I'm finishing up a great trip to Florida this week. Tuesday morning, I was with Secretary Salazar and Senator Bill Nelson, along the Tamiami Trail.
No, it's not actually a trail.
It's basically a fill causeway through the heart of the Everglades that was constructed in the early 1900s, connecting Tampa and Miami; hence "Tamiami."
It constricts water flow through the Everglades, and a major part of the Everglades restoration is a project to elevate a 1-mile stretch of the road, allowing water to flow more naturally and letting the "River of Grass" behave more like a river.
But we weren't there to celebrate that project.
We were there to announce our new Lacey Act rule to list 4 species of large constrictor snakes, including Burmese python as injurious and to ban their importation and movement in interstate commerce. Believed to be derived from discarded or escaped pets, there is now a wild, naturally reproducing population of Burmese pythons likely totaling in the tens of thousands.
They can grow to over 20 feet and exceed 200 pounds. On Tuesday, we had a relatively small one on display for a battery of media cameras; a mere 13-footer, weighing about 90 pounds. Plenty of snake for me, thanks very much!
Photo Credit: (Tami Heilemann/Department of Interior)
Thanks to great cooperation between our Vero Beach field office, Everglades National Park, the USGS, and our national invasive species team, it will soon be illegal to import or move these snakes across state borders.
If the "River of Grass" could speak, it would have been saying thanks to the women and men of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
On Wednesday, I was again with the Secretary and the Senator celebrating establishment of our 556th National Wildlife Refuge: The Everglades Headwaters NWR and Conservation Area.
This is a vision for 150,000 acres of fee and easement conservation. A partnership with the central Florida ranching community. It was about as close to a perfect day as one could imagine. The place; the weather; the partners and friends; the sense of accomplishment and optimism.
I am always proud to stand up and represent the great work of the Service, but this day carried a special sense of pride. A new refuge is born, and it will be a great one. Project leader Charlie Pelizza was all smiles, as he should be.
This was not an easy birth. There were dark days, but Charlie persevered. He had great support from his team and his leaders in our Southeast Regional office. As we posted the first refuge sign, his wife (and Loxahatchee NWR Manager), Sylvia Pelizza and their two children came forward.
Seeing their children, I was reminded of days at similar venues with my father, a former longtime Service employee.
You know what? I'd like to revise my earlier statement; it was a perfect day!
These two events are not isolated. They are emblematic of the exceptional work that this organization does every day. Thanks to all of our dedicated Service employees for all they do, they make momentous days like Tuesday and Wednesday possible.