The Uncertainties in the Florida Everglades

AEAM Course, 24 January 1996

John Craig, Marianne Donohue, Maynard Hiss, Barb Houren, Kate Moran, Linda Tyson, Jackie Wilson

Warren Coleman

1) Can bird populations rebound even under the best possible scenario for "restoration" of the system?

2) Is there a "limit" or a carrying capacity for the urban areas based on water supply or other factors? Are we close yet?

3) The C&SF project created great uncertainty during the 1960's for the ENP in regards to the water flows that would reach the park, when and how much? This could also be uncertainty from the economic development that was the main focus of the C&SF project placed upon the rest of the "natural" system.

4) The "social controls" mentioned several times as a means of dealing with the water issues versus physical/sturctural controls...could that ever work? I personally think not, just due to the nature of humans and the need flush their toilets, wash the car and water the lawn.

5) Intstitutional uncertainty seems to be a big theme...The Federal/State uncertainty over specific responsibilities led to major problems.

6) In 1966, the expressed need for "hard biological evidence" suggests that there was uncertainty from the ENP perspective as to what was needed from the Corps and FCD in terms of water.

7) How will changing values of the Everglades be incorporated into institutional/social management of the natural resources? Can people really understand values at differing levels? I'm skeptical.

8) Can the system be renewed despite the acknowledgement that human boundaries seem to dominate management of the system? This is the park under the glass argument.

9) Can society accept the notion of a dynamic and evolving system? Can the institutions accept it given for example, the broad goals of the NPS to manage the park as it was prior to European settlement.

10) Can we accept a new management (adaptive) based on co-evolution of the natural and human systems? I see the legal and political aspects of this to be difficult to overcome.

John Craig The chapter provides an outline of the various management strategies that have been in use in the everglades since the 1800's. In the early part of this century attempts were made to essentially destroy the everglades as a wetland system and convert it to agriculture, and attenuate the natural cycles of flood by installing drainage systems. This was done on a piecemeal basis ("cut and try") without sufficient information to know whether it would be practical (cost-effective?). No attention was apparently paid to the question of sustainablilty, even though evidence already existed in the 1920's of soil subsidence. The most significant underlying conceptual problem seen here is to discount the value of nature in itself and consider only its market value. In this view, any profit that can be extracted from it, such as farming the organic soils, is better than nothing and if the ecosystem has to be destroyed in the process, so be it. This continues to underlie our exploitation of most natural resources, as it is ingrained in our economic system.

The second phase of destruction described is that of major, coordinated drainage of the region. This was justified by both the potential for greater agricultural exploitation and the desire to protect existing investments from flooding. As a result, human domination over the hydrology of the watershed was complete, and the Everglades ecosystem was to receive the "leftovers" of the water supply system. Severe droughts in the 70's precipitated some institutional changes in water management, and pressure by environmentalists from outside the State contributed to a rapid shift in public policy. National public opinion had changed and came into play, since it was at this time the Clean Water Act and the EPA came into existence. But the inherent fallacy in trying to place a complex wilderness in a harness (straight jacket) and expecting it to perform like a show horse was yet to be learned fully.

The last phase described is that of the present era where "environmental protection" was made official public policy and the weaknesses of the technological solutions of the past were recognized, although major changes to them could not yet be implemented. Scientific knowledge of wetlands has increased considerably in the last 15 years, and various methods of wetland restoration and creation have been tried on small scale. Improved management techniques in Everglades National Park (less than a third of the original system) may restore some of its functionality, but some functions and processes may never-the-less be lost forever. The estimated 90% loss of wading birds in this century may be an example of this. It may be asking too much to expect a complete restoration of ecosystem functions as ecosystems all over the world continue to feel the pressure of 6 billion humans.

Marianne Donohue


1. "The Everglades is truly many things to many people, but can it be all things to all people?" (Gunderson, Ch 3). Indeed, the purpose and function of the Everglades and it's utilization depends on the values and perceptions of those people who have vested interests in the system. The EG is viewed by many as an economic, a social, and an environmental resource. How it has been/is seen has influenced how it has been/is managed. Moreover, the values and perceptions of the EG will change as both the ecosystem and the human-system change and evolve through time. Herein lies the uncertainty of the future of the EG.

2. How humans view their role in the EG - are we a part of the system or are we separate from it - sets up uncertainty in the management of the system. Many of the past management strategies have supported the "we are separate" view, where management was encouraged to control, manipulate, and exploit the system for purely human needs. This approach ignored the unexpected and the uncertainties in the system and ultimately degraded ecosystem resilience.


