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Bird Checklists of the United States

Everglades National Park

Saving the Everglades

small state map showing location

Homestead, Florida

JPG-Picture of a Wood Stork.

A wood stork silently wades shallow waters like a drum major in slow motion. Bill submerged, its great, dark head sweeps back and forth across shallow, murky waters like a robot on an assembly line. Mixed metaphors of wild nature and human technology befit this endangered wading bird. Its dramatic decline in numbers symbolizes the magnitude of environmental threats stalking today's Everglades. "River of Grass" was the description affixed to this gently sloping, mostly level landscape in the 1940's by pioneering conservationist Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Within the park this river still flows slowly toward sea and gulf.

JPG-Picture of a Wood Stork.
Its grandeur is now severely threatened, however, and the death of the Everglades could occur. The rock beneath this first national park created to protect a threatened ecological system is just 6,000 to 8,000 years old and in its infancy. South Florida surfaced only since the Ice Age. Nowhere do Everglades landscapes top 8 feet above sea level. And like some low island, this subtropical region enjoys no source of water but the rains that fall on it. Everglades alone among our hemisphere's national parks has been named an International Biosphere Reserve, World Heritage Site, and wetland of international importance. But how much longer will "River of Grass" remain an apt description?
Photos courtesy of The Refuge Reporter

JPG -- Picture of a canal.

The same rains that fall on south Florida today once ran off the backs of our wood stork's forebears, but the similarity ends there. Now, extensive canal and levee systems shunt off the life-giving bounty of the rain before it can reach the national park, which comprises only one-fifth of the historic Everglades. At times the water control structures at the park boundary are closed and no water nourishes the wood stork's habitat. Or, alternately, water controls structures are opened, and unnaturally pent-up, human-managed floodwaters inundate Everglades creatures' nests or eggs and disperse seasonal concentrations of the wading birds' prey.

JPG-Picture of a Florida Panther.

Added to these problems is the presence of polluntants from agriculture and other human activities. Nutrient-enriched waters form agricultural runoff affect vegetation patterns. High levels of mercury are indentified in all levels of the food chain, form the fish in the marsh through raccoons and alligators. The problem extends to the Florida panther, a species so endangered that its numbers may be lsess than 30 in the entire state. Fewer than ten persist in the park. A panther with mercury levels that would be toxic to humans was found dead in the Everglades National Park.

GIF-A map of Everglades and surrounding parks.

Solutions are underway, but the fate of the Everglades still hangs in the balance. In one of the worlds's largest ecosystem restoration projects, Congress has extended the park boundary to protect the eastern Shark River Slough. Historically it hosted higher concentrations of wading bird nesting populations than any other park location. The enlargement should help turn around the 93 percent decline these species have suffered by restoring critical, suitable habitat. The National Park Service and the State of Florida have agreed to be partners in enforcing existing water quality regulations to address water quality problems. The park Service is working with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and other water management jurisdictions to adopt natural rainfall models of manipulating water supplies. Created in 1947, the park was established to save the 'Glades, but real problems continue to beset this landscape.

JPG -- A population chart.

Although much is being done, continuing pressures associated with urbanization, industry, and agriculture require a constant search for additional solutions. A burgeoning human population thirsts for the same water that wood storks need to survive. Nothing is yet saved for good; the Everglades' fate remains our mandate.

GIF-Chart of water use.

This resource is based on the following source:
National Park Service.  1995.  Everglades official map and guide.  National 
     Park Service.  Unpaginated.
This resource should be cited as:
National Park Service.  1995.  Everglades official map and guide.  National 
     Park Service.  Unpaginated.  Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife 
     Research Center Online.
     (Version 22MAY98).

Return to Bird Checklist of Everglades National Park

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