Three Sisters Springs

June 18, 2017.  The following letter was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on this date.

The picture of Three Sisters Springs on the front page of Sunday’s Chronicle and Monday’s related article reminded me of last month’s vote by the Crystal River City Council to assume management of the adjacent property from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if the two entities couldn’t agree on a new management plan within a six-month period.

Since then, President Trump has released next year’s budget request proposing a $10.4 million reduction for the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the USFWS, including $2.1 million for visitor services.  He also proposes cuts of $13.2 million in the National Wildlife Refuge Fund, $34.1 million in the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund and $7.8 million in the agency’s construction budget.

How these cuts would affect funding and staffing at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Three Sisters Springs and adjoining Three Sisters Springs property is unclear.

The USFWS has asserted that the expenditure of $1 million in its budget earmarked for improvements on the property is contingent on it retaining its lead management role.

In the interest of transparency, the USFWS should identify the source of this funding and specify what language it has received providing direction on how and when this money should be used.  What related language is included in USFWS budget documents?  What will happen to this funding if the city assumes management of the property?

Local USFWS officials should also explain how the recent decision to down-list the manatee from Endangered to the less restrictive Threatened status might further impact its management program on the refuge and property.

In the absence of such information, how can city officials make an informed decision relative to assuming management of the property?

If the city and USFWS cannot renegotiate a mutually acceptable agreement outlining shared management roles, responsibilities and obligations, resulting in the loss of critical funding, what would be the plan for providing improvements on the property, and how would they be funded?

For anyone interested, the mentioned USFWS budget be accessed at https://www.doi.gov/budget/appropriations/2018/highlights.

Gary Rankel, Citrus Hills, Florida

Minimum Fool Levels

June 8, 2017.  The following letter to the editor was published in today’s Citrus County Chronicle.

This is a true story.  Only the facts have been changed to protect the integrity of scientific inquiry.

I was enjoying a latte at Cattle Dog the other day when these guys walk in and sit down at the table next to me.  I could tell they were scientists because they wore T-shirts with the words “Certified Scientist” printed in large letters on the front.  Having a scientific background myself, I asked what they were studying.

They indicated they were on loan from the White House, having been retained by the Governor and his Southwest Florida Water Management District to determine how much water could be pumped from Florida’s rivers and springs in support of new development.

Being familiar with SWFWMD’s recent decisions reducing flows on the Silver and Rainbow rivers, now subject to court challenge, and its just announced adoption of an 11 percent reduction in spring flow to Kings Bay, I asked them to divulge the scientific methodology they employed to justify such determinations.  After all, Dr. Bob Knight of the Florida Springs Institute, and other renowned experts, reportedly believe that spring flows into Kings Bay have already experienced steep drops leading to an array of water quality problems, and threatening the health of this ecosystem.

They assured me that their scientific methodology was state-of-the-art, and that the views of the other so-called experts were either misguided, or the result of Fake News generated by our local media.  They further guaranteed that the levels adopted would make Florida’s waterways and watersheds GREAT AGAIN.

I asked what qualifications they had to become Certified Scientists, and they said they all had received B’s or C’s in general science and biology in high school, thereby satisfying the hiring requirements and standards of both the White House and SWFWMD.

I then inquired about their next assignment, and they said they were on their way back to Washington, D.C. to finalize their work for the Administration confirming that global warming is a hoax invented by bleeding liberals and reported by the corrupt media.  Noting would stop them from making the world’s climate GREAT AGAIN.

As they were leaving, I suggested they consider a 20 year assignment studying minimum flow levels from the melting glaciers in Antarctica.

They seemed to think that was a good idea.

Perhaps they could take a few of the SWFWMD decision makers with them.

Gary Rankel, Citrus Hills

Three Sisters Property Mgt.

May 21, 2017…….The following guest column I submitted to the Citrus County Chronicle was published in today’s edition.

