We Can’t Afford to Lose the Environmental Protection Agency

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Algae growth from elevated nitrate levels chokes out grasses in Econfina Creek

I have prepared a brief statement in response to FL Representative Matt Gaetz’s proposed bill to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency.

My name is Beverly Hill, and in addition to being an outdoor lover and kayaking enthusiast, I am also a Florida Master Naturalist and I strongly disagree with Representative Gaetz’s position to dismantle the EPA. I don’t share his optimism that Florida regulators would be able to protect our waterways, much less be able to force our neighbors to the north of us into complying with regulations to prevent contaminates from flowing downstream or being injected into the water table. I have a few examples to illustrate my point.

On July 26th, 2016, the Florida Environmental Regulatory Commission (an unpaid volunteer committee appointed by the Governor) voted to approve higher levels of toxins that can be discharged into Florida’s rivers, lakes, streams, and estuaries, including the cancer causing agent, Benzene, for which approved levels were doubled. Drew Bartlett, DEP’s deputy secretary for ecosystem restoration, said the new standards would protect the average Floridian at a cancer-risk level of one in a million. Others would have higher or lower protection depending on how much they weigh and how much fish and water they consume.

On August 27, 2016, Mosiac, a fertilizer plant in Mulberry, Fl, leaked over 215 million gallons of radioactive* water into the Florida Aquifer which supplies drinking water to millions of Floridians. The State of Florida failed to notify the public of the contamination for 19 days after the event. Mosaic is currently seeking new permits to expand their phosphate mining operation in Manatee County.

The Sabal Pipeline is a 3.2 billion dollar pipeline owned jointly by Spectra Energy, Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light, created to transport natural fracked gas to Florida Energy plants. This pipeline will tunnel under the Withlacoochee, Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers and cross dozens of watersheds that are vital to the health of Florida’s springs and aquifer.

And in Miami, Florida Power & Light is pushing to store radioactive waste in a lower water table beneath the Florida Aquifer in a layer named the Boulder Zone. Research has shown that contamination can filter back up into the main aquifer, as well as having the potential to pollute Biscanye Bay.

In closing, it would appear that a push to dismantle the EPA is not for the benefit of Americans or Florida’s residents, but for the sole purpose of furthering Corporate interests. I urge Representative Gaetz to be a Champion for Florida and withdraw his proposed bill.

Notes:

For those that are unfamiliar with Florida’s karst system, it is a porous layer of limestone through which groundwater filters down into the aquifer.

Phosphogypsum is a radioactive by-product of phosphate mining.

Gaetz said Reps. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) have agreed to co-sponsor a bill to the House Committee on Natural Resources to eliminate the agency.

Citations:

Miami News Times http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/fpl-wins-battle-to-store-radioactive-waste-under-miamis-drinking-water-aquifer-9059210

WFLA Channel 8 News http://wfla.com/2016/09/16/state-believes-radioactive-water-swallowed-by-sinkhole-has-been-contained/

Bradenton Herald http://www.bradenton.com/opinion/editorials/article128650939.html

Tallahassee Democrat http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2016/12/17/sabal-trail-pipeline-cuts-through-heart-springs-country/95470950/

http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2016/07/26/erc-signs-off-controversial-water-standards/87585308/

Tampa Bay Times http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/water/mosaic-reports-third-spill-at-one-of-its-plants-the-second-under-new/2298452

Pensacola News Journal http://www.pnj.com/story/news/politics/2017/02/02/obliterating-epa-would-create-chaos-experts-say/97399494/

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Exploring Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park

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Fog bank in Glacier Bay

Last September, after months of planning, I embarked on an adventure to Alaska to witness firsthand several remarkable things that I had never seen before; Humpback whales, Sea lions, Sea otters, Mountain goats and glaciers. It was the latter that motivated me most of all, for with all of the talk about climate change and global warming, I feared that glaciers might not be around for me to see if I waited much longer.

