Proposed changes at Everglades National Park have put anglers at odds with environmental groups. The park's draft general management plan, which includes several variations (or "alternatives"), is currently up for public comment. This Sunday is the deadline to weigh in on proposed measures, which include prohibiting traditional boating in about one-third of Florida Bay.
Among the most talked-about features in the NPS' "preferred alternative" is one that would limit the use of certain motorized watercraft throughout shallow waters in the park, many of which are considered popular recreational fishing areas. Park documents specify the establishment of "pole/troll zones over most of the shallowest areas of Florida Bay (submerged marine wilderness)" in order to protect seagrass beds and other vulnerable marine habitats from being scarred by props.
Anglers interviewed by Naples Daily News expressed opposition to the proposed boat motor restrictions, saying they go too far and are unnecessary:
"I do not like to see our rights to go fishing infringed upon," said Forrest Taylor, a 48-year-old recreational angler who has been fishing since he was 3. "Who am I harming when I go angling?"
Others interviewed for the story expressed concern over the potential ripple effect of lessening the appeal of the park to recreational fisherman. They say the proposed changes would negatively impact local business owners who benefit from the influx of anglers to the region.
In a Miami Herald story, Fred Herling, chief planner for the park, said banning motorized boats from the 131,392 acres of "shallow beds and banks" would benefit the overall health of the bay, which in turn impacts the health of redfish, bonefish, and tarpon.
Audubon Florida has come out in favor of the park's preferred plan, saying it protects wildlife habitat while allowing for "significant visitor access to continue." Audubon scientists' research into the impact of boat traffic on seagrass health was influential in the park's planning process.
To help enforce the new rules, the preferred alternative would call for an increase in the park's law enforcement presence "especially on marine waters, to increase visitor understanding of and compliance with proper navigation, management zones, and idle speed, no-wake designations and enhance resource protection."
In reference to other recreational pursuits, the NPS preferred alternative calls for additional bike trails, including connections with the South Dade Greenway Network, "where feasible." It also could mean new hiking and biking trails in highly-trafficked areas like Long Pine Key and Flamingo. Other improvements would include better canoe and kayak launching sites off of the park's main road. Launch sites would be designed to better accommodate people with disabilities, while water trails would be outfitted with improved signage. The plans also call for a revamp of Flamingo's concession areas, including the installation of new overnight guest accommodations, like cabins, houseboats, and ecotents.
The draft general management plan would establish operational and managerial procedures for the next 20 to 30 years. The last new plan was completed in 1979. In the 30-plus years since, the park has undergone tremendous change, including a growth in size and the approval of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.