Feds release Everglades National Park management plan

The National Park Service released the final General Management Plan for Everglades National Park.

The National Park Service released the final General Management Plan for Everglades National Park, which includes several changes that will affect recreational boating and fishing access and habitat conservation in the park.

Park officials have been working on the plan update for several years. After concerns were raised about the draft plan and the potential for reduced public access to park waters, park officials worked closely with members of the recreational fishing and boating community to identify ways to better facilitate access while minimizing boating impacts to important habitat, namely seagrass.

As a result, many significant changes were made between the draft plan and the final plan.

A coalition of eight groups representing recreational fishing and boating expressed its appreciation to park officials for addressing concerns that were raised during the process.

One significant change boaters will experience is a mandatory boater education and boating permit system. Operators of motorboats and non-motorized boats, including paddled craft, would complete a mandatory education program to obtain a permit to operate vessels in the park.

“Covering much of the southern tip of mainland Florida and nearly all of Florida Bay, Everglades National Park is home to some of the best recreational fishing opportunities that Florida has to offer,” Trip Aukeman, director of Advocacy for Coastal Conservation Association Florida, said in a statement. “Given that this GMP will guide management actions for the next 20 to 30 years, it’s critically important that we get it right. Overall, we believe the GMP strikes an appropriate balance of management measures to safeguard resources while allowing for reasonable boating and fishing access.”

“The recreational fishing community recognizes pole and troll zones are an important management tool to conserve shallow water habitat, but these zones must be established at a reasonable size and with access corridors to allow anglers to still reach the area,” said Mike Leonard, ocean resource policy director for the American Sportfishing Association.

“In working with the recreational fishing community, Everglades National Park officials modified tens of thousands of acres of the park’s waters to better facilitate boating access and included 29 new access corridors in the final GMP, compared to the draft GMP. The level of responsiveness of Everglades National Park officials to our community’s input is reflective of how good public policy should be developed.”

“We are pleased to see a cooperatively developed plan that protects our natural resources, as well as boater access, in a balanced manner,” said Nicole Vasilaros, vice president of federal and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

“It’s hard not to recognize the clear contrast between the degree to which stakeholder input was considered for Everglades National Park’s GMP, compared to that of Biscayne National Park, where the recreational fishing community was resoundingly ignored,” Leonard said.

“By recognizing that habitat conservation can be achieved while still allowing the public to get out on the water and enjoy our public places, Everglades National Park officials set a positive example that we hope other National Park Service units will follow.”