Preserving habitat for these fiddler crabs and other species is one reason for the establishment of the FISH 95-acre preserve. FISH is moving closer to creating a conservation easement that could help secure a $250,000 grant to expedite work in the preserve. Islander Photo: Mark Young
Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage acting preserve chair Karen Bell presented Oct. 1 to the board her 95-acre preserve management plan, a requirement of the board’s goal to secure a $250,000 Southwest Florida Water Management District grant.
FISH has been working to develop the natural state of the 95 acres into a legitimate preserve for the public to enjoy. The land was first secured in 1999 to preserve the village of Cortez from encroaching development.
About 30 acres of the preserve is mangrove wetlands, six acres is pine flat woods, 23 acres is uplands, and about 17 acres are dominated by invasive species such as Australian pine, Brazilian pepper and others.
According to the management report, native species such as sabal palms and buttonwoods are being choked out by the invasive species.
A goal of any preserve is to eliminate invasive species and return the acreage to native Florida species.
“Extensive habitat restoration and management will be required to re-establish native plant communities,” the report reads.
The cost to rehabilitate each acre is about $28,000. The $250,000 Swiftmud grant would allow FISH to complete what it began in regards to the rehabilitation effort and look ahead to the construction of walkways and observation towers, as well as maintaining a campground.
The obstacle to the grant is that most of the preserve is zoned residential, and if FISH wanted, could sell or develop the land.
However, FISH has no intention of doing so, but government agencies don’t want promises, they want action. Swiftmud will not go forward with the grant unless FISH creates a conservation easement to guarantee no future development can occur.
At its Oct. 1 meeting, FISH finalized its preserve management plan and passed a motion to accept the 6.5 acre conservation easement, which follows along the preserve’s creek and encompasses about 10 feet of land on each side.
The board voted to exclude the Wilkerson property and the trap yard from the easement. Both properties sit within the preserve boundaries.
The board made some minor changes to the overall management plan, which will accompany the presentation of the easement to Swiftmud. Included in the changes was an implementation of a dumping policy that includes a $500 fine for violators.
Temporary uses also will be allowed to be voted on by the board, primarily for the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. Also, FISH agrees to enter into a management partnership with Manatee County, but retains management rights.
Bell said the preserve committee held two meetings before presenting the management plan to the board. The first meeting addressed the boundaries of the easement, which still needs to be surveyed. The board approved up to $500 for a survey of the easement boundaries.
The second meeting, she said, was to develop a set of rules for the preserve.
The rules for the FISH preserve will largely adhere to county rules for other preserves: Alcohol will be prohibited, pets must remain on a leash, wildlife must remain undisturbed and fishing only is allowed at bridges and piers.
Different from other county preserves is FISH will allow tent camping within a designated area. No one under the age of 18 will be allowed on preserve property without being accompanied by an adult and noise restrictions will be put in place for overnight campers.
FISH president Kim McVey said campers will be required to check in at an undetermined location before setting up so FISH knows they are in the preserve after hours.
FISH continues to look at a fence project to secure the preserve from vandalism and illegal dumping. The preserve committee plans a walkthrough meeting later this month and will provide recommendations to the board.
The board is expected to officially adopt its management plan before the end of the year.
FISH meets at 7 p.m. the first Monday of each month at Fisherman’s Hall, 4515 123rd St. W., Cortez.