Support restoration plan for Ani Pond
To the editor:
I am responding to the “Not happy with plans for Bailey Tract’s Ani Pond” letter. The author made three points. First, she stated that there were “some small efforts to communicate plans to the public …” Second, the writer briefly addressed the perceived demerits of restoration. Third, she complained about the project’s timing.
First, there was, in fact, considerable notice given to the public. A U.S. Fish & Wildlife press release from Feb. 8 about the Feb. 28 public hearing was also published in full at the city’s website (www.mysanibel.com/content/download/24687/154855.) This newspaper published an article on the Ani Pond on March 7. It also published, on April 17, an article stating that additional public hearings were to be held at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on April 20 and on the evening of April 23. In addition to these four public meetings, the plans were the focus of a 10-minute WGPU Gulf Coast Live broadcast on March 14 and a long March 9 New-Press article with color photos and a three-minute video.
Second, why restore the natural hydrology in the Ani Pond area? Prior to the 1960s, Mother Nature produced lush freshwater Spartina marshes. Subsequently in the late 1960s/early 1970s man-made excavations provided fill needed for Lee County’s construction of Sanibel-Captiva Road and other road building projects. It was also hoped that the resultant ponds might provide waterfowl habitat. What you see today at the Bailey Tract is not nature’s design, but rather, the consequences of post-road building. The digging did indeed provide road fill, but it was a long-term dud on the “encouraging waterfowl” front. It also had unintended and serious consequences for the Bailey Tract’s hydrology. The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and U.S Fish & Wildlife did a 2015-2016 series of test wells to document what was happening with the Bailey Tract water levels. In fact, the pond had became a de facto slowly leaking bathtub that reduced the amount of time in a given year that water stayed in the marsh. Thus, the artificially lowered post-digging water levels in the dry season allowed the woody and non-native species to encroach and ultimately crowd out the marsh grasses. As a result, over 40 percent of the Bailey Tract evolved into forested hardwoods. For more particulars, listen to the factually rich March 14 Gulf Coast Live broadcast at news.wgcu.org/post/bailey-tract-hydrological-restoration-plan.
Third, last week’s letter to the editor complained about the planned hydrological restoration driving out black-necked stilts’ young. See this paper’s headline last week entitled “Bailey Tract restoration plan on hold.” It should also be noted that the black-necked stilts have naturally stayed away from the Ani Pond and instead gone to the more expansive Red Mangrove Pond and the eastern slough portions of the Bailey Tract. Specifically, last year only one of the six black-necked stilts nested in the Ani Pond, and the other remaining five pairs chose elsewhere in the Bailey Tract. Also, research noted that no black-necked stilts nested at the Ani Pond in any of the five prior years.
Florida offers no shortage of man-made hydrological alterations that always involved money and unintended long-term consequences. Look at the messes resulting from 130 years of draining the Everglades, back pumping into Lake Okeechobee and linking up Lake Okeechobee with the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. The 1960s digging out of the Bailey Tract for road building belongs in the same category. As a bird photographer and full-time Sanibel resident, I support the restoration plan’s moves to go back to Mother Nature’s landscape architecture rather than continue with the post-1960s slow motion destruction of the marsh lands. I welcome the post-restoration opportunities to photograph egrets and other bird species in their natural landscape.
Paul L. McKenney