HOMESTEAD – Everglades National Park recently awarded a contract to control invasive species in a unique and sensitive habitat in the park to Environmental Quality, Inc., also known as EQI. Funded primarily by a generous donation from Publix through the National Park Foundation, this project focuses on improving the saline glades region of the park by controlling Australian pine trees, one of the most invasive plant species in Everglades National Park. The trees reduce available habitat for native plants and animals and alter freshwater flow into Florida Bay.
“The saline glades are one of the rare treasures protected in Everglades National Park and an important piece of the greater ecosystem,” said Pedro Ramos, superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas national parks. “This partnership project is an example of the good work we can accomplish in parks when donors work with our non-profit partners to help restore and preserve our federal lands for the benefit of all.”
This three-year project is expected to begin in January 2022 and will include using a variety of tools to eliminate Australian pine trees. The contract with EQI will complete phase one of the three-phase project. Although treatment to control Australian pine in other areas of the park has been successful, the first year of this project will help inform the process in future years.
Once covering approximately 1,300 acres, the majority of the remaining Australian pine trees in the park are found in the remote and difficult-to-access saline glades in the southeastern part of the park. The saline glades region is easily seen from US-1 on the 18-mile stretch from the Florida mainland to the Florida Keys and is home to iconic plants and animals like dwarf red mangroves, roseate spoonbills, and American crocodiles. This transitional ecosystem lies between the freshwater, sawgrass-dominated marshes of the Everglades and the mangrove forests that line Florida’s southern coast. Freshwater flowing through the saline glades into Florida Bay is critical to keep the estuary healthy.
Like the rest of the Everglades, the saline glades are very low in nutrients, which constrains the growth of red mangroves and other native plants. Unlike red mangroves, Australian pines trees are nitrogen-fixing, meaning they can utilize atmospheric nitrogen and are not growth-inhibited by low levels of this important soil nutrient. As a result, these highly invasive trees often tower over and shade out local flora.
Besides physically outcompeting native species, the roots and shed needles of the Australian pine tree chemically impede the growth of nearby plants. The trees’ dominance reduces available habitat for wildlife in the saline glades. In addition, these larger trees likely absorb a much greater amount of freshwater compared to native plants. Over time, the presence of the invasive trees could affect the flow of freshwater into Florida Bay, which, could curtail Everglades restoration efforts focused on the bay.
“The National Park Foundation is thrilled to collaborate with the National Park Service and Publix on this important effort to restore the saline glades,” said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “This project supports a healthier future for not only Everglades National Park and the wildlife that lives there, but also for everyone who lives nearby and depends on the freshwater for their well-being.”
This project is a prime example of what collaborations between private, non-profit, and public institutions can make possible. Publix donated funding for the project to the National Park Foundation, which, then provided a grant to Everglades National Park. Additional funding for the project is also being provided by the National Park Service’s Florida and Caribbean Invasive Plant Management Team.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL PARK FOUNDATION
The National Park Foundation works to protect wildlife and park lands, preserve history and culture, educate and engage youth, and connect people everywhere to the wonder of parks. We do it in collaboration with the National Park Service, the park partner community, and with the generous support of donors, without whom our work would not be possible. Learn more at www.nationalparks.org.
Publix, the largest employee-owned company in the U.S. with more than 225,000 associates, currently operates more than 1,290 stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. For 24 consecutive years, the company has been recognized by Fortune as a great place to work. In addition, Publix's dedication to superior quality and customer service is recognized among the top in the grocery business.
ABOUT EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK
Everglades National Park protects the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States with more than 1.5 million acres of sawgrass prairies, pine rocklands, hardwood forest, and an extensive mangrove estuary leading to Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Established in 1947 as the first national park created for its biodiversity, Everglades National Park is home to many critically threatened and endangered species including the Florida panther, the American crocodile and the West Indian manatee. The park is also the main source of drinking water for residents of South Florida. Learn more at Everglades National Park and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr.