Circle B Bar Reserve Reopens; Vote Set For More Land Purchases

Circle B Bar Reserve reopened Monday morning following cleanup work in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian and receding flood waters in the Banana Creek marsh and Lake Hancock’s shoreline.

Volunteers and county staffers have been working for weeks to clear debris in preparation for reopening. No major damage was reported to the Polk Nature Discovery Center.

Circle B has become an internationally-known ecotourism destination since its purchase and development under the Polk County Environmental Lands Program.

It is part of a network of county managed nature preserves purchased with taxes approved by voters in 1994.

A renewed effort to secure voter approval for additional environmental lands purchases in on the Nov. 8 ballot and a grassroots group called Polk Forever is reaching out for public support for its passage.

The referendum has been endorsed by a long list of local, regional and national organizations.

For more information on the ballot referendum, go to


Sierra Club: Gov. DeSantis Earns D- On Environmental Decisions

Sierra Club has issued a scorecard that concludes the Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s environmental performance in office earns a D- .

Sierra has endorsed Charlie Crist in the Nov. 8 election.

Specific actions that were listed in the scorecard primarily consisted of Gov. DeSantis’ signing of environmentally-unfriendly legislation.

That legislation included:

Approval of a plan to study the construction of a system of toll roads through rural sections of Florida despite little documented justification of their need and well-documented critiques of the roads’ impact on wildlife habitat and rural communities. This boondoggle finally was shelved—at least for now—after unnecessarily spending millions of dollars of taxpayer funds.

Approval of pre-emption of a number of proposed local government regulations that would have set tougher standards for fossil fuels, application of sewage sludge and the protection of coral reefs.

Approval of legislation that further watered down Florida’s growth-management law and increased barriers for citizens trying to challenge local planning and zoning decisions.

Approval of more diversion from the fund that is supposed to be used for purchase of conservation lands to water supply projects that affected the progress toward Everglades restoration. Additionally, Gov. DeSantis and his allies in the Florida Legislature continue to block full funding for conservation acquisitions as laid out in a constitutional amendment approved overwhelming by Florida voters in 2014.

In addition, Sierra’s ranking was also based on Gov. DeSantis’ decision to ignore the recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force, which he appointed. The task force’s recommendations included a long list of measures the state should pursue to reduce the water pollution that has degraded Florida’s lakes, rivers and estuaries and contributed to red tide outbreaks.






High Water Levels Affect Lake Hancock Access For Boaters, Hikers

Although the temporary closure of Circle B Bar Reserve because of the effects of Hurricane Ian has been well-publicized, some other recreational facilities around Lake Hancock have been affected, too.

Also affected are the Marshall Hampton Reserve and the Lake Hancock boat ramp, which means the Panther Point Trail, whose trailheads are located at both these facilities, is also temporarily closed, too.

Portions of the trail were probably underwater, based on what was reported at Circle B and the fact that the Panther Point Trail has a few low spots adjacent to the wetlands surrounding the lake.

The situation was a challenge to Polk’s sign makers, who typically close ramps when the water is too low for safe boat passage.

The word “low” has been made fainter in the sign leading to the ramp.

The problem was high water, of course, at the fact that the Southwest Florida Water Management District structure on Saddle Creek near the ramp was allowing water to flow downstream and probably creating a healthy downstream current may have contributed to the decision to close the ramp.

Nevertheless, water levels are gradually dropping.

The U.S. Geological Survey gauge at Bartow now shows the river level has dropped below flood stage and it is likely to keep dropping as the area proceeds into the dry season and a predicted dry winter.

There is still no word on when Circle B will reopen to the public.

At last word the staff had some more work to complete in addition to what some local volunteers have accomplished recently.

Stay tuned.

Let Us Analyze The Polk Forever Referendum Arguments

Polk County voters have a short time to cast their ballots on a once-in-a-generation issue on whether the idea of preserving Polk’s green spaces is an inspired idea or a boondoggle.

The issue is on the Nov. 8 ballot, so the discussion is timely.

Polk Forever, the political action committee that is supporting passage, has some important points to make.

The main one is that if this measure does not pass, you can kiss any opportunity to preserve what’s left of Polk’s natural environment goodbye.

Here’s why.

Although Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to use documentary stamp revenue on new development to fund substantial conservation land purchases, the Florida Legislature has refused to fund the program to the extent the voters mandated.

That has left the task to local voters, who have so far approved several local referendums and are being asked to approve additional referendums in a number of Florida counties to do the job themselves.

Polk County is one of those counties.

The main arguments against the referendum consist of two claims.

One, advanced by County Commissioner Neil Combee, is that the economic situation—inflation, low unemployment etc. etc.—makes this a bad time to ask for a modest tax increase.

The counterargument is that this is a 20-year investment. The economy will turn around. It always has and it seems short-sighted to think otherwise.

Another, advanced by Commissioner George Lindsey, is that the amendment asks for too much.

Who knows what the price of real estate will be in Polk County in coming years? There has been a lot of discussion that in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, some coastal residents may be looking to move inland. This has been a recurring concern in recent years and could affect the cost of purchasing conservation lands here.

The purpose of the proposed property tax rate is to be able to pay landowners a fair price for the value of their land or its potential development rights.

