September 03, 2015

Florida black bear population rebounds, so state approves hunt

via @jenstaletovich

The hunt is on.

Despite months of protests and a lawsuit filed to stop it, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commissioners on Wednesday took the final step in paving the way for an October bear hunt. Hunters will be allowed to kill up to 320 animals in bear country in four parts of the state.

The hunt will be the first in more than 20 years and narrowly passed after Commissioners Ron Bergeron and Robert Spottswood, who was appointed just this month, objected to hunt rules.

“You’re talking about an animal that’s an icon in this state,” Bergeron said at a field hearing that filled a Fort Lauderdale hotel ballroom with hunters in boots and conservationists waiving signs and carrying an oversized stuffed teddy bear.

First approved in April, the hunt has already drawn more than 1,900 hunters who have purchased an unlimited number of permits. Hunters will have at least two days starting Oct. 24 to kill bears in four populated areas in the Southwest Florida, North and Central Florida and the Panhandle. The hunt will be called off once the 320 quota is reached.

More here.

August 28, 2015

Environmental groups seek budget surplus funds to buy land


Environmental groups are asking a Leon County judge to intervene in how the state will spend a large chunk of the $700 million in funds set aside by voters for conservation.

If granted, the injunction, filed Friday by environmental law group Earthjustice on behalf of four nonprofits, would force the state to put more than $200 million from the state budget surplus into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. The state budget, passed by the Legislature in June, uses some of the money in the trust fund to fund existing projects like administration of the Department of Environmental Protection or firefighting by the Department of Agriculture.

Critics say this flies in the face of what three-quarters of voters demanded when they supported Amendment 1 on the ballot in November.

"We're not saying that those things aren't appropriate for funding," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. "We don't think they're appropriate for Amendment 1 funding."

Environmentalists, including Fuller, want to see the $700 million from the trust fund in this year's budget spent on land acquisition in the interest of conservation.

"We think theat the public spoke when they voted for the amendment. We think in these areas, the Legislature misapplied the funds," he said.

But legislators argued in June that their spending falls in line with vague guidelines written into the constitutional amendment.

They did set aside some funds for land buys in the budget, but it falls far short of what environmental activists have asked for.

Four of the same groups behind Friday's injunction request -- Earthjustice, Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida -- filed a lawsuit in June, asking a judge to determine how future trust fund money set aside by Amendment 1 can be spent. The Sierra Club joined the lawsuit Friday. (An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Sierra Club was part of the original lawsuit in June.)

August 25, 2015

Miami congresswoman calls for public hearing on Miami boat show permit


Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tuesday to hold a public hearing before making a final decision on a permit to allow the city of Miami to host the Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association has a license agreement with the city to move their massive industry event from the Miami Beach Convention Center to a utility-lined lawn outside the Miami Marine Stadium. Boats would also be exhibited in the Marine Stadium basin, and thousands of attendees are expected to take water taxis to the show.

In an application submitted months ago for a permit, Boat Show organizers sought permission to erect temporary docks and walkways large enough to cover more than four football fields. They have since said the show won't be nearly that large, but environmentalists and residents from nearby Key Biscayne are opposed to hosting the event on Virginia Key due to concerns about traffic and potential damage to an environmentally sensitive area. (The Bill Sadowski Critical Wildlife Area is located on the north bank of the basin.)

A protest is scheduled Saturday morning.

In May, Key Biscayne village officials requested a public hearing. Ros-Lehtinen, whose district includes both keys, wrote to the commander of the Army Corps Jacksonville District Tuesday to request that their wish be granted.

"The issues raised by the Village of Key Biscayne regarding this permit application should warrant a public hearing," wrote Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami. "It is important that this process is conducted in an open and fair way."

August 21, 2015

As governor, Jeb Bush loved manatees -- but sided with boaters

via @craigtimes

As a presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hasn’t said much about the environmental issues facing America. He’s waffled on climate change, and supported approval of the Keystone pipeline and drilling in the Arctic, and that’s been about it.

But when he was a gubernatorial candidate in 1998, he took pains to show his concern about the environment — particularly one of the state’s signature animals, manatees. He even helped SeaWorld release a pair of rehabilitated manatees, one of them named “Little Jeb.” After he was elected, during a 2000 Cabinet meeting, he made his interest in manatees even plainer.