3. Surprises and crises in the EG has resulted from unexpected events: those created by external environmental factors and those created by short-sighted human activities. Such events include hurricanes, floods, droughts, soil loss, and water pollution. These crises often initiated management actions that resulted in a reconfiguration of the system. What the EG will be in the future is uncertain - it depends on how management responds to unpredictable changes in the system.


4. In the past, there was very little understanding of the EG as a unique hydrologic and ecological system: lack of understanding ==> lack of continued learning ==> uncertainty

5. One major problem to the renewal of the EG has been the difficulty of institutions to learn from experience. Many institutions impede the learning process because of an unwillingness to face the uncertainties in managing such a complex system. Much of the learning that has taken place has been done by scientists rather than those people directly involved in the day-to-day management of the system. The degree of learning that will be incorporated into management policies and implemented is uncertain because many aspects of the "new knowledge" often appear contradictory to the prevailing management myths and dogma.

6. The dominant myths concerning the EG set the stage for uncertainty in management. Many resource matters of the EG were thought to be technical, so it was argued that scientists and engineers should make the key decisions about system management. Such technical management established rigid goals and was resistant to feedback. It often employed excessive regulation measures that resulted in partial-policies, which in turn served to inhibit learning and spark controversy.


7. Compartmentalization of the EG into urban, agriculture, water conservation, and protected park areas served to null-and-void the "systems approach" to management. The EG was reduced to small "manageable" sections; each section being narrowly defined and utilized in terms of human spatial and temporal scales. Lack of a "systems approach" ultimately increased the uncertainty of the long-term viability and resilience of the EG system.

8. "Too many cooks spoil the soup". Another problem in the EG was that there were too many management institutions and agencies. Each one was created with a different mission statement and a limited set of objectives. Perhaps a more serious impediment was the lack of interaction and connectivity among the institutions. As a result, many issues were polarized and debated, decisions were compartmentalized, and policies were fragmented.


9. To what extent will increases in exotic plant species change ecosystem dynamics in terms of biodiversity and resilience?

10. How will increases in human population in South Florida effect the future of the EG in terms of development, water quantity and quality, and tourism.

Maynard Hiss
    A.   Climate.
         1.   Drought and Wet extremes. Fluctuations in duration
              and time of natural process that create flooding
              and dry periods.
         2.   Big episodic events; frequency, duration and
         3.   Global warming or cooling.
              a.   Effects on sea level, climate, and weather.
    B.   Topography
         1.   Soil loss, oxidation, and subsidence. 
              a.   Effects flow of water, hydro period, and
                   plant communities.
              b.   Changes effects human land uses such as
                   agriculture, especially when organic matter
                   is lost.
    C.   Hydrology.
         1.   Water table fluctuations.
              a.   Effects plant communities, especially upland
                   communities such as tree islands and marshes.
         2.   Salt water intrusion. 
              a.   Effects water demands in the south Florida
              b.   Effects plant and animals communities. 
         3.   Evapotranspiration.
              a.   Difficult to make models and manage water
                   when amount of evapotranspiration if
                   difficult to predict.
         4.   Groundwater flows.
              a.   Hard to model system when do not know how
                   groundwater moves though the system; water
                   quality and quantity.
         5.   Stormwater.
              a.   The development of the human systems are not
                   predictable because the systems have not been
                   set up or worked long enough. Maintenance
                   requirements are also unpredictable.
         6.   Sea level rise.
              a.   Sea level rise could impact communities on
                   the south part of the peninsula and
                   eventually move up through the system.
              b.   Impacts to tree islands.
    D.   Fire.
         1.   Uplands.
              a.   Fire exclusion and changes in fire cycles
                   impact communities by allowing succession.
                   Also fire gets hotter incinerates communities
                   normally adapted to fire.
         2.   Wetlands
              a.   Fire exclusions and changes in fire cycles.
              b.   Muck fires. Loss of soil and create impacts
                   on water quality.
    E.   Downstream systems and adjacent ecosystems.
         1.   Florida Bay. 
              a.   Water pollution and flow of nutrients and
         2.   Big Cypress.
              a.   Water levels effect plant and animal

    A.   Fauna and flora
         1.   Endangered and Threatened species.
              a.   Wading bird dynamics. Unknown what management
                   regime will help recovery of wading bird
              b.   Panthers; 
                   1.   Loss of habitat, from flooding and
                        habitat degradation.
                   2.   Pollutants such a mercury.
              c.   Plants especially ones in upland communities
                   such as tree island.
         3.   Habitat management plans. How they will be
              implemented. Ecosystem management vs. single
              species management.
         4.   Pinelands and the upland communities.
              a.   Land animal population dynamics.
         5.   Loss of major habitat types such as pond apple
              swamps. Impacts on wildlife and natural process
              such as water quality.
    B.   Exotics.
         1.   New invasions by species unimagined.
         2.   Management effects on existing exotics. Will
              control add to the problem or resolve it.
         3.   Changes related to changes in processes and
              inputs. Will changes in management of the
              Everglades spawn new exotic problems.
    C.   Landscape ecology - the layout and spatial and temporal
         organization of the landscape in relation to biota.

