(WSVN) - Gardeners love when their rare trees and shrubs attract endangered birds and butterflies, but a North Miami homeowner says his garden oasis was partially destroyed when a government contractor sprayed chemicals on his property. The Nightteam’s Kevin Ozebek has tonight’s 7 Investigates.

Howard Tonkin, landscaper: “This plant here, it’s been extinct in Miami-Dade County since 1930.”

Howard Tonkin loves nothing more than tending his wild garden along the Biscayne River Canal in North Miami.

Howard Tonkin: “This plant here is called Ambrosia. It’s an endangered species of beach coastal plants.”

Howard’s business is landscaping, using native and endangered greenery, but this fall, some of his rare trees and plants near the canal were killed with an herbicide.

Howard Tonkin: “If you could have seen what this looked like a month ago, it was just hundreds of butterflies along the waterfront.”

Most of the butterflies are gone, and some of his prized plants now just crumble into dust when touched.

Howard Tonkin: “The corky stem passion vine is larval host for the Zebra Longwing, our state butterfly, the Julia butterfly, the Gulf Fritillary butterfly. This wild lime tree here was covered in giant swallowtail caterpillars. They’re all dead. Everything’s gone.”

The South Florida Water Management District sprays along these banks to stop plant growth that can clog the canals and cause flooding. As soon as Howard saw his chemically burned foliage, he suspected the government agency was to blame.

Howard Tonkin: “The fact that they keep spraying these defoliant chemicals as a way of controlling foliage on the waterfront, it’s just not acceptable.”

And Howard’s suspicions were right.

After weeks of pushing for answers, the South Florida Water Management District told 7 Investigates one of its contractors mistakenly treated Howard’s yard.

Howard Tonkin: “She apologized and said she wanted to replace my plants, and that she wanted to give me some type of sign for not spraying.”

Canal spraying has also been an issue in other neighborhoods. In 2019, El Portal residents were unhappy the district sprayed an herbicide containing glyphosate. Some fear it causes cancer.

Kristen McLean, concerned homeowner: “I don’t want it in the river.”

South Florida Water Management District says it sprayed an herbicide called triclopyr on Howard’s yard. He’s hoping their mistake will lead to more careful treatment of the vegetation on South Florida canals.

Howard Tonkin: “I think it’s a really wonderful thing that Channel 7 has brought attention to this issue, and perhaps, this is a starting point where we can begin a conversation with SFWM about how we can all work better together to improve the quality of life for everybody.”

But before that conversation gets started, Howard is relieved his yard and his plant will never be sprayed again.


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