Introduction The Everglades ecosystem includes Lake Okeechobee and its tributary areas, as well as the roughly 40- to 50-mile-wide, 130-mile-long wetland mosaic that once extended continuously from Lake Okeechobee to the southern tip of the Florida Peninsula at Florida Bay.
Since 1900 much of the Everglades has been drained for agriculture and urban development, so that today only 50 percent of the original wetlands remain. Water levels and patterns of water flow are largely controlled by an extensive system of levees and canals. The control system was constructed to achieve multiple objectives of flood control, land drainage, and water supply. More recently, water-management policies have also begun to address issues related to ecosystem restoration. Extensive land subsidence that has been caused by drainage and oxidation of peat soils will greatly complicate ecosystem restoration and also threatens the future of agriculture in the Everglades.
The Everglades ecosystem has, in fact, been badly degraded, despite the establishment of Everglades National Park in the southern Everglades in 1947. Prominent symptoms of the ecosystem decline include an 80 percent reduction in wading bird populations since the 1930s (Ogden, 1994), the near-extinction of the Florida panther (Smith and Bass, 1994), invasions of exoic species (Bodle and others, 1994), and declining water quality in Florida Bay, which likely is due, at least in part, to decreased freshwater inflow (McIvor and others, 1994).