    A.   Politics.
         1.   Public opinion. Will people support the programs
              demand more or abandon them.
         2.   Political will. Will politicians implement the
              programs or act as leaders and develop new ones.
         3.   Leading paradigms. What will be the dominant focus
              of the restoration efforts be. Will the paradigms
              be superficial or holistic or will the be limited
              in scope and leave out important parts of the
              system such as uplands.
         4.   Coalitions and animosities. Working together or
              tearing each other apart.
    B.   Intergovernmental cooperation and organization.
         1.   Will agencies work together or will they work in
              cross purpose. Will the agencies be organize in a
              way in which they are effective.
    C.   Law.
         1.   Legislation. Will new legislation provide the
              necessary legal and financial resources needed to
              make restoration work.
         2.   Legal challenges. Who will object to the
              restoration and will their efforts be to implement
              or to thwart or delay implementation indefinitely.
    D.   Growth management
         1.   Population growth and resource demands. Will
              population be consistent with the carrying
              capacity of the system or will population growth
              demand critical resources necessary to maintain
              the natural systems.
         2.   Cumulative impacts. What will the cumulative
              impacts of different activities in Everglades be.
         3.   Urban expansion and further encroachment into the
              Everglades. Will large areas of the Everglades be
              converted to other uses.
         4.   Water supply demands. What water will be used for
              what purpose.
    E.   Agriculture.
         1.   Pollution. What will the pollution be and where
              will it be located. Who will pay for cleaning it
         2.   Remaining time and type. How long will agriculture
              remain in the Everglades.
    F.   Public lands.
         1.   Management. How will the be managed and for what
         2.   Location and extent. Where will the public lands
              be. Difficult to know willing sellers and where
              they will ultimately be.
         3.   Use and abuse. Who will use the lands and what
              will there impacts be.
    G.   Restoration.
         1.   Money and economy. Will the restoration be
              dependant on the heath of the economy.
         2.   Paradigms and focus. Where will the focus be and
              for how long.
    H.   War
         1.   Cold.
              a.   Cuba.
                   1.   Could effect agriculture and initiate a
                        mass invasion to the Miami area or
                        exodus back to Cuba.
         2.   Hot.
              a.   Drug. Will the drug problem increase sprawl
                   in the undeveloped areas in the suburbs.
              b.   Terrorism. Sabotage to plumbing system and to
                   urban areas; effecting growth patterns.
         3.   Other. Nuclear war?

    A.   Screwing up of natural cycles and replacing them with
         cycles inconsistent with evolution.
    B.   Making system more brittle, and susceptible to radical
    C.   Human responses.

Barb Houren

1) Progress with Marshall's dechannelization of the Kissimmee is an amazing step, but questions still center on what affect this will have and what is the "proper" goal for water flow through the system.

2) People obviously value the system (World Heritage Site, Biosphere Reserve), but there are many changes to come and the extent of that value, especially at the local level, is yet to be determined.

3) Natural disturbances such as hurricanes, droughts, and fires have played an important role in the past and will always be relative uncertainties which need to be considered.

4) Collaboration on the part of institutions is a recent limited accomplishment, but will it continue and grow even in the face of certain obstacles (some likely a result of earlier collaborative decisions)?

5) Many different variables are important to any success in the Everglades and inherent in these multiple variables is multiple spatial scales. If the institutions can continue working collaboratively, at what spatial scales will and can they function?

6) Previous management has centered around technology, and though management is now weaning itself away from that tradition will it be able to view new technological advances in an adaptive perspective or will it again allow technology free reign to muddy the waters?

7) Great political change is possible in the following year and this leads to the repeating uncertainty of how social and institutional changes and programs will endure politically- based challenges.

8) Developmental expansion is a certain continuos problem, but within what region the environmental and institutional pressure associated with development will be felt is fairly uncertain, and what new concerns will arise is definitely uncertain.

9) Management of water quality appears now to be centered in the EAA, but it's success is uncertain and even if successful by management standards, it is uncertain how much of a success it will be for the system as a whole.

10) Many scientific concerns seem to EVENTUALLY become management's concerns. One concern is the uncertainty of how past management regimes have affected the natural rain cycle of southeastern Florida. This is one example of future issues which will need to be considered while management is still grappling with past and current issues.

