Thursday, June 12, 2014

“Invasive Species, An Exotic Problem”

Ever wondered what it would feel like to live exotically, surrounded by unusual plants and animals?  Most everyone would answer yes but never think twice about the consequences in maintaining and sustaining an exotic species.  This is where it becomes a problem and that the exotic species you once thought was so different and unique, transforms into what is called an invasive species.  An invasive species is “a non-native species whose introduction does, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human, animal, or plant health” (Executive Order 13112, 1999).  Invasive species displays rapid growth and spread, allowing it to establish over large areas in sometimes a hasty manner.  They are free from the complex arrangement of natural controls, including herbivores, parasites, and diseases, that are present on their native lands.  Some invasive species provide a high social, environmental and economic concern, like the giant Burmese pythons that have severely crippled Florida’s Everglades, while some species may have only a modest impact on the environment, like the nutria, a large rodent from South America who has presently made its way into the lowlands of Louisiana.  Their presence has been made well known throughout the country.  The National Park Service of the United States has reported that over 6,500 non-native invasive species have been documented on park lands. 

One of the leading contributions to the development of an invasive species is unruly pet ownership.  Owners of these exotic creatures tend to underestimate the care and maintenance required and then so release them into the wild or let them run rampant.  Conscious control and maintenance would help to prevent an outbreak of an invasive species.  There are other ways you can help as well such as: checking boat trailers, boat hulls and propellers; rinsing and removing aquatic plants or other creatures such as snails; refraining from dumping aquarium contents in lakes, channels or other water bodies; replacing invasive and other non-native plants in your yard with native species; making sure produce bought and delivered through the mail is from highly regarded companies that have their shipments inspected; and have houseplants brought into the state inspected for potential pests.  Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. You may think that just one exotic plant or one animal won’t hurt anything, but in reality, the damage from just one of these species entering your local environment could tarnish the ecosystem forever.

-Adam Gruszcynski, Legal Intern

Look at the Apalachicola River

Formed by the confluence of the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers, and drawing on around 20,000 square miles of watershed in from the tri-state area, the Apalachicola River supports over 1,500 native plants and animals, and the river system is recognized as one of six biodiversity hotspots in America. Unfortunately, this important and impressive river is under threat from several sources. In addition ongoing problems with decreasing water flow due to increased water drawing upstream, attention is not being turned to an old power plant in Sneads that seems to be polluting the waters.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Apalachicola Riverkeeper are now taking action to protect the river from a 40-acre coal ash dump at Gulf Power Company’s Scholz Generating Plant. Coal ash is the toxic byproduct of coal burnt in power plants, and it includes heavy metals, neurotoxins and carcinogens such as cadmium, arsenic, aluminum, lead, beryllium and mercury. These dangerous chemicals can cause cancer as well as developmental and reproductive disorders, and if not properly handled these chemicals can penetrate and poison drinking water sources. And it seems that coal ash deposit at the Scholz Plant, near Sneads, Florida, is not being handled properly. There, millions of gallons of coal ash sludge generated over the years have been dumped into unlined pits, and now the pits are leaching chemicals into the uppermost reaches of the Apalachicola River,

While the entire river region is beautiful, many areas of special environmental significance abut the river along its 107 mile southward course through the panhandle and into the Gulf of Mexico. A glance at some of these valuable places can help to remind us what is at stake.

Our first stop is Torreya State Park, named for the rare Florida Torreya tree grow along the bluffs and ravines along the river banks. Colloquially named “stinking cedars,” because they smell strongly when cut or bruised, Torreya trees were cut and put to work for a variety of uses by early settlers. Today, with only about 200 remaining in the world, the Torreya is one of the nation’s most endangered trees. Exciting bluffs, ravines, and steepheads, carved out of the relatively high topography in the northern panhandle, range throughout the upper Apalachicola area, including Torreya State Park and the Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs.

The Apalachicola National Forest encompasses nearly six hundred thousand acres of botanically diverse Floridian goodness.  It is home to endangered animals such as the gray bat, rec-cockaded woodpecker, and wood stork, in addition to several threatened species of plants and animals.
Just to the south is Tate’s Hell State Forest, named after a legendarily unfortunate man who set off into the forest one day and stumbled out near Carabelle a week later saying he’d been through hell. Despite the name, the Forest is a haven for wildlife and flora such as Bald Eagles, Gopher Tortoises, American Black Bears, and several rare plant species, including white birds-in-a-nest.

Finally, the bay area and the coastal wetlands host incredible biodiversity, are immensely beautiful and offer important environmental services such as storm surge protection and provision of nutrients and breeding grounds for the marine life in the Apalachicola Bay. The coastal areas where the river meets the bay also provide a habitat for the vast swaths of oyster beds vital to local and state economies.

-Amanda Hudson, Legal Intern