“There’s an endangered species that’s close to being extinct in Florida waters, and I don’t want to be part of that,” Bush announced. “It’s my favorite mammal.”

Yet when Bush had a chance to solve one of the biggest problems in manatee protection, he backed off, deferring instead to is own conservative ideology.

What happened with Bush and manatees remains one of the great what-ifs of Florida environmental history and provides a window into how he might deal with similar situations as president.

More here.

August 18, 2015

More coral damaged by PortMiami dredge than feds expected

via @jenstaletovich

Deepening Port Miami to make way for bigger ships has caused far more damage to rare coral at the bottom of Biscayne Bay than federal wildlife managers originally calculated.

In a series of letters and emails with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing dredge work, the National Marine Fisheries Service warned between February and June that damage “greatly exceeds” what was anticipated, risking harm to a stretch of reef on the south and north sides of Government Cut up to four times the size originally projected. Yet efforts to get an accurate take on damage have been rebuffed by Corps officials. And Fisheries Service divers hoping to survey the area have repeatedly encountered obstacles, they complained.

The correspondence reveals deep differences between the two federal agencies over impacts of a controversial Deep Dredge project long sought by PortMiami and South Florida political leaders but fought for years by environmentalists. In one count, a Corps contractor concluded that only a handful of coral showed stress — just 2 to 6 percent of the coral checked. But a Fisheries Service count of the same reef showed damage to 67 percent.

On Monday, five months after the agency asked the Corps to provide a complete survey, a Fisheries Service spokeswoman said the agency was still waiting. The Corps did not respond to repeated requests emailed Monday to several people.

Even as work winds down —the underwater excavation is expected to end this summer — tensions continue between agencies and groups monitoring the $205 million expansion which deepen the port to 52 feet by scooping up 6 million cubic yards of bay bottom.

More here.

August 12, 2015

Broward wants to block Everglades oil drilling with zoning restrictions

via @jenstaletovich

Broward County commissioners who oppose plans to drill for oil in western marshes believe they have found a way to thwart efforts by a Miami family to tap into Everglades crude: local zoning restrictions.

In a meeting Tuesday, county staff members told commissioners the land is zoned for conservation, which prohibits drilling.

“As long as the decision made is not arbitrary and capricious, it should withstand a legal challenge,” said deputy county attorney Maite Azcoitia.

The county’s authority to govern its land, staff said, trumps a deal struck by state water managers decades ago that allowed the state to use the land for water storage while letting the Kanter family hang on to rights to extract oil, gas and minerals. To drill, the family would have to win permission from the county to change the land use and obtain a lengthy list of permits.

“We have nine hurdles that they have to come through,” Commissioner Barbara Sharief said. “It’s much to do about nothing because it’s not going anywhere.”

Miami-based Kanter Real Estate did not respond to repeated requests for comment Tuesday.

But just in case, county commissioners agreed to ask state legislators to tighten the law governing drilling by including a provision that lets counties oppose drilling in the absence of zoning restrictions.

More here.

New conservation political arm started by Amendment 1's sponsors


Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, the group that sponsored Amendment 1 in the 2014 election, has shuttered its doors and relaunched as Florida Conservation Voters, which backers say will have a broader mission of political activism on environmental issues.

The change comes after a "disappointing 2015 session" of the Legislature, according to an announcement Wednesday by the group's executive director, Aliki Moncrief. Environmentalists faced pretty significant losses in the state budget process, as lawmakers used funds set aside for conservation by voters in Amendment 1 to offset administrative costs of existing state programs.

“Florida has a long history of bipartisan support for the environment, and we know that Florida voters -- Republicans, Democrats, and Independents --  value conservation, as evidenced by the 75% voter mandate on Amendment 1," Moncrief said in a statement. "Our mission will be to make sure that legislative priorities on the environment match up to those of Florida voters.”

The new group, which will be based in Tallahassee, will have a mission focused on electing people who support conservation to offices in Florida, Moncrief said. The group is setting up as a 501(c)(4), which will allow them to endorse and contribute to candidates for Congress, the state Legislature and local office.

Florida's Water and Land Legacy officially disbanded in June, according to records filed with the state Division of Elections. Florida Conservation Voters hasn't yet established a committee with the state.

August 05, 2015

Poll shows majority of Floridians consider climate change a serious problem

A poll being released today by Public Policy Polling will show a majority of Florida voters consider climate change a serious problem.

