Dear Chapter Leaders:
I wanted you to be the first to know that this afternoon, Florida Audubon Society filed a petition to challenge DEP’s intent to permit a private boardwalk for construction across vulnerable, state-owned habitat on Ft. Myers Beach.
Applicants Texas Holdem, LLC, and Squeeze Me Inn, LLC have applied to construct a private boardwalk from their rental houses across mangroves and a state-owned tidal lagoon into Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area (CWA), an area designated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for its importance to rare and declining shorebirds and seabirds. Audubon bird stewards, including members from Audubon of the Western Everglades and Audubon of Southwest Florida, have volunteered at this important nesting area since 2010, but it has been important to birds and birdwatchers for decades. Roger Tory Peterson, widely regarded as the father of American birding and the modern field guide, once called Little Estero Island his favorite birdwatching location in Florida.
This habitat has supported nesting for state imperiled 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 bird species.
Legal challenges like this are both intense and expensive, but we think this permit would present a dangerous precedent if approved. Intact coastal habitat like Little Estero Island is increasingly rare, especially in highly urbanized Southwest Florida, and deserves protection, especially when it is in public ownership. Were this boardwalk to be approved, other applicants would likely follow, fragmenting and degrading the birds’ habitat here and in comparable locations. Further, we need to be doing all we can to help our coastal habitats survive sea level rise, not impairing them with storm-vulnerable structures that impede coastal processes and negatively impact coastal wildlife.
We will keep you updated as the case progresses. In the meantime, if you would like to contribute to help finance this challenge, donations to Florida Audubon Society marked “Little Estero” may be sent to Florida Audubon Society, 4500 Biscayne Blvd., Suite 205, Miami, FL 33137 Attn: Emoy Suarez.
We are Audubon and this is what we do. Thank you as always for helping to make it possible. I look forward to seeing many of you later this month at the Audubon Assembly!
Executive Director, Audubon Florida
President, Florida Audubon Society