Federal "Assistance"

"We're with the federal government, and we're here to help you." Those words might well have been the opening line of a May newsletter published by the National Park Service with regard to Everglades National Park's General Management Plan. The entire process of developing the GMP - a six-step process started in 2003 - was only supposed to take five years. Now, more than four years after the fact, the working group responsible for drafting the plan - a plan that will determine how you and I are allowed to utilize Everglades National Park for the next several decades - is only up to Step No. 3, in which they explore potential alternatives and accept public input. Current debate revolves around four alternative plans. Here are the broad strokes: Alternative A: No-action alternative, basically "business as usual" within the park. Alternative B: Approximately 51,000 acres in the east Everglades would be set aside as a wilderness area and recreational boaters would be required to obtain an "educational" permit (this sounds like a thinly-veiled access fee). Alternative C: Some 94,000 acres in the east Everglades would be set off as potential wilderness. Marine boating would be managed by boat size (24 feet or less) in shallower areas to protect sensitive biological communities. Alternative D: In the east Everglades, 106,000 acres would be reclaimed as wilderness. Although private airboating activities would be allowed to continue, commercial operations would be acquired by the Park Service and closed. Marine boating would be managed by water depth to protect the shallow portions of the bay; that is, in depths of less than 3 feet, boaters would be required to pole, paddle or use trolling motors. This, the most restrictive proposal, would essentially shut down over 80 percent of Florida Bay. For those leaving Islamorada to fish Flamingo, it could mean they would have to pole or use a trolling motor to make the 30-mile crossing. Clearly, that's not feasible. These are ambitious plans for a national park whose facilities are still reeling from several years of hurricane-wrought destruction. In addition to more stringent boating regulations, the latter three options would designate every key or island in Florida Bay as "wildlife habitat-protection areas." The park's working documents don't define what that means, but if past experience in Florida Bay is any indication, it could bring redfish, trout and snook fishing around the mangrove islands to a grinding halt. This comprehensive management plan has enormous implications for hundreds of duly permitted fishing guides who depend on park resources to make their living, as well as the thousands of recreational anglers from South Florida and around the world who visit the park annually. There is also the question of how these plans would affect handicapped or elderly visitors cut off from thousands of acres of water gobbled up by proposed troll-and-pole zones. Recreational anglers and boaters are losing ground in "public" water all across the United States. And all too often, members of the National Park Service seem to view the public in this rather myopic context: "How dare you invade our private preserves for your own personal enjoyment!" Times and places for public input are listed below or visit http://parkplanning.nps.gov and submit an electronic comment on the plans or mail any comments you have to the National Park Service, Denver Service Center, Everglades Planning Team, P.O. Box 25287, Denver, Colorado 80255-0287. Let the powers that be know what you think - before it's too late - and before the federal government and National Park Service step in to "help" us all. PUBLIC WORKSHOPS All workshops will take place from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. There will be two separate, repeated sessions at each workshop (5:00 - 6:30 p.m. and 6:30 - 8:00 p.m.). There will be overview presentations at 5:15 and 6:45 p.m. Before and after the presentations, there will be opportunities to learn more about the project through informational displays, and by asking questions and providing your ideas to park staff. Tuesday, June 5, 2007 South Dade Regional Library 10750 SW 211th Street Miami, FL 33189 Phone: 305-233-8140 Wednesday, June 6, 2007 Everglades City School 415 School Drive Everglades City, FL 34139 Phone: 239-377-9800 Thursday, June 7, 2007 Key Largo Holiday Inn 99701 Overseas Highway Key Largo, FL 33037 Phone: 305-453-7150 Tuesday, June 12, 2007 Holiday Isle Resort 8401 Overseas Highway Islamorada, FL 33036 Phone: 305-664-2321 Wednesday, June 13, 2007 International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame 300 Gulfstream Way Dania Beach, FL 33004 Phone: 954-927-2628 Thursday, June 14, 2007 Coe Visitor Center (Main Park Entrance) Everglades National Park 40001 State Road 9336 Homestead, FL 33034 Phone: 305-242-7700