Really for the Birds

A weird government plan to help save an endangered species winds up threatening to defile the Everglades

Roderick Tirrell, Everglades chair for the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club, heard about the plan on Monday, March 23, and was told the CEQ would unveil it at a press conference the following day. He quickly contacted other environmental activists, who deluged the White House with calls protesting the project. Many of them referred to the rubber tube as a "sparrow condom." "We complained that our tax dollars were going to 'condomize' the Cape Sable seaside sparrow rather than take measures to protect it in the long term," reports Tirrell.

Officials at Everglades National Park also objected to the plan because of the potential for damage during construction. Their objections and the cost estimates doomed the project -- just one day away from its unveiling, according to federal officials. Instead of a barrier, those involved opted to pray that the weather would cooperate. "I've been watching the rain in Miami as if I'm going on vacation," jokes corps engineer Bonner, who says the rubber doughnut was just one of many idea studied. "There were all kinds of wild schemes," he recalls. "We even looked at capturing the birds and breeding them in captivity."

Environmentalists argue that the root of the problem is an unwillingness by county, state, and federal officials to buy out homeowners, many of whom illegally built their houses in an area two miles west of Krome Avenue just north of SW 168th Street. The region in which they live, known as the 81/2 Square Mile Area, is in the path of a planned restoration program that envisions restoring the natural flow of water away from the west and back toward the east.

"The smart thing is to buy [the land]," says Bonner. "But that's not cheap, and it would require condemning some property, and that's not politically popular." Purchasing the land could cost as much as $80 million, according to the Department of the Interior. (The 81/2 Square Mile Area was the subject of a January 5, 1995, New Times cover story titled "The Last Frontier.")

Meanwhile the sparrow has been granted a momentary reprieve: The past month has seen little rain. On April 16, in fact, wildlife biologists observed the birds nesting and even counted a few eggs.

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