Friday afternoon, October 14, Florida Audubon Society filed a petition challenging the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) intent to permit a private boardwalk across state-owned coastal habitat in Fort Myers Beach.
Out-of-state applicants Texas Holdem, LLC, and Squeeze Me Inn, LLC have applied to construct a private boardwalk from rental houses across protected mangroves and a state-owned tidal lagoon into the heart of Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area (CWA). CWAs are designated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to protect rare and declining wildlife, in this case, threatened shorebirds and seabirds.
“Little natural habitat remains on Florida’s highly developed coastline,” said Eric Draper, President of Florida Audubon Society and Executive Director of Audubon Florida. “A private dock across sensitive habitats and into a protected nesting area will cause irreparable harm to shorebird and seabird populations.”
“This permit sets a bad precedent for the use of Florida’s public lands statewide. Allowing private entities to degrade public lands and endanger rare species is unacceptable” said Brad Cornell, Audubon’s Southwest Florida Policy Associate. “Public lands and the wildlife they support belong to all Floridians, and allowed uses must be in the public interest. This permit undermines the very reason these lands were protected.”
Audubon, its local chapters, the Town of Fort Myers Beach, and FWC have protected the site’s hundreds of nesting birds with staff and volunteers since 2010. The site was designated as a CWA in 1992, due to its importance to rare and declining coastal birds.
Little Estero Island CWA has hosted nesting sites for state Threatened and declining species including the Snowy Plover, Least Tern, Black Skimmer and Wilson’s Plover. It also provides foraging habitat for North America’s rarest heron, the state Threatened Reddish Egret, and winter habitat for the federally Threatened Red Knot and Piping Plover, as well as dozens of other migratory coastal bird species.
We applaud the Town of Fort Myers Beach for also challenging DEP’s intent to issue this permit. The Town and FWC previously sent letters to DEP raising strong concerns regarding this permit.
Florida Audubon Society has been a voice for birds, wildlife and public lands for more than 115 years.