Restoring the Everglades

Public Participation in Federal Efforts Gao ID: RCED-96-5 October 24, 1995

In central and southern Florida, where national parks and wildlife refuges abut farmland, urban areas, and Indian reservations, the boundaries between public and private lands and between federal, state, local, and tribal jurisdictions overlay the ecological boundaries created by the flow of water. During the last half century, engineering projects have altered the quantity and timing of the water's flow, agricultural runoff has altered water quality, and urbanization has fragmented the region's ecosystem. As a result, South Florida--including the Everglades and Florida Bay--is showing signs of ecological distress. Federal agencies began an effort in 1993 to coordinate environmental restoration in South Florida. In addition, the Administration has identified South Florida as a site for testing a new approach to ensuring a healthy environment and managing the nation's lands and natural resources. This approach, which recognizes the interrelationships between natural systems and healthy, sustainable economies, cuts across the boundaries of ownership and jurisdiction. Central to this new approach is the need for federal and nonfederal stakeholders to collaborate and build consensus on solutions to problems of mutual concern. This report (1) identifies the processes used by federal agencies to involve nonfederal stakeholders in environmental restoration efforts in South Florida and (2) the lessons learned about federal and nonfederal collaboration and consensus-building in South Florida that may be applicable elsewhere.

GAO found that: (1) federal agencies have involved nonfederal stakeholders in their environmental restoration efforts in South Florida by making their meetings and draft products publicly available, establishing groups with nonfederal members, holding workshops, soliciting information from the public and then providing feedback on how it was used, and entering into formal mediation; (2) the working group of the Interagency Task Force on the South Florida Ecosystem includes state and tribal officials, but it does not include local officials and representatives of nongovernmental interests; (3) restrictions on and uncertainties about advisory committees have limited nonfederal interests in federal restoration efforts except those for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary; (4) nonfederal stakeholders prefer to present their environmental concerns during rather than after the development of federal environmental proposals; (5) external constraints often dictate the extent of nonfederal involvement in agency activities and preclude a consensus on appropriate solutions; and (6) the most federal agencies may be able to achieve is an open airing and full consideration of all views within the constraints imposed by external factors.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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