With “fake news” and “alternative facts” dominating the national headlines, there’s no better time to highlight the ongoing charade by the Everglades Foundation and its satellite organizations to revise history, distort facts, and create what is essentially a parallel universe. In this universe, hard-working Floridians in agriculture are always the scapegoat of nearly every environmental problem in Florida.
As evidenced by previous reporting, Florida environmental groups such as the Everglades Foundation, the Sierra Club, and Audubon Florida are all connected by a payment scheme involving millions of dollars invested annually from Connecticut billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones. According to a report earlier this year from the Ft. Myers News-Press, these payments from the Everglades Foundation are contingent on the groups receiving their cash to call into a weekly conference call to coordinate.
That brings me to a recent Florida Sportsman article touted by BullSugar.org, which is the attack dog of Tudor Jones’ faux environmental movement.
The article is about the “state of Florida’s seagrass,” from a source that typically reports on fishing and hunting. The publisher of Florida Sportsman is Karl Wickstrom, who is a past Everglades Foundation contributor and former board member, so it stands to reason that the magazine’s stories related to Florida’s southern ecosystem are infested with messaging from the Everglades Foundation, not independent journalism.
Last July, BullSugar touted Wickstrom as a pledge signer of the #NowOrNeverglades declaration, the precursor to the attempts by activists to get Senate President Joe Negron to go along with buying 60,000 of mostly sugarcane farmland. Despite the campaign, the activists were unsuccessful.
The Florida Sportsman piece includes at least one quote from a representative of an Everglades Foundation-funded organization, Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society. It also includes a quote by Dr. Larry Brand, who works at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at University of Miami. The school has had a presence in at least one Paul Tudor Jones-hosted dinner benefitting Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, which received $20,000 from the Everglades Foundation in 2014, according to IRS filings.
Brand attempts to argue that sugarcane farmers are to blame, and like the discredited argument used to buy land to stop blooms north of the lake, he argues that sugarcane land will fix the problem: “to truly restore the Everglades, you have to flood the northern third of the Everglades. Stop subsidizing the sugar industry and you’ll stop the release of nitrogen and phosphorus.”
This would make for a great story, if the subsidy argument were true. For starters, sugarcane farmers do not receive direct subsidies like their Midwestern farmer brethren. According to the American Sugar Alliance, the actual cost to the national sugar program is “zero” and has been for the better part of the past decade, with the lone exception of 2012-13, when the Mexican government violated U.S. trade law by “dumping” subsidized sugar onto the global market.
Here’s a chart from the American Sugar Alliance with Congressional Budget Office projections:
So much for that argument.
Then there’s the false idea that buying land to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee will save Florida Bay. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), very little of the water flowing from farms north of the Everglades makes it to Florida Bay. The water flowing off the farms travels out to tide via the Shark River Slough. Florida Bay, according to USGS, is fed primarily by Taylor Slough, which originates somewhere south Homestead:
“Most of the freshwater from Shark River Slough is discharged to the Gulf of Mexico and has little influence on Florida Bay. In contrast, virtually all the freshwater discharged from Taylor Slough enters Florida Bay. Recent events of high-salt-content (hypersaline), water in Florida Bay may be at least partly tied to changes in the freshwater discharge from Taylor Slough.”
Maybe if Florida’s environmental activists cared as much about fixing water problems near Homestead as much as they care about blaming farmers, Florida Bay would finally be restored?
And maybe, instead of nakedly pushing to buy sugarcane farmland the priority for every Everglades Foundation effort, the group can give it a rest and tout real solutions that will actuall solve our water problems.