S.A.F.E.R. making waves in 'Glades

Published August 25, 2002 Sun-Sentinal

The fight to keep Everglades canals from being filled in is far from over, but things are looking a lot better thanks to the efforts of the South Florida Anglers For Everglades Restoration.

When S.A.F.E.R. first formed a little more than a year ago, the agencies in charge of overseeing the restoration of the Everglades didn't even know that people fished in the water conservation areas of the 'Glades. Not filling in the canals was not even considered by those looking at options for restoring the historical flow of water in the Everglades.

The members of S.A.F.E.R., most of whom represent South Florida bass clubs, are committed to restoration with recreation. The canals that they fish offer some of the best bass fishing in the country and have a significant economic impact in terms of bait, tackle, gas, food, drinks, ice and the like. When nearly 100 boats competed in a S.A.F.E.R.-sponsored bass tournament in May, several people pointed out that the boats and tow vehicles alone at Everglades Holiday Park represented several million dollars.

S.A.F.E.R. slowly gained attention by attending restoration planning meetings and getting out its message. Now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District are putting together a master recreation plan to study the impacts of Everglades restoration on recreational activities such as fishing, biking, bird-watching, boating, camping, hiking and hunting.

To date, the Corps and the district have planned on pushing the levees that impede the natural flow of water into the canals. S.A.F.E.R.'s desire is to remove the levees and leave the canals open. The levee material could be use to build wildlife islands in the Everglades or, as one S.A.F.E.R. member suggested, a developer might even pay for the opportunity to remove the levees and use them for fill.

At S.A.F.E.R.'s August meeting, Kim Taplin of the Corps of Engineers said she welcomed such suggestions.

"We're in the very early stages of our planning process," Taplin said. "We need your help to identify other recreational uses and the number of users."

Taplin also would like to know the specific areas of the 'Glades that attract outdoor enthusiasts. For example, the L-67A Canal, which runs from Holiday Park to Tamiami Trail, is a popular fishing spot, and the flats west of the canal are favored by duck hunters. She also wants to know ways to eliminate or reduce the impacts of restoration on recreation.

Her presence at the meeting is an indication of how far S.A.F.E.R. has come. Taplin is the manager of the Water Conservation Area 3 decompartmentalization and sheet flow enhancement project.

Area 3 extends from the Broward-Palm Beach county line south to Tamiami Trail and from U.S. Highway 27 west to Collier County. The intent of the project is to have water flow south through the marshes in Area 3 into Everglades National Park rather than be pumped via the canals.

If most of the canals in Area 3 were filled, most local anglers would have to go to Lake Okeechobee to find comparable fishing.

Taplin said that canals could be partially filled or plugged and bypasses constructed so boats could have access to the open parts of the canals. Another option is to reduce a canal's depth or width. Dewey Worth of the South Florida Water Management District admitted that his agency hasn't even studied the option of removing the levees and leaving the canals.

"The reality is there's a lot of evaluation that the Corps has to do," Taplin said.

It would be nice if more local bass anglers got involved. According to Brad Arnold of S.A.F.E.R., of the 32 bass clubs in South Florida, only about 10 have members at S.A.F.E.R.'s monthly meetings.

The next S.A.F.E.R. meeting is at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 10 at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Dania Beach. Contact Arnold at 1-800-984-9492, ext. 7603 or at arnoldb@goalamo.com.

Steve Waters can be reached at swaters@sun-sentinel.com or at 954-356-4648.