 

Are we about to lose the million dollars that has been set aside by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for visitor facilities and improvements on the property adjacent to Three Sisters Springs (Property)?
As reported in the May 10 Chronicle, the Crystal River City Council (City) voted to terminate its agreement with the Service and takeover management of the Property from the Service, if a new, mutually acceptable agreement between the parties is not reached in six months.  Should this happen, Service personnel warn that its set-aside funds will not be spent on the Property.
I’m not too concerned about who manages the property.  Both the City and Service are capable of doing so given adequate funding and staffing, the future of which is uncertain for both parties.
More importantly, I’d like to see the set-aside funds retained, and not re-programmed to other Service facilities.  As someone who has managed Service programs in the field and administered a sizeable appropriation at the Interior Department, I’m familiar with appropriations law and agency budgeting procedures.  I’d be surprised if the Service has not already begun lining up alternative landing spots for these funds.
Should the Service lose its lead management role, new statutory language or direction from the Congress would probably be required to ensure that the funding appropriated for use on the Property, is spent on the Property.
According to a report in the May 11 Chronicle, Adam Thomas, Director of the Citrus County Visitors and Convention Bureau, believes that management of the Property by City personnel will result in fewer tourists to our area.  As long as manatees continue enjoying their winter months at Three Sister Springs, and the Service maintains its presence there managing them (which it would regardless of who manages the Property), I don’t see how City management would have a deleterious effect on tourism, provided it has the resources to do so.  If anything, the City would be more inclined than the Service to promote visitor use.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Thomas, along with County Commissioner, Ron Kitchen, Jr., also believe that the City should not turn to the county if it requires funding assistance to manage or improve the Property.  Does anyone believe that funding would be forthcoming from the State?
Hopefully, the City and Service can negotiate a new set of mutually acceptable roles and responsibilities for the Property over the next few months.  Failure to do so could leave the City with a lead management role, with inadequate funds to improve the Property.
Submitted by Gary Rankel

May 9, 2017.   The following Letter to the Editor was published in our Citrus County Chronicle on May 6, 2017.

Thanks to the Chronicle and several local businesses (sorry, I can’t recall them all) for sponsoring the 2017 Nature Coast Challenge – the annual Kayak Fishing Tournament hosted by the Inglis-Yankeetown Lions Club on April 22.  Unlike most other fishing tournaments, where harvested fish are returned to dockside for measuring, and over-slot fish (those exceeding the legal size limit) can’t be entered, the Challenge is a catch-measure-photograph-release event where all fish are eligible to compete, and most fish caught are released to fight another day.
I’m not quite sure why the kayak tournament is referred to as a challenge.  Fishing from a plastic paddle-craft is a bit more demanding than from a motorized boat, but, still, lots of folks manage.  Perhaps it’s because it requires three hands to properly administer the measure-photograph process: one to hold the fish down and keep it from flopping off the measuring board, the second to pinch its tail to get an accurate measurement, and the third to snap the picture.  Accomplishing this task with two hands is definitely a challenge.
Approximately 70 anglers participated in the event, with prizes awarded for the biggest redfish, biggest seatrout, biggest redfish / seatrout combination (the Grand Slam), longest combined length of several species (the Mixed Bag) and best catch by a junior.  All net proceeds went to charity.
The weather cooperated and a great time was had by all.
Thanks to Donna Norton and the other Lions who put this on.
Here’s looking forward to next year’s tournament.

 

Gary Rankel

New Kayak Launch

March 11, 2017.  The following letter was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on March 9.

Kudos to those responsible for finally providing a suitable kayak launch site at Hunter Springs Park.  It’s a most welcome addition to this nicely rehabilitated park, and has the potential to become its crown jewel attraction.
In my short visit to the park Saturday afternoon, just four days after the launch opened, I observed more than 20 paddlers launching their plastic vessels.  Some folks had transported them to the park, while others rented from a good selection of single and tandem yaks furnished onsite by Hunter Springs Kayaks of Crystal River.  A few renters I talked to were new to the area, and, prior to launching, received a short indoctrination from rental company staff on safety measures, manatee manners, and points of interest in the Kings Bay area.
I wonder how much use the launch site will receive once locals become more familiar with it, and if marketed to visitors looking for more adventurous close encounters with manatees than offered from the board walk overlooking Three Sisters Springs.  I would guess that most “manatrolley” riders would enjoy a stop at the park.  Too bad it’s a bit too far removed from serving as the terminus for the Riverwalk.
Given all the activity at the launch site, while only four sunbathers occupied the adjacent and much more expansive swimming beach, maybe a larger portion of the common sandy area should be dedicated to paddlers, with, perhaps, a second put-in site, during the manatee season.  The beach could easily revert back to primary swimming / sunbathing use during the warmer months.
It would be helpful to place a pictorial display of the Kings Bay area near the kayak unloading zone to facilitate area orientation for visiting paddlers.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have similar paddling opportunities and launch sites available at Fort Island beach and the lakeside parks in Inverness to better distribute visitor use?
Gary Rankel