The April Lake Okeechobee Interagency Task Force provided the following report on “What’s going on around Lake O?”
The littoral zone of Lake Okeechobee is considered critical habitat for the endangered Everglade Snail Kite (Rostrahamus sociabilis). It serves as an important connection hub between other critical habitat areas like the Everglades, the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, and the marshes of the Upper St. John’s watershed.
The dynamic nature of Lake Okeechobee water level dictates the quality, quantity and availability of Snail Kite habitat in its littoral zone. For example, 2016 and 2018, two wetter than average years, were the two most productive Snail Kite nesting years on Lake Okeechobee in recent history. 2019 and 2020, two years with lower than average lake levels, did not produce any documented Snail Kite nests. Although low water years make for poor nesting years, Snail Kites are experts at making large scale movements to other wetland systems where conditions may be better. Additionally, low water levels can help maintain Snail Kite habitat by restoring natural fire regimes, reducing organic matter buildup, and stimulating germination and growth of favorable vegetative communities. With higher than average water levels in 2021 following two drier years, Snail Kites have returned to nest in the Lake Okeechobee littoral zone. There have already been 49 kite nests documented on Lake Okeechobee in 2021, a similar pace that they nested in 2018. Kites are nesting in most of their traditional nesting areas around the lake, which means that favorable nesting conditions are widespread across the lake’s littoral zone. As the nesting season progresses, FWC, USACE, SFWMD and USFWS will all work together to manage Snail Kite foraging and nesting habitat.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Report
Conducting interagency surveys via airboat, monitoring for floating aquatic plants throughout the lake. If you spot a navigational way that is blocked, please notify either Jessica Fair, Ian Markovich, or Brendon Hession (FWC). The Corps will be conducting aquatic plant management treatment via contractor on Lake Okeechobee to maintain navigation and flood control structures around the south end of the lake. Area of responsibility will include the rim canal from Port Mayaca to Old Sportsman’s canal and in lake from Pelican Bay to Uncle Joes Cut. Current plant management work will take place from Pelican bay to Ritta island.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Report
Floating plant management has wrapped up in the north western marsh north of the Indian Prairie Canal and is wrapping up south of the canal. A floating plant re-treatment of the edge of the western marsh will begin this month. The inner marsh will begin to be surveyed for Sclaria lacustris, an invasive seasonal sedge that has been expanding in the western and north western marsh where timing of treatment is key to success. A 2.5 acre pioneer plot of Azolla pinnata has been successfully managed near the Indian Prairie Canal. Surveys will continue to search for other pioneer plots of pinnata to be able to continue efforts to eradicate the EDRR species from the lake.
FWC Aquatic Habitat Restoration Report
Staff are preparing a prescribed fire, using a helicopter and airboats, in the Tin House Slough cattail management area once weather and snail kite conditions allow. Using airboats, spot treatments of torpedograss in the northwest marsh will be completed. This will prevent regrowth in areas that have been managed for the past two years. In addition, management of vines, Phragmites and other invasives using hand pulling, machetes and backpack sprayers on the northwest marsh islands are also planned.
FWC Fisheries Management
FWC is continuing to develop its Fish, Wildlife, and Habitat Management Plan for Lake Okeechobee. Last month, a virtual public meeting was held to provide the public an update on the plan. Over the next few months, staff will be preparing the first draft of the plan to be released by summer, when we will open the plan for public comments and convene small focus groups to discuss the draft in detail. To learn more about this effort and how to get involved, please visit http://myfwc.com/conservation/management-plans/lake/okeechobee/.