Additionally, it is notable to advise Polk County voters that Commissioner Lindsey is also championing a 2024 referendum, which so far has not received support from his colleagues, to place yet another sales tax referendum on the 2024 ballot to raise funds for as yet undefined road projects to support increased development in Polk County.

The defeat of the Polk Forever referendum, it seems, would be an argument for the tax burden for the road tax referendum.

However, there are concerns about what the 2024 referendum funding could finance.

Some, such as the funding of a countywide network between U.S.27 and the Polk Parkway via Thompson Nursery Road, would garner public support.

Others such as a truck route through a section the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern including existing conservation lands such as section of Colt Creek State Park to connect to U.S. 98 or a new road through agricultural land in east Polk may not attract the same kind of support.

Another issue both commissioners raised is whether environmentally sensitive land is in the path of development.

They argued development proposals are confined to so-called urban areas, though some recent land sales in the Lake Hatchineha area challenge that assumption.

What’s missing from that narrative, apart from the development aspirations of future County Commissions, are the development aspirations of commissioners in Davenport, Haines City, Dundee, Lake Wales, Frostproof and even Polk City.

Polk Forever’s goal is clear.

It is to provide a conservation legacy for future generations.

The decision involves what kind of county future generations will be able to enjoy.

If this does not pass, we may not get another chance.

Consider that on Nov. 8



Some Thoughts On Ian’s Aftermath In The Heartland

Although much of the national press coverage in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian has focused on the damage the storm caused in coastal areas, the effects here in the Heartland that covers much of the areas where members of the Ancient Islands Group of Sierra Club live were pretty horrible, too.

As noted in a previous post, flood waters along the Peace River were more extreme than hardly anyone alive today can recall.

Although the flood waters have subsided, water levels are still impressive in the Peace River’s headwaters, where water flowing toward the river via the Peace Creek Drainage Canal is still over its banks.

To put this in perspective, even though river flow at State Road 60 where the river proper begins is no longer flowing at record levels, it is flowing at more than five times the average volume for this time of year based on 83 years of records.

Downstream in Arcadia, the river is flowing at a volume more than four times the average of this time of year. But two weeks ago the river was flowing at more than three times the record flow recorded over the past 91 years that records have been kept.

The flooding was shocking, but not surprising when you consider much of the area received nearly a month’s worth of rainfall in a couple of days following a fairly rainy September.

This is certainly a time to evaluate where development should occur based on how clear it is where historic wetlands actually lie and how development of more impermeable surfaces over the several decades have affected the volume and velocity of stormwater runoff . That runoff likely overwhelmed some of the stormwater retention areas that were not big or deep enough to accommodate this kind of flow.

That’s because there has been perennial pressure from the development community to require retention areas to be as small as possible because the larger the retention areas, the smaller number of residential lots or the smaller amount of square feet of commercial and industrial development can be constructed. This is a good time to review those compromises.

Another issue is how this will affect insurance rates or even whether insurance will be available, which also affects where and whether development can occur.

This is not a new issue.

I attended a conference in 2011 in which insurance experts predicted the time would come in the foreseeable future when parts of Florida would become practically uninsurable.

Finally, there is an environmental aspect to this discussion.

On Nov. 8, Polk voters will be asked to approve a referendum that would expand the amount of land in Polk County that can be used to, among other things, to protect important water resources. That means recharge areas, wetlands and river floodplains and all of the wildlife that depends on these places for their survival.

If voters approve the referendum, that could provide an opportunity to rethink what lands should be preserved instead of developed and how to link existing conservation lands to preserve as much of the historic wetlands connections as possible.

This is an alternative that is important to consider while there’s still time.



USFWS Denies Gopher Tortoise Listing

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has denied a request by the Center For Biological Diversity to list the Gopher Tortoise as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The species is protected under Florida wildlife regulations, which no longer allow them to be buried alive on development sites, but instead require relocation, though suitable relocation sites are becoming more difficult to locate because of the loss of unoccupied suitable habitat in Florida.

In the 113-page response to the petition, federal wildlife officials acknowledged there are issues with habitat loss, primarily as a result of increased residential development in prime Gopher Tortoise habitat, but concluded at this time there is no justification for listing because the evidence that the species is in danger of extinction does not exist in the foreseeable future.

However, the analysis also noted that the term “foreseeable future” is not defined in current federal regulations.

In addition to habitat loss, the list petition consider the effects of climate change and sea level rise and mortality as a result of predation, roadkill and other factors.


DeSantis’ Inaction Affects Polk Environmental Projects

It seems Polk officials will have to wait a bit longer to get state funding for some environmental related projects that were approved by the Florida Legislature, but never approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis, The Ledger reports.

Two projects were affected.

One was a $950,000 appropriation to advance the long-sought educational center at Se7en Wetlands, a 1,640-acre environmental park and wetlands treatment area at the headwaters of the Alafia River that is adjacent to Loyce Harpe Park and Lakeland Highlands Scrub and is managed by Lakeland officials.

It opened in 2018 as a system of trails, but city officials have been interested in improving the site by adding an environmental education center.

The city has been attempting to get state funding since at least 2020, when the governor vetoed a $400,000 appropriation to design the center.

The other environmentally related Polk project that the governor’s inaction doomed for this year involved $500,000 to improve stormwater treatment to preserve a public beach on Lake Clinch in Frostproof, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ian.