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At Everglades National Park, We’re on a Mission

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Posted: Friday, April 19, 2019 2:39 pm | Updated: 3:42 pm, Fri Apr 19, 2019.

National Park Week --- April 20 - 28.  Fee Free Day is Saturday, April 20. Park entrance is free for all visitors.       It’s National Park Week and as part of the celebration, we’re highlighting park programs that help us meet the park service mission of preserving the nation’s natural and cultural heritage.

While all of the national park programs in South Florida help to accomplish the mission, one little-known program stands out since its sole purpose is to preserve our slice of the nation’s natural heritage.

A decade ago, I was fresh out of college and happy to have landed my first job, temporary as it was. I was hired to help organize survey data for over one hundred water level monitoring stations in Everglades National Park. Some of those stations have been collecting information on water levels in the park for upwards of 65 years.

When I wasn’t sitting in front of a computer screen or pouring over dusty data books, I was out in the park helping the other technicians maintain the stations. They’re spread all over the park and many are in remote areas. Because of this, I got to experience parts of Everglades National Park that few get to.

Though I was a young, distractible millennial, something about this timeless place intrigued and ensnared me like so many who had come before me. Filled with a sense of wonder, I resolved to stay a while. Ten years later, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what makes Everglades National Park so special.

With that first job, I started my Everglades career. Then, as now, I worked for the South Florida Natural Resources Center in Everglades National Park. You’ve likely never heard of the South Florida Natural Resources Center, or if you have, you probably quickly read past the mouthful of words. To save us all time, I’ll abbreviate the full name, as we like to do in the government, to SFNRC.

The purpose of the SFNRC is to carry out its fundamental mission to “conduct and communicate science for the preservation and restoration of the south Florida ecosystem.” Even if you haven’t heard of the SFNRC, you’re probably familiar with at least one of the major projects with which the SFNRC plays an important part. The SFNRC has a key role in carrying out major Everglades restoration projects like the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan; Modified Water Deliveries project; and Central Everglades Planning Project.

Though a division within Everglades National Park, the SFNRC conducts science in support of all four south Florida National Park Service units: Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, and Everglades National Park. If you read the mandate for the SFNRC, you would see that it was bound to be a leader in collaboration from the moment it was established in 1978. For the first time, a park service science center was directed to get involved outside the park.

“This was necessary for Everglades National Park because many of the park’s important resources, whether that’s water or wading birds, originate outside the park,” said Bob Johnson, Director of the SFNRC.

For instance, water, considered the lifeblood of the Everglades, enters Everglades National Park only on the last leg of its long and slow journey that starts in the Kissimmee Lakes north of Orlando and ends in Florida Bay. The biodiversity for which Everglades National Park was established to protect would not be possible without that water. Since a major restoration effort is underway to restore more historic water flows to the park, it’s logical for the park to have a role in restoring the water flow.

“Though one of the goals of Everglades restoration is to get more water into the park to mimic historic levels, it is never just as easy as opening the floodgates and letting the water flow,” said Pedro Ramos, Superintendent of Everglades National Park.

This complexity baffled me a couple of years ago, in the early days of my new job as a Science Communicator at the SFNRC. Bob Johnson explained it to me clearly, “we have to increase water levels in the park without flooding neighboring developed and agricultural areas as well as ensure that enough water is set aside for drinking water and for agricultural irrigation. It’s not a simple task and it is going to take time to get it right.”

The staff at SFNRC work on a number of projects that help guide the greater Everglades restoration effort. This includes anything from monitoring park water levels and water quality in Florida Bay; to creating computer models that help managers decide the needs and best methods for restoring the ecosystem; to briefing members of Congress about Everglades restoration progress.

In addition to projects directly linked to Everglades restoration, SFNRC staff provide scientific information to the four south Florida National Park Service units. Some of the work SFNRC staff undertake includes monitoring the populations of endangered plants and animals and advising on how future projects could affect those species. SFNRC staff manage non-native plants and animals. They study how sea level rise and climate change is affecting and could affect park service resources. And they work closely with university and agency partners conducting research on a broad range of topics inside park service units.

What do I do at the SFNRC? I am a Science Communications Liaison.

My team members and I help the SFNRC to fulfill the second part of its mission to “communicate science for the preservation and restoration of the south Florida ecosystem.” We make scientific information from the SFNRC understandable and distribute it to a number of audiences.

Everything the staff at the SFNRC works on, including science communication, leads back to the mission of the National Park Service. However, the most important role the SFNRC staff have in promoting the mission of the National Park Service is their involvement with restoration activities In having a seat at the restoration table, the SFNRC ensures that the mission of the National Park Service, to protect park resources unimpaired for future generations, is front and center to all restoration-related discussions. Additionally, you cannot restore Everglades National Park in isolation from the rest of the watershed, so the SFNRC’s involvement in Everglades restoration extends the benefits of natural resource conservation beyond the borders of the park. And that’s why the SFNRC stands out for its purpose of preserving our slice of the nation’s natural heritage.

More info: www.nps.gov/subjects/npscelebrates/national-park-week.htm

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