Restoring Picayune Strand is one of those rare opportunities to put back what humans destroyed and, in doing so, to revive 55,000 acres of wetlands, sloughs and upland habitats so important for Wood Storks, Florida panthers, black bears, bald eagles and many other Western Everglades wildlife species.
Picayune Strand is the final piece in a conservation puzzle. With its acquisition and pending restoration, there will be a continuous network of natural lands in the western Everglades, from Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve to the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Recreating the timing and patterns of water flow to the strand’s marshes, cypress strands and mixed swamp forest will not only enhance habitat for wetland-dependent wildlife but will also benefit the estuarine ecosystems of the Ten Thousand Islands by reducing the volume of freshwater that flows into the mangrove estuaries though the Faka Union Canal.
The ground-breaking on the Merritt Canal portion of the Picayune Strand Restoration Project is a win for wildlife and is a moment well worth celebrating. Once called the Southern Golden Gate Estates, the acres of marshes, sloughs, uplands and estuarine habitat to be restored were destroyed decades ago in a failed attempt to develop part of “the world’s largest subdivision.”
Just purchasing the land required a Herculean effort by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and supporting organizations. There were more than 17,000 individual landowners who had purchased acreage that could just as easily been sold by the gallon.
The Picayune Strand Restoration Project is the largest in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) and involves removing 227 miles of roads, plugging 45 miles of canals and installing three pump stations. Once complete, natural water flows and historic water levels will be restored to replenish the sloughs, wetlands and upland habitats and create ecological connections to the natural lands around Picayune.
As the largest project in the CERP, the ground-breaking of the Picayune Strand Restoration Project marks another important landmark. With this restoration, the stage will be set for achieving the ecological benefits possible in all 68 components of the nation’s largest ecosystem recovery plan.
We applaud the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, including its Big Cypress Basin, for taking this important step to undo previous harm and restore America’s Everglades. It is amazing what partners can achieve when they really work together.
The Picayune Strand groundbreaking marks an important recommitment by the U.S. Congress and federal partners to work with Florida to actually return the abundance of wildlife that once was found in the western Everglades.
We also recognize the countless individuals and organizations who expended so much time and effort helping with the land acquisition, attending and speaking in support of the acquisition and restoration at innumerable public meetings, and the volunteers who have helped in many ways. They are all partners in this unprecedented attempt to restore an ecosystem of international importance.
But this is a beginning, not an end. The work of restoration must go on. We call on the Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Interior, Florida DEP and others in Florida and local governments to build on the success of this keystone first step.
You can read this guest commentary by Brad Cornell, Andrew McElwaine and Nancy Payton at Naples Daily News.