February 6, 2007
Duck hunters up in arms over project
A plan to temporarily drain a prime waterfowling area of the St. Johns River marsh in South Brevard has duck hunters up in arms.
Duck hunters and representatives from state waterfowling groups will air their concerns during Thursday's Southern Recreational Public Meeting by the St. Johns River Water Management District.
The two-hour meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Brevard County Commission chambers in building C at the Brevard County Government Center at Viera.
The plan for the Mary A portion of the Three Forks Marsh Conservation Area southwest of Palm Bay calls for a lowering of water levels to allow crews to construct a flow-way, which will redirect water flow into Three Forks.
The approximate 2,000-acre Mary A area is immediately west of the T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area that is managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
"This is the most pristine marsh in the Upper Basin," said Jeff Kraynik, a duck hunting guide from Palm Bay.
He said duck hunters -- and birdwatchers -- have a legitimate concern with the project for fear the ecosystems will be changed by the drainage.
Kraynik explained that he was hired as a guide recently to escort members of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count to several sections along the Upper St. Johns.
"We did Lake Winder where they saw 16 species, and at Lake Hell'n Blazes they saw 18 species," Kraynik said. "At Mary A they counted 52 different species of birds.
"It's an area with diverse bird life. We're not just talking waterfowl here," Kraynik added.
The flow-way is one of the final steps to readying the huge Three Forks impounded area designed for flood protection and creating nearly 8,000 acres of open water and over 4,000 acres of sloughs. Another 1,000 acres will be emergent wetland and 500 acres of transitional wetland.
Kraynik expressed concerns about the timetable for the drawdown, which the district says will take several months.
"We're hearing it will take two years, but what if there's delays and it takes longer?" Kraynik asked. "Three Forks Marsh was supposed to be open in 1998 and it's still closed."
"We know (the flow-way) has to be done but we think they have other options, and we want them to explore those options," Kraynik said.
Newton Cook of Tequesta, president of United Waterfowlers, a political action group representing Florida duck hunters, said the duration also is a concern for his group.
"First, we want to know why it will take two years," Cook said. "That takes away a large amount of property for the public for a long time.
"But more importantly," Cook said, "what are their projections for this marsh after it is restored? The past has shown these properties never are the same.
"We don't want an area where it becomes willows and other standing vegetation during the drawdown and where they send in the spray crews and it becomes another marsh of mud and muck."
Cook said he understands that the neighboring Sartori property, also a prime duck hunting and birding area, would be affected by the de-watering.
Ed Garland, a spokesman for the district, said he didn't know of a starting time for the project.
Cook said he also will use the meeting as an opportunity to ask the district representatives to consider the launching of canoes, kayaks and other small boats from a dike adjacent to Mary A. Currently the dike is closed.
"As it is now only airboats can get into the area," Cook said. "We'd like to see access provided for all duck hunters."
Lennie Schwenniker, the Florida chairman for Ducks Unlimited, also is expected to attend.
Garland said the Mary A project is the fourth item on the agenda, preceded by updates on land acquisition, land management, and recreation.
Hector Herrere, the senior project manager for the St. Johns River Upper Basin will give the Mary A update.
Contact Sargent at 242-3697 or email@example.com
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