UPDATE: Flood gates can now open into endangered sparrow territory

Water will be allowed to flow south out of swollen water conservation areas to alleviate flood concerns and save wildlife, but the move could damage nests of the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had barred the opening of flood gates into the sparrow’s nesting area through July 15 – the end of nesting season.

Related: Heavy rains creates tragic battle in Everglades 

But Ken Warren, a spokesman for the service, said Tuesday that the Army Corps of Engineers was given the green light to open the gates if it’s “absolutely necessary.”

Cape Sable seaside sparrow

“The corps feels like this has evolved into a human health and safety issue because they see the potential for levies to be compromised due to the high water,” Warren said. “Given the emergency situation, they can go ahead and open them if they have too.”

Heavy rains this month put water managers, the corps and wildlife officials in a difficult situation where some animals are trapped in areas with water levels two feet above what is written into federal guidelines. At the same time, the sparrow’s nesting area was in the way of moving overflow water south into parched Florida Bay.

A view of tree islands free of Old World Climbing Fern in the northern boundaries of the Everglades in Palm Beach County.  (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

The corps was not immediately available for comment.

Ron Bergeron, a 10-year commissioner with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, called the situation in the water conservation areas “catastrophic,” and argued this week that the sparrow was being valued over scores of other animals.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

“This could change the face of our environment, our ecology, our wildlife, our endangered species and our plant communities,” Bergeron said. “We really better pay attention to this one.”

On Friday, the South Florida Water Management District was granted emergency permission to back pump clean water into Lake Okeechobee to alleviate overflow in the conservation areas.

Canals, including the Hills­boro Canal, on the border of Broward and Palm Beach counties, are also pumping water to the Intracoastal.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved the change in water management schedules, something allowed only in emergency situations.

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Author: Kimberly Miller

Kimberly grew up outside Washington D.C. She graduated from the University of Arizona in 1995. Her beats have included K-12 education, universities and colleges, real estate, and general assignment.

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