Is the Everglades Out of Danger?
Is "almost" good enough when you're talking about the health of a World Heritage Site such as Everglades National Park? Apparently the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne think so.
On Sunday, UNESCO officials voted unanimously to remove the Everglades from its "sites in danger" list.
The Committee commended the United States of America for its investment of scientific and financial resources to rehabilitate the site which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979 and on the Danger List in 1993. ... It had been threatened by urban growth and pollution, as well as by the damage caused to Florida Bay in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew.
Apparently Secretary Kempthorne agrees the threats to the park's health have been reduced to the point that listing Everglades as a World Heritage Site in Danger is no longer necessary, as he issued a press release trumpeting the achievement.
"I am gratified that the World Heritage Committee recognized the major commitment the United States has made to restoring one of our nation's and the world's greatest natural treasures," he said. "The committee has highlighted our work to restore the Everglades as a model for the rest of the world to follow."
Making a commitment is one thing, succeeding at it another, no? After all, what about the ongoing drought in south Florida that could jeopardize water flows through the Everglades? What about the pollution problems facing the park, and urban growth that is squeezing it? What about the the endangered species that call the park home, such as the America crocodile, Florida panther and West Indian manatee? Do they no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act?
That's the model for the rest of the world?
To be fair to Secretary Kempthorne, he does acknowledge there's quite a bit of work left to be done to ensure the future of the Everglades.
"...(W)e realize that much work remains for all of the partners to accomplish our long term restoration goals. Removal of the park from the list in no way diminishes our commitment to the work ahead," he says.
Some, though, don't think the park's removal from the in-danger listing should have occurred at this point in time.
"Urban growth and pollution went away? I didn't get the news flash," Jonathan Ullman, the Everglades field rep for the Sierra Club, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "The Everglades is more threatened than ever. I'd like to take the U.N. on a tour of the Everglades."
Here's a section of the newspaper's story that perhaps the UNESCO officials should have read before voting the Everglades off the in danger list:
The 1.5 million-acre park is at the center of a massive state-federal plan to restore the larger Everglades ecosystem, which has been shrunken by agricultural and urban development. The restoration is intended to repair a natural water system that had been disrupted by levees and drainage canals, leaving the Everglades alternately flooded or dried out.
A 2006 report by the National Research Council found 'troubling delays' in the project, with costs ballooning and little likelihood that the federal government would pay its share within the next few years.
Perhaps things are better than they seem. But removing the Everglades from the list at this point seems a bit premature to me.