The Western Everglades was at the center of extreme weather impacts in 2017. Unnaturally hot wildfires, like those experienced in the region this past spring, were followed by high summer rainfall and Hurricane Irma. These conditions demonstrated one thing: the importance of protecting existing wetlands and restoring areas where wetlands have been drained.
When wetlands are developed, their natural water storage capabilities are lost. Water is quickly drained from the commercial and residential developments that were built in low floodplains in the Western Everglades, leaving these areas more susceptible to the impacts of extreme dry conditions, like wildfires or water restrictions. When heavy rainfall occurs, the land is no longer able to hold water which can also impact upstream wetlands like those in the Corkscrew Swamp region.
One top restoration project in the region is the Picayune Strand Restoration Project in Collier County. The project is a critical wetlands restoration component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan that will restore almost 100,000 acres of wetlands. Despite this project being 90 percent complete, no federal or state restoration funding was provided for this project in 2017, and it is uncertain whether any funding will come through in 2018. Without completing the final components of the project, less than 30 percent of the restoration benefits can be realized. Audubon will continue to advocate for its completion.