The NPS Serac rendezvousing with our ship

It was a cold, foggy morning on the day that our cruise ship entered Glacier Bay. We were met and boarded by park rangers from Glacier Bay National Park, who would remain with us throughout the course of our journey 65 miles up the bay to the terminus of the tidewater glaciers, where we would spend time at both John Hopkins and Margerie glaciers.

 

Snow-capped mountains in Glacier Bay National Park

As the fog lifted, the sun broke through the scattered clouds, almost as if pulling back a curtain, to reveal an astonishing view. Snow-capped mountains towered out of the cyan waters on both sides of the fjord, which was as deep as 1,410 feet in some places. The scars left by receding glaciers were evident on the rough granite landscape, but instead of a bleak and barren vista, grasses, bushes and trees managed a foothold across much of it. We sailed for several hours into the bay, watching the towering peaks, hanging valleys and waterfalls slip by. Cold, but refusing to leave the rail, I spotted several playful Sea otters and a Stellar sea lion.

 

 

Kayakers paddling past Lamplugh Glacier (click to see full size)

A large glacier, Lamplugh glacier slid into view on our port side. At 160′ tall, this towering glacier seemed to be woven from ribbons of white, blue, grey and black ice. Near the base of the glacier I noticed multiple small specks of color floating on the water’s surface, but it wasn’t until I zoomed in with my 250mm lens that I was able to see tiny, two-person kayaks paddling past the glacier’s face. I was instantly jealous that I wasn’t out there on the water with them.

John Hopkins Glacier

We sailed onward and finally John Hopkins glacier slipped into view, the immense scale of it filling the horizon as we pulled closer. Measuring over 20 stories tall, over 50% taller than Lamplugh glacier, John Hopkins stretched from wall to wall of the fjord. The ship slowly turned in place over the course of an hour allowing the passengers on both sides of the ship to see the glacier. I took shot after shot of the glacier, trying to capture the impossible. I zoomed in to the base of the glacier, focusing on dark spots floating on top of the ice flows and was pleasantly surprised to see scores of Harbor seals basking in the afternoon sun.

Harbor Seals basking on ice flows at John Hopkins Glacier (click to see full size)

After an hour we left John Hopkins glacier and sailed on to Margerie glacier. Spanning a mile across, Margerie glacier greeted us with a sharp “Crack!” as loud as thunder as an ice spire, or sérac, calved from the face and plunged into the frigid seawater below. Over the next hour we watched again and again as more ice calved into the fjord. Margerie glacier is one of the most active glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park, advancing seaward at 6′-8′ per day.

 

Margerie Glacier calving

The afternoon drew late and it was time to head back to the mouth of the bay. I still couldn’t pry myself away from the rail, and for my effort I was treated to a view of Sea otters, rocky islands filled with Sea lions, Mountain goats and several brilliant rainbows. Finally we neared the entrance to Glacier Bay and the National Park Service sent a vessel out to retrieve our park ranger tour guides. We waved goodbye and retreated into the warmth of the interior of the ship to savor our experiences.

Sea lions at the end of the rainbow (click to see full size)

For me, this was a trip of a lifetime, but more importantly I learned that climate change is real. The glaciers are receding. If we, as stewards of the planet, don’t do something to stop polluting our air, oceans and groundwater, we are going to be left with nothing. The health of our planet is more important than corporate greed. Our sights need to focus on renewable energy and environmental sustainability. One person can make a difference, especially when we become hundreds, thousands and millions of people working toward a common cause – saving our planet.

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Saving the Endangered Species Act

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Trio of Brown Pelicans
Photo ©Beverly Hill

I remember, as a young girl, riding in the car along Hwy 90 in Biloxi, Mississippi and looking out the window across the beach and watching a large, lone bird glide just inches above the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I asked my mom, “What kind of bird is that?” She replied, “That’s a Brown Pelican. Take a good look, because you might not see many more of those in your lifetime.” What followed next was a discussion about how the Brown Pelicans were dying off from the effects of a pesticide called DDT. The pelicans would eat fish contaminated with DDT, which in turn caused the shells of their eggs to become increasingly brittle, resulting in egg breakage during the incubation period.

