Steve Waters -Outdoors Writer

Now that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a commissioner who is knowledgeable about the Big Cypress National Preserve and the Everglades, there is a chance that the FWC will finally get the federal government to stop screwing around and do what’s right.

Ron Bergeron of Weston has spent a good portion of his life in the Everglades and the Big Cypress. Few people know the Everglades better than Bergeron, who was appointed to the FWC last summer by Gov. Charlie Crist and who refers to the ‘Glades as one of the 10 natural wonders of the world.

Bergeron has become the FWC’s point man on South Florida issues. The FWC meets Wednesday and Thursday at the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum in Dania Beach (the meeting is open to the public). Wednesday, Bergeron will make presentations on how to manage the Addition Lands of the Big Cypress National Preserve and on Everglades restoration.

Big Cypress National Preserve, which is only an hour’s drive west of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, was created by an act of Congress in 1974 thanks to the efforts of local sportsmen who didn’t want to see the 566,000-acre area developed. In 1988, Congress established the Addition Lands, whose 147,000 acres became part of Big Cypress.

Twenty years later the Addition Lands are still closed to the public because the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior prefer to twiddle their thumbs rather than open those lands, and the FWC hasn’t pushed the feds to do what Congress mandated.

Hopefully, that will change with Bergeron leading the way.

He noted that Big Cypress was intentionally made a preserve and not a park because Congress wanted to allow traditional recreational activities such as hunting, fishing and frogging. Likewise for the Addition Lands. It’s all spelled out in the bill that created them.

“It was never intended to be a national park,” Bergeron said. “We want to follow the intent of Congress.”

Everglades National Park has gotten special treatment from the feds that has damaged the freshwater Everglades, which extend from Tamiami Trail to the Broward-Palm Beach County line. When water is abundant and the park doesn’t want water, the Everglades water conservation areas get flooded, which kills tree islands and most everything that depends on those islands for food and shelter.

A number of agencies have been stalemated on how to get water past Tamiami Trail and into the park. Bergeron supports a swale pilot project that would get water into the park through natural sloughs. He also is in favor of keeping open the canals in the Everglades, which have world-class bass fishing.

“We have a resource that should be enjoyed by the public, properly managed and properly respected,” Bergeron said. “We should be able to bring our children out bass fishing and hunting and bird-watching and protect the traditional Gladesman culture and still protect the environment.

“When I was 3 years old, I asked my grandfather to take me on his airboat. If he had said, ‘Sorry, the Everglades is closed,’ I never would’ve fallen in love with the Everglades and I wouldn’t be spending half my time trying to save the Everglades.”

From Staff and Wire Reports