Archie Carr Refuge Receives Highest Rankings Yet on State and Federal Land Priority Lists

Winter 1997 Issue Articles:

* Archie Carr Refuge Receives Highest Rankings Yet on State and Federal Land Priority Lists

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Archie Carr Refuge Receives Highest Rankings Yet on State and Federal Land Priority Lists

By David Godfrey

When it comes to deciding how limited state and federal funds will be spent to purchase environmentally sensitive land, both governments rely on ranking systems that prioritize land acquisition projects based on their ecological importance. At the federal level, projects ranked highest in the Land and Water Conservation Fund Priority List (LWCF) receive the most funding through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In Florida, the Conservation and Recreational Lands Priority List (CARL) dictates where limited state dollars will be spent.

Both the LWCF and CARL lists have ranked the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge since it wasestablished as a state and federal land acquisition project in 1990. Not until this year, however, did the Carr Refuge rank among the top two (out of over one hundred ranked projects) on both priority lists. Late last year, new CARL and LWCF lists were developed that set spending priorities for the 1997 and 1998 fiscal years, respectively. The Archie Carr Refuge, a globally important nesting ground for sea turtles that is located on the central east coast of Florida, was ranked number two on both lists. These high rankings speak to the ecological value of the region, and they are likely to mean greater levels of state and federal spending for land acquisition.

Ever since the Carr Refuge was established, CCC has worked to raise awareness about the importance of the refuge. CCC, along with organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and the Center for Marine Conservation, have focused on convincing state and federal decision-makers that the Carr Refuge should receive the highest possible priority ranking. Members of these organizations, such as yourself, have been instrumental in sending letters in support of the project. Program Director David Godfrey has also met personally with key officials, such as Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, to discuss the Carr Refuge. In addition Godfrey recently participated in a national satellite broadcast sponsored by Turner Educational Services that highlighted CCC’s Sea Turtle Migration-Tracking Program, which was kicked off last summer at the refuge.

All these efforts seem to have paid off with the latest priority lists. And these high rankings couldn’t have come at a better time, as coastal construction in the region is threatening the remaining undeveloped parcels.

Coastal Development Threatens the Carr Refuge

Sea turtles need long stretches of quiet, undisturbed sandy beaches, with little or no artificial lighting, to ensure nesting success and the production of new hatchlings. The Carr Refuge still provides such habitat to sea turtles, but an influx of new coastal development is threatening the quality of the habitat. The effort to complete land acquisition in the Carr Refuge has literally become a race against time. Faster than undeveloped parcels can be brought into public ownership, they are being paved over and lined with new beachfront homes. The only way to stop this trend is to make more funding available to the state and federal agencies that are buying land in the refuge.

Of the original 9.3 miles of beachfront identified for acquisition, about 4.7 miles have been acquired from willing sellers. About 1.6 miles of property originally identified for protection have been purchased for private development and are no longer available. Escalating coastal development in Brevard and Indian River counties threatens the remaining 3 miles of beachfront property that has been identified for acquisition. The remaining habitat is becoming more fragmented, and new beachfront homes are increasing the level of artificial lighting. In addition, because the Florida Legislature overturned a ban on coastal armoring within the Carr Refuge, every new house built on the ocean is a candidate for future armoring.

“If the Carr Refuge is to remain a thriving nesting site for threatened and endangered sea turtles,” said Godfrey, “then the remaining undeveloped land must be brought into public ownership while a narrow window of opportunity still exists. The high state and federal rankings are a step in the right direction.”

Refuge Important to Turtles

Dr. Llew Ehrhart, a research professor at the University of Central Florida and a member of CCC’s Scientific Advisory Committee, has been studying sea turtle nesting along Florida beaches for decades. He was the first to document that the region now designated as the Archie Carr Refuge is one of the most significant nesting areas in the world for loggerhead turtles, the most significant nesting area for green turtles in North America, and an increasingly significant nesting area for leatherbacks.

In the summer of 1996, nest surveys conducted by Dr. Ehrhart and his students, along with Paul Tritaik, manager of the Archie Carr Refuge, catalogued the second highest number of nests ever recorded within the refuge, with 17,937 loggerhead nests, 933 green turtle nests, and a record 10 leatherback nests (The Carr Companion, vol. 1, no. 1).

Federal Funding for Land Acquisition Has Fallen Short

The largest contributions to land acquisition in the Carr Refuge have come from the State of Florida and local county partnerships, which account for more than 70 percent of the land acquisition expenditures. The private Richard King Mellon Foundation accounts for more than 21 percent of funding spent on acquisition on the barrier island. To date, federal acquisition efforts account for only about 8 percent of the purchases.

Hopes that Congress would appropriate more funds for land acquisition in 1997 were dashed when, due to a data entry error, the Carr Refuge was ranked number 96 on the LWCF instead of in the top five where it should have been placed. The number two ranking for 1998 will almost assuredly mean increased federal land acquisition funds. It is critical, however, that Congress appropriate sufficient funds for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service land acquisition projects. That budget decision will take place this year. Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has pledged $300,000 left over from 1996 to support land acquisition efforts in the Carr Refuge during 1997.

What You Can Do To Help

You can help save sea turtles by supporting state and federal land acquisition programs. These programs, by purchasing property from willing sellers, are the most important barriers to destruction of vital sea turtle nesting grounds. You can also write or call your Congressional delegates and ask them to appropriate the highest amount of money possible for land acquisition in 1998 for the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. The addresses for your U.S. senator and representatives are listed in the front of your phone book. For more information, please call CCC at 1-800-678-7853.