New Vegetation Maps Will Improve Everglades Restoration

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida, July 30, 2008 (ENS) – Map specialists, scientists and vegetation experts at the South Florida Water Management District have created the most detailed vegetation maps ever produced of the southern Everglades, giving water and land managers an additional tool to guide Everglades restoration.

The new vegetation maps identify the locations of exotic and native species across several thousand square miles in South Florida, providing a baseline to measure improvements from hydrologic and water quality restoration programs.

“Breaking new ground is part of what is required for Everglades restoration success,” said SFWMD Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle. “We are continually broadening our scientific understanding of the unique Everglades ecosystem and applying what we learn to maximize restoration results.”

Details on the maps can be combined with other data about a specific area – such as its wildlife population, soil chemistry and water quality – to get a broader picture of Everglades health.

The Everglades is a mosaic of sawgrass prairies, hardwood hammocks, cypress swamps, coastal lagoons, mangroves and pinelands.

Once a vast, free-flowing river of grass extending from the Kissimmee chain of lakes to Florida Bay, the Everglades is now an ecosystem in peril.

People started to affect the Everglades in the late 1800s, when canals were dug to begin draining south Florida. These changes continued throughout the 20th century, as more than 1,700 miles of canals and levees changed the landscape, interrupting the Everglades’ natural sheetflow and sending valuable freshwater to sea.

More than half the Everglades wetlands were lost to development.

One of many distinctive plants in the
Everglades. (Photo courtesy Andrews
U. Dept. Biology)

To generate a map of Everglades Water Conservation Area 1 in Palm Beach County showing conditions there today, detailed analyses were completed for more than 220,000 grid cells identified in 2004 aerial imagery.

Mapping specialists identified the vegetation density of native species, exotics and cattail using state-of-the-art computer technology.

On-site visits to 775 locations in the water conservation area were used to verify the aerial data. Overall map accuracy was measured at more than 93 percent, evidence of the success of this mapping approach.

Vegetation maps have been completed for Everglades Water Conservation Area 1 and Water Conservation Area 2 in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

District scientists are now generating similar maps for Everglades National Park, Water Conservation Area 3 in Broward County, portions of Big Cypress National Preserve and areas within the southeastern coastal wetlands of Florida.

When mapping is complete, the district will have vegetation information reflecting 4,200 square miles of the southern Everglades.

Finalized maps will soon be publicly available online. District specialists plan to update the maps every six years.

The State of Florida, the Florida Legislature and the South Florida Water Management District have appropriated $2.4 billion toward the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. An additional $1.8 billion has been invested in Everglades water quality improvements.

Renowned for its abundant wildlife, the Everglades is inhabited by several species of large wading birds such as the roseate spoonbill, the wood stork, the great blue heron and a variety of egrets.

The mix of salt and freshwater makes it the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles share the same habitat.

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