From the desk of our Executive Director, Eve Samples, your Voice of the Everglades update:

Q: What’s 20 times the size of Manhattan and poses a yearly threat to the people and ecosystems of the Everglades?

A: Big Sugar’s massive cane-burning season, which wrapped up last month, after another eight-month stretch of sullying our air with smoke and ash.

The numbers reveal the scope of the problem: During the burn season that ran from October 2023 to May 2024, more than 6,700 sugarcane fires were authorized by the Florida Forest Service, spanning more than 331,000 acres.

That’s about 518 square miles of sugarcane fires in a single season.

Most of Big Sugar’s fires blaze south of Lake Okeechobee, where burns are permitted when the winds blow toward rural, lower-income communities of color such as Belle Glade and Pahokee — but not when winds blow toward wealthier coastal communities.

It’s a stark environmental injustice, and Friends of the Everglades continues to stand with allies fighting to Stop the Burn. Other cane-producing regions, including most of Brazil, have shifted away from pre-harvest burning, replacing the practice with mechanical methods. It hasn’t happened in Florida because of the insatiable greed of Big Sugar, and the politicians who protect billionaire-backed Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar.

The evidence against sugarcane burning is mounting:

New research from a Florida A&M University professor links pre-harvest sugarcane burning to a surge in physician-diagnosed asthmas cases.

A recent documentary from NBC 6 South Florida —  Bittersweet Muck: Florida sugar fires lead to complaints, research and calls for change — brings the threat to life.

And science tells us ash from fires contains nutrients that can exacerbate algae blooms in bodies of water — like algae-plagued Lake Okeechobee.

We have an opportunity to crack down on this polluting industry. Congress is currently negotiating the Farm Bill, which includes outdated, supersized protections for Big Sugar’s profits. More than 8,000 people have signed the Sugar Reform Now petition at Everglades.org. Please sign it, then tell your friends to do the same.

Together, our voices can make a difference.