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Executive Summary

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The Florida Everglades is a complex ecosystem of diverse, interconnected subtropical habitats. Once comprised of over 4 million acres, today the historic Everglades have been reduced by half. The conflict of human versus natural elements in South Florida began in earnest in the early 1900s, when the control of water and the drainage of wetlands were first considered essential for commerce and human safety. Loss of life due to hurricane-related flooding in the 1920s accelerated drainage projects, culminating in the congressional authorization of the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Flood Control Project in 1948.

Over the course of the next 50 years, exponential population growth, urbanization, and agricultural practices significantly altered the South Florida ecosystem. Implementation of the C&SF Project hydrologically fragmented the Everglades, resulting in unnatural quantities and timing of freshwater flows to and through the remaining natural areas. These hydrologic changes resulted in severe ecosystem degradation, evidenced by a 90% decline in wading bird populations, declines in commercial and recreational fisheries, significant decreases in the number of Everglades tree islands, and widespread invasions of exotic plants and animals. Currently 68 species in the Greater Everglades are federally listed as threatened or endangered.

During the past two decades, the Florida Legislature and the U.S. Congress have enacted a series of laws to redress environmental harm to the South Florida ecosystem. Many of these laws provide the authorities under which the state and the federal governments operate and fund programs that collectively comprise the South Florida restoration effort. Most recently, the Congress authorized the implementation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which will be implemented over the next four decades by the federal and state governments. The CERP will modify the C&SF Project to increase future water supplies for the environmental purpose of restoring the South Florida natural system, while also providing for other water-related needs in the region.

To support ongoing South Florida restoration efforts, the U.S. Department of the Interior and its bureaus, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey, developed this science plan to identify the science needed to support DOI managers in fulfilling their stewardship responsibilities for natural resources in South Florida. The science plan also supports DOI's efforts as a partner in South Florida restoration, including the implementation of the CERP.

Overall, DOI science will assist in the intergovernmental effort to answer three overarching restoration questions:

What actions will improve the quantity, timing, and distribution of clean fresh water needed to restore the South Florida ecosystem?

What actions will restore, protect, and maintain natural resources on DOI lands in South Florida?

What actions will recover South Florida's threatened and endangered species?

Success in addressing these three overarching questions at ecological scales ranging from individual species and communities, to individual parks and refuges, to the entire South Florida ecosystem will require a well coordinated, collaborative, and integrated effort among participating agencies and stakeholders. None of these questions can be answered independently by any one agency or partner. Science must be synthesized and disseminated among the wide range of agencies and partners involved in this effort. Moreover, each of these questions raises more specific questions about the interrelated variables affecting the condition of the ecosystem, including hydropatterns (the quantity, timing, and distribution of water), water quality, ecological responses of biological communities and species to changes in water quantity and quality, the role of fire, the effects of invasive exotic species, the effects of adjacent land uses on natural areas, and the effects of public use of parks and refuges. The major unanswered questions associated with particular projects are identified in this report and serve as the focal points for discussing what is known and what additional scientific information is needed to help ensure that each project produces the intended performance within the ecosystem.

photograph of water and mangroves
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This DOI science plan identifies the key projects and information needs for DOI managers as they fulfill their roles as stewards and partners in South Florida restoration efforts. Two DOI bureaus, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Park Service (NPS), are responsible for the resource stewardship and public use of extensive public federal lands in the region, including Everglades National Park (the largest national park east of the Rockies), Biscayne and Dry Tortugas National Parks, Big Cypress National Preserve, and the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee, Florida Panther, National Key Deer, and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuges. The FWS has responsibilities for threatened and endangered species and other species of concern under such authorities as the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The DOI also has a trust responsibility for American Indian reservation communities, including the Seminole and Miccosukee Indian Tribes. DOI's partnership role includes support for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) including interim goals, performance measures, and support for various project components. Furthermore, it identifies a strategy for ensuring that the scientific information needed by managers is available at the appropriate time, when decisions are made. The coordination and prioritization of DOI science needs—based on managers' needs for information to support decision making — lays an important foundation for identifying gaps in scientific information and the management needs that must be addressed to achieve and maintain a restored Everglades.

This plan outlines the importance of developing and effectively synthesizing and communicating the best available science input into the decision making process in managing the DOI lands in South Florida. The USGS, in consultation with NPS and FWS, have developed a process for prioritizing the science needs relevant to the restoration and resource management projects identified in this science plan. This process utilizes a multi-tiered approach to assist in prioritizing critical science information needs. The prioritized list generated from this process will be the foundation for DOI's annual science funding strategy. Incorporated into this tiered approach are a number of factors:

  • The relevance of the science effort to improving understanding of the ecological and hydrologic processes affecting DOI lands and resources
  • The applicability of the science to multiple DOI restoration objectives or multiple projects
  • Synthesis and sequencing to address the most urgent management information needs
  • Maximization of cost-share opportunities and science coordination across bureaus or with DOI's CERP partners

The prioritization process outlined above emphasizes program integration and a primary goal of coordinating DOI investment in science to achieve economies of scale by effective integration of science programs from many different jurisdictions, including the private sector. The DOI bureaus are currently using this prioritization process to prioritize next year budget requests for science. In Addition, the NPS, FWS, and USGS will continue to proactively seek out partnerships and improve existing ones to maximize scientific inquiry

This plan strives to ensure that new information resulting from changed or unforeseen circumstances, new scientific or technical information, or information developed through the principles of adaptive management will be incorporated into the prioritization of DOI science efforts and land managers' decision making process. The DOI Science plan clearly identifies questions that managers have for the restoration process and the underlying scientific questions and information needed to address these questions. The plan also identifies timelines to get the information to managers when they need it. In order to answer these questions in a timely fashion, this plan specifically provides for development and use of improved predictive tools as well as a more comprehensive monitoring effort that will be the basis for new information that will be provided to the Department and partners' ecosystem restoration as adaptive management principles are implemented.

Three specific program areas, each with specific projects, are set forth in greater detail in the following pages. These program areas include (1) projects to improve the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of water; (2) habitat and species recovery projects; and (3) land and resource management projects. Implementation of this science plan will ensure that priority science needs are met for each of the projects identified and that DOI's science programs support the needs of the land-managing agencies involved in the South Florida restoration effort.


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Last updated: 04 September, 2013 @ 02:04 PM(KP)