The poll was done in eight battleground states including Florida. The left-leaning group Americans United for Change, which supports President Barack Obama’s policies, commissioned the poll.

It follows the Clean Power Plan recently released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to cut carbon pollution.

From the press release about the poll, a summary of results for Florida shows:

“When asked ‘How much of a problem do you consider climate change to be?’, 62% of voters in Florida consider it a “serious problem”, compared to 36% who don’t. After hearing a brief description of the Clean Power Plan and top arguments from proponents and opponents, 63% of voters in Florida say they support the plan while 35% oppose it. 66% of voters in Florida say they would either be more likely to support an elected official or it would make no difference if they supported the Clean Power Plan, compared to only 26% who would be more likely to oppose.”

Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has been criticized by environmentalists for not addressing climate change. Earlier this year, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting broke a story that cited former DEP officials who said they had been told verbally to phrases such as “climate change.”

But that hasn’t stopped Scott from bragging about his own environmental record. At a summit with presidential candidates in June, Scott said: “If you care about the environment, we've got record funding."

Scott's team points to investments the state has made to restore the Everglades and springs during Scott’s tenure -- and he has championed both. However the budget for the state Department of Environmental Protection and for Florida Forever were not a record under Scott -- two major pots of money that relate to the environment. PolitiFact Florida rated his claim Pants on Fire.

August 04, 2015

Activists question Scott's move to speed up environmental pick

Some environmentalists are suspicious of Gov. Rick Scott's decision to seek Cabinet approval Wednesday on the reappointment of Jon Steverson as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. They suspect Scott is speeding up the vote in Tallahassee as a way to limit public criticism of Steverson's proposals to open up state parks to commercial activities such as hunting, cattle grazing and timber harvesting.

"There are people all over Florida who are concerned about this," said Albert Gregory, a retired park planner who worked at DEP for 35 years. "This latest change kind of caught folks by surprise. I'm not a natural born conspiracy theorist, but the way this has evolved, it makes it hard not to be sometimes."

Jono Miller of Sarasota, a member of a citizens group seeking to prevent commercialization of Myakka River State Park, said he's not opposed to Steverson personally, but that he and many other Floridians reject the idea that state parks should be used to generate revenue. Miller said "I would prefer not" to see a vote on Steverson this week so that people can plan to attend the next Cabinet meeting on Sept. 1.

Scott did move up the timing of the DEP appointment without explanation by adding Steverson to Wednesday's agenda as required by law. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater's office questioned the decision.

"How is he (Steverson) on the agenda if the Cabinet did not vote for that?" Atwater Cabinet aide Robert Tornillo asked at the July 29 Cabinet aides meeting. 

Scott Cabinet aide Kristin Olsen made reference to the fact that Attorney General Pam Bondi had dropped her original request to interview other candidates for DEP, "so we just figured we'd move forward and do it," Olsen said.

Continue reading "Activists question Scott's move to speed up environmental pick" »

July 30, 2015

As oil-drilling bill advances, Sen. Bill Nelson vows to use all options to stop it


A bill to open new areas off Florida’s Gulf Coast to drilling and to accelerate the timetable for doing so passed out of a U.S. Senate committee Thursday, prompting a vow from one of the state’s senators to do whatever measures possible to block it.

The legislation passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, allowing for additional areas of oil and gas exploration off America’s shores. Part of the bill dealt with drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast – and prompted the rebuke from Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Orlando.

In a one-line letter to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate, Nelson said, “If any measure to repeal the current moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico comes before the full Senate for a vote, I will use all available procedural options to block it.”

Currently, there’s a no-drilling zone extending 125 miles off most of the state’s Gulf coastline – and as far out as 235 miles at some points, Nelson said. That no-drilling zone is in effect until 2022.

The Gulf measure originally came from Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, who earlier this year introduced his Offshore Energy and Jobs Act. It would allow for drilling 50 miles off Florida’s Gulf shores and begin opening up the area sooner than the law now calls for.

His Gulf-related bill was pulled into a broader drilling bill that also addressed areas off Alaska and in the Atlantic Ocean. It passed out of committee on a 12-10 vote.

There is no indication when it might be taken up by the full Senate.

The power of a solo senator to stop legislation is limited, but they do have some options – such as a filibuster – to hold up a bill and bring attention to it.

Continue reading "As oil-drilling bill advances, Sen. Bill Nelson vows to use all options to stop it" »