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A Wish for You and 2001

Florida Storks brings good news

Wading birds may forecast success of Everglades project

Sarasota Herald Tribune - Editorial, Thursday, January 18, 2001, p.12A

The proposed "replumbing" of the Everglades is being called the largest scientific experiment in Florida's history. An encouraging forecast for the success of that experiment may have already occurred: in the Everglades' wading bird rookeries.

Surveys have shown that wood storks, white ibises and snowy egrets built more nests in the national park last year than they have in several decades.

The reason appears to be nearly identical conditions for the birds: a series of rainy years that bred plenty of fish, followed by dry springtimes that made it easy for the wading birds to catch the fish in shallow pools of water.

These conditions are cause for cautious celebration because they almost replicate the historic cycle that scientists hope to restore through the Everglades project.

The ebb and flow of the Everglades largely ceased in the 1940s and 1950s after the Army Corps of Engineers, responding to demands for flood control, ditched and drained the park with massive canals, dikes, and floodgates. Scientists estimate that as a result, wading bird populations have declined by 90 percent.

In 2000, things changed. Just two years ago, scientists counted 25 wood stork nests in the Everglades; at the end of the 2000 season, they tallied 2,092 pairs of nesting storks. They also counted four times the number of nesting snowy egrets and 13 times the white ibises that nested in 1998.

These counts offer hope that re-engineering can repair the damage wreaked by drainage.

The $7.8 billion state and federal project, considered the most ambitious environmental restoration ever attempted, plans to replumb the Everglades. By filling drainage canals, impounding and redirecting water and breaching road causeways and other impediments, the corps hopes to recreate the Everglades it demolished.

No one knows whether the massive plan will succeed. But, if the wading birds' response to similar conditions is any indication, hope may become the plan's newest attribute.

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