integrity of information” it disseminates to the public and uses in its decision-making. FWS has now pledged to remove certain studies and put disclaimers on others but will not complete the corrections that it says are needed for several months.
“The Fish & Wildlife Service currently is reviewing 30 very large projects slated for construction right in the middle of prime panther habitat,” Ruch added. “The delayed effective date for promised corrections may allow the agency to continue to approve projects on the basis of admittedly flawed science.”
Read the U.S. Fish & Wildlife letter upholding the PEER/Eller Data Quality Act complaint http://www.peer.org/docs/fl/2005_21_3_fws_iqa.pdf
See the PEER/Eller complaint on panther science http://www.peer.org/campaigns/eller/pantherDQchallenge.pdf
Look at unfolding developments in the controversy http://www.peer.org/campaigns/eller/index.php
Andy Eller has been critical of the Fish and Wildlife Service in Florida for what he says is a system that favors developers over wildlife.
(Dennis Giardina; Courtesy Of Andy Eller)



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