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Habitat restoration at Bailey Tract

May 9, 2018
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

To the editor:

Representatives of the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge have held meetings recently to justify why they think it is necessary to fill in the Ani Pond in the Bailey Tract, and thus restore that area to marsh. We are grateful to them for taking the time to explain this decision to the broader public. However, there had been no or very little information given out during years of planning for this project, and now that this plan has been made public and explained, we need to ask them - not to stop their plan - but to direct it to a different area within the Bailey Tract.

As of now, visitors enter the tract and after a 100-yard walk they get to the information board and a bench, from which the Ani Pond with its center island is in view. The path continues all around this pond, making it immediately accessible to all - families with small children, the elderly or the physically handicapped, who may not be able to get to the further ponds in the tract, as well as nature photographers, bird watchers and those simply going for a walk or a bike ride. "Ding" Darling has published estimates that some 65,000 people visit the Bailey Tract, and hence the Ani Pond, each year. Aside from its easy accessibility, this pond and the path that goes all the way around it provide an opportunity to get closer to wildlife than is possible at most other nature-viewing spots in the Bailey Tract - or even on the whole of Sanibel Island. At the meetings, representatives argued that the pond has only become appealing for wildlife viewing because dry conditions over the last couple of years have caused black-necked stilts to nest there. This is simply not true. Over the years we have observed dozens of species of birds, reptiles, dragonflies, butterflies, mammals - you name it - specifically at the Ani Pond, including, for example, at least a dozen rare migratory bird species. For all these reasons, Ani Pond is one of the specific locations on Sanibel that provides the greatest volume of intimate interaction between nature and the general public.

While we do not agree with the assertion that Ani Pond does not attract wildlife, we do understand other rationales that "Ding" Darling representatives have provided for restoring marsh in general - specifically that many ponds such as Ani Pond were only created by human alterations to begin with, while marsh was historically found over extensive inland areas on the island; that such ponds create water "sinks" that drain surrounding marsh area; that in so doing, they can contribute to a trend of decreasing marsh acreage and increased forest acreage, thus also augmenting fire hazard; and that restoring marsh creates additional habitat for the threatened Sanibel Rice Rat subspecies and other marsh-dwelling wildlife.

The point that seems to be getting overlooked here, however, is that this project restores a relatively minimal area of marsh (2 to 3 acres was the figure provided by senior "Ding" Darling biologist Jeremy Conrad at one of the community meetings) at the cost of a hugely important focal point of human-wildlife interaction. Given that there are several other (larger) pond sinks nearby that do not provide the same wildlife viewing facility, why not conduct marsh restoration projects in one or more of those? Specifically, restoring the Bailey Tract's Eastern Slough, which is less than 100 yards from the Ani pond and connects to the same patch of existing marsh that was identified by Mr. Conrad as the prime existing Sanibel Rice Rat site, does not provide comparable wildlife viewing opportunities, is larger, and has already been the site of disruptive land moving operations over the last couple of years, would surely permit greater restoration impact and minimal public viewing impact.

We do not know if there is really still time to reconsider this land management decision. In the hope that there is, we urge those in charge to consider this important point, and users who enjoy the Bailey Tract and specifically the Ani Pond and who share our concerns about this project to speak up, either by writing to this newspaper or by contacting refuge staff.

Dod, Annie and Mark Wainwright




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