Okay birders, it's time to rally like cat advocates and work like a hunter. Merritt Island is in trouble (all the photos in this entry are from my trip to Merritt this past January). NASA is proposing that 200 acres of Florida's Merritt Island National Wildlife Sanctuary be taken for use as a private-sector space launch facility:
From the Orlando Sentinel:
Commercial rockets launched from the private pad could be used to transport cargo and astronauts to the international space station, or even take tourists on the ultimate thrill ride.
But the complex, which would cost more than half a billion dollars to build, also could take a toll on fragile wildlife and wetlands in the refuge and surrounding area. And it could close down some of the choice spots for bird-watching, kayaking, fishing and beachcombing.
"There are just a lot of unknowns," said Dorn Whitmore, supervising ranger at the refuge. "It could close most of the refuge to visitors. Half of Mosquito Lagoon could be closed all or part of the time, and parts of Playalinda Beach could be shut down."
About 500 families of endangered scrub-jays and other wildlife such as bald eagles, gopher tortoises and marsh rabbits also could be threatened and their habitat destroyed, Whitmore said.
"We're looking for issues, concerns and information that would help us," said Mario Busacca, the director of planning and special projects in the Environmental Program Office at Kennedy Space Center.
Last year, NASA commissioned a study to evaluate potential sites for hosting the Commercial Vertical Launch Complex on about 200 acres of KSC's 140,000 acres, including the area managed by the refuge. Abandoned launchpads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station weren't considered because the Air Force, not NASA, owns the property, officials said.
The idea would be to offer the land to private companies to build and operate the complex, which would house two launchpads, a control facility and storage and maintenance buildings. It has been more than 15 years since a launchpad was constructed at the cape, NASA spokesman George Diller said.
Using specific criteria, such as distance from residential areas and risk from hurricane storm surge, a Brevard County engineering firm narrowed 11 possible sites to two: one inside the restricted area of KSC along the Atlantic Coast south of Launch Pad 39A; the other inside the refuge east of State Road 3, north of State Road 406 and south of Scrub Ridge Trail Road.
Scrub-jay habitat exists in both areas, according to the 125-page study, which also says the wildlife is "extraordinarily diverse" and that more 20 of the species are identified as threatened or endangered.Using specific criteria, such as distance from residential areas and risk from hurricane storm surge, a Brevard County engineering firm narrowed 11 possible sites to two: one inside the restricted area of KSC along the Atlantic Coast south of Launch Pad 39A; the other inside the refuge east of State Road 3, north of State Road 406 and south of Scrub Ridge Trail Road.
You can read news about this here.
Lots of people are sending me the link to an online petition which I'm not going to link to that because I've yet to see an online petition actually work. This is beyond just signing your name to an online petition. This requires calling Mario Busacca, Environmental Program Office of the Kennedy Space Center at 321-867-8456 and telling him in no uncertain terms how much you love this area, how important and critical it is to bird habitat. You can email him KSC-CVLC@nasa.gov but an actual phone call will leave more of an impact than an online petition. If you have ever birded this area and enjoyed it, you need to call. If you live in Florida, stay on top of the news, show up. That's how hunters do it, that's how cat lovers do it in order to keep cats outdoors in Cape May. Birders need to stand up, be loud, be vocal, be present.