Brown Pelican
Photo © Beverly Hill

By 1960 there were almost no Brown Pelican left along the Gulf Coast. In 1970 under a new law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Brown Pelican as endangered. In 1972 the The Environmental Proction Agency finally banned the use of DDT. From 1968 to 1980 the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries began a program to reintroduce the Brown Pelican, and finally in 2009 the Brown Pelican population had recovered successfully and was removed from the Endangerd and Threatened Species Act, although in California they are still at risk.

Stellar Sea Lions
Photo © Beverly Hill

On a recent trip to Alaska I encountered more examples of success stories. On a whale-watching trip in Sitka, not only did I get to see a Humpback Whale bubble-net fishing just yards from our boat, but while circling a buoy, we spotted a couple of Stellar Sea Lions. And although I’m finally starting to spot the occasional Bald Eagle here in the Florida panhandle, in Alaska I was able to spot our nation’s symbol, delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2007, almost everywhere I went.

Bald Eagle in Flight
Photo © Beverly Hill

Another species poised to make a comeback is the Gopher Tortoise. Although not out of the woods yet in Alabama, Mississippi and eastern Louisiana, great strides are being made with the eastern population of Gopher Tortoises. This keystone species, meaning that other animals depend on it to survive, requires large tracts of undevloped land such as Longleaf pine-flatwoods in order to survive. These same endangered Longleaf pines provide habitat for the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. As many as 360 species, including some endangered and threatened species, also utilize Gopher Tortoise burrows. Everything is connected.

Gopher Tortoise
Photo used with permission © Glenn Phillips

Right now there is a concerted effort by the House GOP to remove the Endangered Species Act and dismantle the Environmental Protection Act, undoing all of the progress that has been made over the last 44 years. The underlying political agenda behind this is to free up National and Federal lands for logging, mining and drilling for the sole purpose of lining the pockets of Big Corporations. Destroying endangered animals, plants and the ecosystems they inhabit on the whim of corporate greed cannot be allowed to happen. Saving nature and the environment should be among our top priorities and is a reflection of good stewardship and a statement of what we can achieve. Corporations and politics be damned! I’ll take an endangered species over a corrupt politician any day.

How can you help? Write or call your politicians. Donate to organizations that actively fight legislation like Earthjustice.org and Nature.org. Educate your friends and family about the importance of protecting endangered species. One voice can make a difference.

Citations:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Delisted Endangered Species

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Explore Florida’s St. George Island on Apalachicola Bay

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Sea Oats Photo © Beverly Hill

 

In late October I visited Dr. Julian G Bruce St George Island State Park (talk about a mouthful!) along the Forgotten Coast located in the lower panhandle of Florida. This important barrier island provides protection for the Apalachicola Bay Aquatic Preserve and the nearby Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR) and UNESCO World Biospher Reserve. In a word, it’s pretty special.

Interestingly, St. George Island is an exercise in balance. Half of the island is developed, with homes, condominiums, shops and businesses on the western end, and the eastern half of the island is home to a state park with 9 miles of pristine sand beach and 12 miles of estuarine shoreline. As one would expect, during the summer months, St. George Island is a haven for endangered sea turtles coming ashore to lay eggs.

Great Egrets Photo © Beverly Hill

My early fall trip coincided with the seasonal butterfly migration; Monarchs, Gulf Fritillaries, Long-tailed Skippers, and other colorful butterflies dotted the flowering landscape. I chose the one-mile long East Slough Overlook trail that wound through the pine scrub to a slough flanked by Smooth Cordgrass and Black Needlerush. From the boardwalk I was able to observe a Great Blue Heron and several Great Egrets stalking their prey in the shallows. To my delight I also spotted some Southeastern Five-lined Skinks that quickly raced for cover upon my approach.

Gulf Fritillary Photo © Beverly HIll

I took my time taking in the sights from the boardwalk and adjoining sand trail before eventually returning to the parking area near the trailhead. I drove further into the park, stopping to take in the sights along the coastal dunes, including a defunct section of boardwalk that had been damaged by Hurricane Dennis in 2005. The surf was a bit rough on this day, so I decided against a walk on the beach, instead turning my attention back into the heart of the park.