11) A general uncertainty for the Everglades system and any ecosystem considering restoration is what are the characteristics and structures of the system that should be restored through management efforts?

Kate Moran 1) The exact quantity of water (input) that is needed to maintain the balance of the ecosystem in the National Park and the Everglades as a whole is not known.

2) We don't know the exact effect of heavy metals on the ecosystem, particularly wading birds.

3) We don't know the minimum quality of water that the system can sustain.

4) The engineers originally weren't sure how the drainage systems and flood control programs would affect the system's hydrology.

5) Then no one was sure how unexpected natural conditions (i.e. drought, fire, flood) would affect the institutions that were put in place (i.e. ditches, canals, agricultural levies)

6) No one knew how the growth of urban areas would encroach on the natural system

7) It is uncertain under what conditions the exotic vegetation species can exist...what conditions exist that provide a good template for both temperate and tropical species to grow?

8) Management planners didn't know what an increase in soil nutrients for sugar and other agriculture would do to the environment

9) Now we don't know how to get rid of eutrophication and restore the nutrient balance

10) When the Everglades "proper" was being set out, no one thought about what compartmentalization would do to the integrity of the system as a whole.

Linda Tyson
1.  Unpredictable fluctuations in the environment
2.  Future shifts in social preferences
3.  Unpredictable shifts in the response of keystone processes such as
water quality that dramatically change community structure of the
system in relation to human activities (i.e. eutrophication, mercury
4. Level of financial support for management of the system
5. The cast of concerned players in future management programs
6. Levels of involvement between public private and political groups (and
international interest)
7. New technologies available for environmental monitoring and water control.
8. Human water needs in the future
9. water needs (quantity and quality) for components of the natural system
10. Rates and impacts of urban development on the natural system
11. Non-indigenous species rates of invasion, spread and long term impacts
12. Impacts of droughts, hurricanes, widespread fires on the long term
structure and function of the ecosystem
13. Future development of agriculture and associated technologies
14. Determine needs for and design of new environmental assessment
technologies (i.e. GIS)
15. Public willingness to financial support restoration and make certain
trade-offs (another River of Grass awakening).

Jackie Wilson 1. The first main uncertainty about management in the Everglades dealt with people jumping into manage the Everglades during the turn of the century without having a clue as to how the ecosystem in the Everglades functioned. The original managers had no biological information of the status of the park at that time or any information on how human pressures may impact the park.

2. In the past 50 years the nesting success of many wading birds has been declining. This decline is due to the nesting birds losing suitable habitat in order to nest in. This crisis was due to the fact that people started to drain areas of the Everglades without researching the nesting requirements of these birds.

3. Since agriculture had begun to grow since the 1800's, parts of the Everglades began experiencing eutrophication and soil loss due to runoff. This was due to the fact that managers did not understand the water flow of the Everglades (which is one of the main problems with the management system), and they did not think ahead as to what would happen to areas which received run-off from the agricultural areas. The problem of soil loss is due to the uncertainty of what happens when areas are flooded and then water flow takes away soil that is needed for agriculture.

4. The flooding that arose after the "Cut 'n Try" era was due to the fact that the managers did not understand what they were doing when they were draining the Everglades. The managers then had to respond with pumping and dividing up the land in order to prevent future flooding.

5. Again, the lack of knowledge of the managers by trying to prevent flooding and arbitrarily dividing up the land disrupted the natural water flow of the Everglades and created drought conditions when rainfall was low.

6. When people started taking water from the Everglades for human use combined with agricultural use, the managers did not understand the balance between the freshwater levels and saltwater levels and this resulted with saltwater intrusion into peoples' wells during drought conditions.

7. Muckfires that occurred after excessive draining and drought periods also showed managers that they did not understand the role that water played in preventing and controlling fires.

8. Managers also did not understand what the effects of too much water when backpumping water into certain areas. Managers managed to drown wildlife and keep various plants from growing, like willows, due to their poor management of water.

9. Managers also did not know where the water was needed the most within the Everglades or how to get the water to certain areas (sheet flow or backpumping-as well as the managers did not understand what affect backpumping would have on water quality). During drought times, the park was lowest of priorities for receiving water, where the areas that made money, like agriculture, had greater priority of receiving water. However, this hierarchy was based on economic needs and not biological needs.

10. Managers also did not know about the future of the park. At the turn of the century the Everglades was looked upon as an inexhaustible resource, where by the 1960's it was uncertain about the fate of much of the wildlife in the park. Many animals that were on the endangered list, as well as animals that were not on the endangered list, were being threatened by increasing growth in the area.

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