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A „glade“ is a clearing in the forest, and more than a century ago someone evidently saw South Florida‘s sea of saw grass bordered by mangrove trees and gave this region its name. What‘s wrong with the Everglades? Back then the Everglades was a broad sheet of moving water – 50 miles wide and six inches deep – that flowed unimpeded from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, but as farmers and developers moved in, the Everglades has been polluted, paved over and partitioned. Engineers chopped up the river with an elaborate system of canals, dikes, and pipes to provide South Florida with fresh water and flood control. The park, which sits at the bottom of this plumbing system, receives much of its water through guillotine. The problem is, these water deliveries don‘t adequately mimic the Everglades‘ natural rhythms, so the ecosystem has sufferd. But for more than 110 years, have people monkeyed with this system. The result for Everglades National Park have been devastating: The wading bird population has crashed, Florida Bay is dying, and animals whose ranges extend beyond the park have lost critical habitat. Why has this park, after hemorrhaging in full view of the public form more than 45 years, failed to inspire the American people to stop its destruction?
At 1.5 milion acres, is this park the second largest national park in the lower 48 – yet she isn‘t among the nation‘s ten most visited parks. Without any dramatic outcrops, some areas of the park appear parcticaly two dimensional, the temperature gets up in the summer to 95° with 100% humidity, and there are thunder and lightning storms like everyone‘ve never imagined, and every day the mosquitoes are so thick . Visitors to Everglades National Park do best to forget the spectacular and focus on the sublime – the more than 600 kinds of animals (not including the 60 species of mosquitoes and scores of critters that have never been counted) and 900 plant species that are found in a variety of habitats, including the mangrove forests, the dry pineland ridge, the broad, shallow sloughs that carry freshwater through the park, and several types of tree islands, such as bayheads and tropical hardwood hammocks. For all this natural variety, the park has been designated an international biosphere reserve and a United Nations world heritage site. Buttonwoods and poisonwoods, rat snakes and pygmy rattlers, black-whiskered vireos and red-shouldered hawks – they‘re all here to see if you slow down and seek them out. Getting away to the Everglades had a whole different meaning in the mid-1800s.
The Seminole Indians tried to escape here when the U. S. Army came to capture them and force them out West. In the 1840s, Florida‘s first state legislature called the Everglades „wholly valueless“ and appealed to Congress for help in draining the swamp. By the 1920s the public was snapping up land in Florida as fast as it was offerd. Miami was booming. The idea of creating a national park in the Everglades had been circulating even before Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward‘s reign, but Ernest Coe, a 59-year-old landscape architekt from New England, took action. He helped established the Everglades National Park Association and became its tireless, stubborn, single-minded director. When President Harry Truman dedicated Everglades National Park in 1947, the corals reefs of Key Largo were exluded, 13 years later Florida made the area a state park. Since the late 1940s, policians have pushed the transformation of the Everglades into high gear. They instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge, dike, and divert to provide flood control, create and irrigate farmland, dry out land for new homes and businesses. Today more than 1,400 miles of canals and levees crisscross the region, constricting the top three-quarters of this water body like a concrete-and-steel corset. More than 50 percent of the Everglades‘ wetlands have dissappeared, destroying wild habitat and disrupting the natural flow of water into the park. Most of the problems affecting Everglades National Park are linked to problems upstream. To study them, the park established a separate scientific division – the South Florida Research Center in 1978. The problem is, the trees adapted to Florida all too well, rapidly muscling out native species. The biggest problems are a species of tree that scientists cal Melaleuca quinquenervia, it can germinate on land or water, it produces massive quantities of seeds, it spreads fast, invading 50 acres a day throughout Florida, and, perhaps most important of all, it has no natural enemies in this park. But government entomologists have imported melaleuca-eating bugs from Australia and are studying them, under strict quarantine, to find the perfect predator – one that will attack the melaleuca but nothing else. The overhaul eill cost billions of dollars, there‘s no consensus about what „Everglades restoration“ specifically means, the symptoms of the Everglades‘ disease are more obvious than the cure, and not all the powerful players in South Florida are pulling in the same direction. Living next door to a national park might sound idyllic, but for the folks in Everglades City the park‘s size and proximity have been a mixed blessing. Situadted just beyond the park‘s northwest border, Everglades City was once a busy commercial fishing village where the locals ran their boats out to the Ten Thousand Islands to catch mullet and pompano, stone crabs and oysters. Thirty years ago it was a dream, people can fished how they wanted, where they wanted and cought what they wanted. Not any more. In 1985 the park banned commercial fishing in its waters, calling it an incompatible use of a protected resource. In the late 1970s and early‘ 80s, drugs came into Everglades City by the boatland, and so did the money. Suddenly some folks were driving Lincoln Continentals, wearing gold necklaces, and paying for their coffee with $100 bills. All that ended with Operation Everglades, which law enforcement agents launched in 1981. When the dust finally settled after several big busts, more than 100 people in this town of 500 had gone to jail...

„It‘s possible to put this ecosystem back together again,“ says Bill Robertson, the park‘s senior biologist. All its natural components are still intact, he says, albeit on a much smaller scale. And Robertson shoudl know: He‘s been working here since 1956, so he‘s heard and seen it all – the hurricanes, the fires, the natural and man-made droughts, and all the breathless pronouncements about the park‘s imminent demise. „This ecosystem has some resilience to it, more than it‘s given credit for,“ he says. But why should the public heed the cries for help this time around? „Because everyone have to admit the possibility that when you get knocked down often enough, after the next blow you won‘t get up.“
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