Old boardwalk on St. George Island Photo © Beverly Hill

Next, I took a drive through the campground to check out the amenities available for camping and noted 60 campsites complete with electricity and water, two bathhouses and a playground. There are current plans in the works to expand the campground with an additional camping loop with up to 30 additional spots, as well as expanding the number of primitive hike-in campsites. Among other amenities, there are two natural kayak launch areas on the bay side, three covered picnic pavilions and 6 covered beach shelters, and restroom/shower areas.

Long-tailed Skipper Photo © Beverly Hill

To get to St. George Island State Park, turn onto FL 300 S from Hwy 98 in Eastpoint and follow it 4 miles across the bay. Once on St. George Island, turn left onto Big Bend Scenic Byway Coastal Trail/Gulf Beach Dr and drive 4.3 miles to the state park entrance. Other nearby parks include St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Port St. Joe and Ochlockonee River State Park in Sopchoppy. Check the Florida State Park webpage for entrance fees and closures.

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The Jewels of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

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Fishing Pond at Topsail Hill

Oasis is perhaps the best description of Topsail Hill Preserve. An oasis of nature in a changing world of urban sprawl. Here, a unique ecosystem holds onto its place in Florida’s coastal dune system under the shade of an old-growth Longleaf pine forest and gentle sea breezes. Among ancient dunes, threatened Gopher tortoises and endangered Choctawhatchee Beach mice forage next to four rare coastal dune lakes that lie within the park’s 1,640 acres of paradise. Sanctuary.

Shuttle Tram

Topsail Hill is a shining example of balance between humans and nature by mitigating human impacts in fragile areas of the park while still offering amenities similarly available in more urbanized parks. This has been accomplished by careful land and forestry management practices, including locating the camping, lodging and parking areas near the entrance to the park and supplying tram service for visitors to the beach access area. Visitors can also ride bikes or hike to areas within the park, allowing them to see even more of this amazing place.

Parrot’s Head Pitcher Plant

Along the hiking and old jeep trails visitors have the opportunity to see both pine and wetland plant communities, including pitcher plants. The park uses controlled burns to keep understory species in check so that pine, wiregrass and pitcher plant species are able to thrive without competition. It is in one of these hydric pine flatwoods where I was first able to see a beautiful native Pine lily in full bloom.

 

Pine Lily

The coastal dune lakes are another important feature within the park, and represents a vanishing resource along much of the coast. These rare and globally imperiled lakes perform multiple functions such as filtration, retention and habitat. Salinity differences caused by outflow and inflow of sea water can vary widely between lakes, allowing for a variety of fresh and saltwater fish and animals. Campbell and Morris Lake are the two most notable lakes within the park, with Lake Stallworth lying on the eastern boundary. Outside vessels are not permitted on the dune lakes, but canoe and kayak rentals are available from the camp store for kayaking on Campbell Lake.

Bike racks at Beach Access

Wildlife finds a home here as well and binoculars or a camera could be beneficial. An early morning stroll to the beach could have visitors crossing paths with Gopher tortoises, White-tailed deer, or even a Loggerhead Sea turtle on its way back to the Gulf after an evening of egg-laying. If walking near any of the lakes within the park, keep a sharp eye out for basking Alligators, since they also call the park home. Watch for wildlife tracks along any of the sandy paths as it may provide clues to some of the park’s unseen residents.

Topsail Hill at Campbell Lake

Topsail Hill is an ancient dune from which the park takes its namesake, rising 25 feet above the shore of Lake Campbell and used historically as a navigational marker for vessels. Several archaeological finds have been made at Topsail including WWII metal tracks, a wrecked wooden ship, shell middens and turpentine collection materials. A reminder in case you stumble across any archaeological materials, these are not permitted to be removed from any State Park, so leave them be for future visitors to observe.

Sea Oats wave next to an Outflow

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is on Hwy 98, although the main entrance is located along Scenic Hwy 30A in Santa Rosa Beach. Park hours are 8 a.m. until sunset, 365 days a year. Check with the park for current admission and rental fees.

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