Since it began to be drained by the U.S. government and white settlers in the early 1800s, the Everglades ecosystem has lost over half its original area; and most importantly, the slow-moving river that flows from Lake Okeechobee into Florida Bay, and which is the spinal chord of the entire system, is now full of man-made obstacles like canals, dykes and roads.
Historically, the place has been home to the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, a group of Native American families who survived the Seminole Wars that aimed at exterminating them, and holed up in the tree islands that tower across the wetlands.
But as years went by, urban development, agricultural businesses, tourism, and even climate change confined the Miccosukee people and several species of wild animals, such as the highly-endangered Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, into a relatively small area by the Everglades National Park.
Eventually, circumstances pitted the sparrow and the Miccosukee against one another, as the measures taken by the authorities to protect the bird—the Miccosukee argue—are affecting the tribe’s territory.
When push comes to shove, the fight over the Everglades is fundamentally about water: its quantity, distribution, timing, quality, and who gets to manage it. And the sparrow and the Miccosukee are caught in the middle of the battleground.