In the heart of the Corkscrew Watershed, in the Western Everglades, you will find the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The sanctuary covers approximately 13,000 acres. Composed mostly of wetlands, it includes the largest remaining virgin bald cypress forest in the world. On the approximate 700 acres, is the largest nesting colony of Federally Endangered Wood Storks in the nation. Other species that depend on the habitat of Corkscrew are the Florida Panther, American Alligator, Florida Sandhill Crane, Gopher Tortoise, Snowy Egret, Limpkin, Roseate Spoonbill, Big Cypress Fox Squirrel, Tricolored Heron, Florida Black Bear, and the White Ibis.
No one outside of southern Florida had heard of Corkscrew until the early 1900s when the fashion industry had a high demand for both egret and heron plumes. While the plume hunters made a great fortune on a weekend hunting trip, they devastated the rookeries throughout Florida. Corkscrew’s rookery was the most targeted area in Florida and the southeast United States.
After being deputized and employed by the National Audubon Society (Audubon), Rhett Green had the sole responsibility to protect the rookery of Corkscrew. In 1917 Green’s encounter with plume hunters was recorded in the book “The Bird Study Book” written by Gilbert Pearson.
“Those ‘long whites’ are never off my mind for a minute,” said the warden, as we paused to watch some flyover. “Two men came to my camp last week who thought I didn’t know them, but I did. They were old-time plume hunters. They said they were hunting cattle, but I knew better–they were after Egrets and came to see if I was on guard. I told them if they saw anyone after plumes to pass the word that I would shoot on sight any man with a gun who attempt to enter the Corkscrew. I would do it too,” he added as he tapped the barrel of his Winchester. “It is terrible to hear the young birds call for food after the old ones have been killed to the feathers for reach women to wear. I am not got to have my birds sacrificed that way.”
The entire book can be read on Project Gutenberg. With a campaign to stop the demand and rookery protection, the plume hunters went away, as did the wardens.
Mid-February of 1953, the president of the National Audubon Society president, John H. Baker urged the Governor of Florida at the time, Dan McCarty to enlist the state to acquire “the great Corkscrew rookery of wood ibis and American egrets in the beautiful strand of virgin cypress between Immokalee and Bonita Springs.” He felt in some manner the public use could be employed and would allow for the protection of the scenery, wildlife, vegetation, and other historical values.
After waiting for nearly two years for the state to show some interest in the swamp, the Audubon took ownership of the Corkscrew rookery. Initially, they managed 5,680 acres, but added another 5,320 by the acquisition of the Panther Island Mitigation Bank.
Today, the area bears little resemblance to its native roots, although it remains a vibrant wet wilderness. With the ever-growing population demands for resources and space, the ability to sustain the more charismatic creatures like the Wood Stork and Florida Panther will be tested.
The Sanctuary is open every day of the year from 7:00 am to 5:30 pm.