Holding Onto Hope In Big Cypress

The Big Cypress National Preserve is not only home to many bald cypress trees, but is home to some of the most endangered wildlife here in Southwest Florida, including the Florida panther. The Big Cypress is located in Ochopee, Florida and is a key ecosystem to the Everglades and all of the wetlands in Southwest Florida. Freshwater from Big Cypress flows through the everglades and goes into the Ten Thousand Islands, which is a necessary estuary system as well. Big Cypress contains many different areas of land including wet and dry prairies, marshes, hardwood hammocks and plenty of mangrove forests. The rare Ghost Orchid and red-cockaded woodpecker have made their home in this preserve, but many threats face them today, including pollution to the fresh water that runs deep inside this preserve and the most recent ruling that allows seismic testing for oil and gas. The Big Cypress also is home to the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, so to some, this is more than just land, it’s a way of life.

Wetlands are an extremely delicate masterpiece, and unfortunately humans are their biggest threat. With over development and pollution from our water systems, it makes Big Cypress even more at a risk for negative altering effects.

Only a small portion of the wetlands inside Big Cypress.

“Human activities which may lead to losses of coastal wetlands include urban and rural development, agriculture, and silviculture. These land use changes can also indirectly impact nearby wetlands by altering hydrology through increased runoff or water withdrawals in the watershed. Most of this loss occurs in freshwater wetlands. Over half of the U.S. population lives in coastal counties, intensifying the stress on coastal wetlands relative to inland areas”  Environmental Protection Agency

Unfortunately, humans aren’t the only threat to Big Cypress. Natural disasters such as strong storms, flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes and even poor air quality can lead to the disruption of a wetland area. Even just a few trees that have been knocked down by a storm can alter the very sensitive ecosystem by allowing too much sunlight to hit the floor and dry up large amounts of water making it too hot and too dry for certain wildlife and endangered native plants to survive. Another threat to Big Cypress and its surrounding neighbors such as the Everglades is the invasive, exotic Burmese python that is eating our native species such as the Key Deer and the American Alligator. Currently, there is a python hunting program put on by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that allows pythons to be taken at any time from several wildlife management areas which keep them out of the Big Cypress National Preserve, for now.

While there are many threats against Big Cypress, there are also many ways and people who care for this preserve. Maintaining and reducing storm water runoff is key to maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Protection from the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act play a large part in keeping Big Cypress healthy. There are also laws and policies set in place such as restricted hunting and fishing permits, wildlife management areas, off road vehicle management and the Big Cypress protection plan which covers ecological issues the preserve faces and ways to manage the preserve. There are also many volunteers and park rangers who care deeply about the Big Cypress and want to see it around for future generations. They supply their time and energy for a trade off of something much more important.

“The country’s first national preserve, Big Cypress protects a 700,000-acre swamp with a diverse range of tropical and temperate plant and animal species, including alligators, Florida panthers, anhingas, fox squirrels, river otters, mangrove trees and more than 30 kinds of orchid”.National Parks Conservation Association

It’s safe to say that the vital protection of this wetland should be Florida’s top priority. During my many visits to this preserve, I have found myself in awe that I live close to such an amazing, diverse ecosystem. I hope to someday be a part of the conservation efforts to help this wetland be preserved for many generations to come. The wildlife that has made their home in the Big Cypress, the Indians who have history across the lands filled with water and the many people who come from all the world deserve our efforts to save this beautiful, unique piece of art we call Big Cypress National Preserve.

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