LBC supports expansion of Florida Forever Project

To the Editor:

The Lemon Bay Conservancy (LBC) is a 501(c) 3 charitable land trust operating successfully in the Charlotte Harbor Watershed since 1972. LBC is pleased to provide this letter of support for the expansion of the boundary of the Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods Florida Forever project, located in Charlotte Harbor.

LBC strongly endorses the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program’s position in support of the addition of 557 acres within the boundary of Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods Florida Forever Project in Charlotte County, including key sections of Hog Branch and Bear Branch creeks to the acquisition project and its associated watershed.

These natural waters contain vital fish habitat. Their conservation restoration and the improvement of their tidal flows are essential to maintaining and preserving the environmental health of the Charlotte Harbor estuary. Their improvement is equally vital to our Charlotte Harbor economy, our tourism and our tax base as cited below.

The State’s acquisition and subsequent stewardship of these lands will help protect critical uplands, hydrologic connections, marine ecosystems and estuarine fish habitat for a variety of treasured game fish, including juvenile tarpon, snook, trout and redfish, which supply our entire Charlotte Harbor watershed and are the backbone of our world-renowned Charlotte Harbor and Gulf fishing industry.

An economic impact study in Charlotte Harbor found that local anglers have an annual total economic impact exceeding $110 million for tarpon fishing alone. Acquisition of these lands will protect these lands validated scientifically as an estuary of national significance and one of the most productive estuaries in Florida.

The health and preservation of our watershed’s backwater native fish populations, including juvenile tarpon, has been validated by scientific studies conducted and recorded within LBC’s Wildflower Preserve tidal creek estuarine areas by multiple scientists from Mote Marine, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and Florida Fish and Wildlife research staff during the last five and a half years. The significance of this validated fish habitat research cannot be understated.

It is a core basis for a recent restoration and conservation grant of more than $800,000 to LBC in partnership with the South West Florida Water Management District. In addition, this past year LBC was awarded a significant new overlay restoration grant by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Together, these grants will allow the addition of 18 new wetland fish habitat acres to our 80-acre Wildflower property. The work about to begin will improve estuarine tidal flows, remove tidal flow barriers and allow the total Wildflower system to be more productive, more nutrient-free and better able to handle global warming and rising tides.

Equally significant are the assembled data covering hydrology, tidal flows, water levels, surface elevations and ground truth mapping of current and former wetland areas and wildlife. Coupled with data which can be anticipated from other area projects, including the proposed Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods, these protected areas will provide increased understanding of the best approaches to our Charlotte Harbor environment.

Respectfully submitted,
Jim Cooper President, Lemon Bay Conservancy