Remarks before the 2009 Everglades Foundation in Jacksonville, Florida
by Nathaniel Reed on November 12, 2009
The first order of business is to thank Jennifer and Joseph Duke for tempting you to come to this magnificent gallery and delight ourselves by viewing the fascinating images of Cecilia in her shawl made up of feathers shed from the 88 macas that she saved from poachers. Cecilia understands that a macaw’s feather is indeed like the Everglades where every single action and every single feather counts.
Thank you Dukes and Cecilia.
Who are we - the devoted board members of the Everglades Foundation? Why do we spend seemingly endless time and money on an issue which too many of you is far away in south Florida that seemingly has no impact on your lives?
First, I want to quote from Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s classic book; The Everglades: The River of Grass, to give you an almost mystical reason for being involved in preserving what is left of the once vast self-sustaining ecosystem.
“There are no other everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth, remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them: their vast glittering openness. Wider than the enormous visible round of the horizon, the racing free saltiness and sweetness of their massive winds, under dazzling blue heights of space -- they are unique also in the simplicity, the diversity, the related harmony of the forms of the life they enclose. The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining, and slow moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the everglades of Florida. It is the river of grass.”
Paul Tudor Jones and Mary and George Barley bought or built homes on an enchanted island in the Florida Keys. Their passion was fishing for giant tarpon, bonefish, permit and snook within the crystal waters of Florida Bay.
Within a relatively short period of time, the full impact of the multi-million dollar Corps of Engineers project to wall in the Everglades came to a head. The project created land for the millions that inhabit South Florida, the crisscrossing of the ‘Glades with huge canals that led to draining thousands of acres of cheap agricultural land where federally subsidized cane sugar plantations drain their polluted water in the remaining everglade’s marshes so severely impacted Florida Bay that it ‘crashed’. The crash broke the hearts of all of us who loved fishing or just being on Florida Bay.
The Corps had completed a civil works project second only to the building of the Panama Canal.
Unknowingly, unwittingly, the project totally disrupted the ‘River of Grass’ and destroyed a working ecosystem that needed no help from man to produce the incredible range and numbers of bird life, a myriad of other species, and one of the greatest fishing locations on earth. There are 67 species presently on the Endangered and threatened list as a direct result of this project. No where else in Florida -- and in very few other areas of our vast country -- has a public works project created so many dramatic, cataclysmic results.
Florida Bay is a shadow of its former self. The fresh water flows down the main slough. Taylor Slough and The Shark River are fractions of what they were historically.
I was serving on the Board of the South Florida Water Management District attempting to prove scientifically that both the Corps and the District, knowingly or unknowingly, were destroying one of the most productive fisheries in the world. I believed that intense cooperation between state and federal agencies could begin a restoration process. I admit as an activist, this was one of the most frustrating, disappointing chapters of my life.
I met Mary and George Barley. George was a warrior. Our chemistry was perfect. He was a force like a hurricane that challenged the state and federal agencies from the front—full charge. I worked with the state and federal agencies quietly, hopefully to bring change.
Between the two of us and other deeply involved citizens and fledgling organizations, we had the realization that a change in order had to take place to become a lightening rod for public support.
George’s untimely death in 1995 was a major blow. Mary organized George’s “Celebration of Life” at the beautiful Leu Gardens outside of Orlando. It was packed, very emotional. Friends there committed themselves to work together to ignite our state and federal governments to jump-start a plan that could, in time, restore the everglades ecosystem.
Paul challenged me to give up my ‘retirement’ and concentrate on everglades issues. I rose to that challenge and have forever thanked him for giving me the opportunity to serve on a great adventure rather than play bad golf the rest of my life!
A small team of ‘true believers’ formed: Bill Riley, Jon Mills, Douglas Pitts and Thom Rumberger all knew and were devoted as George and Mary. We formed the Everglades Foundation that Mary chaired.
We had no staff. We attended the various board meetings, the hearings, gave newspaper interviews, lobbied governors and Members of Congress. We decided that we needed a highly professional staff and an expanded board.
We ever so slowly built an organization that like good wine developed slowly. We experienced changes, maturing into a powerhouse with a superb board and the best staff that can be conceived.
The staff, ably led by Kirk Fordham, brings many skills with them and is as committed as the board members are.
Progress on the land has been slow. The federal appropriations process has not lived up to successive presidents’ promises. Secretaries of Interior have come and gone with lists of unfulfilled promises.
Governors have made and kept some commitments, but failed in others. But slowly, ever so slowly, thanks to a unified Florida congressional delegation, the support of the Florida newspapers and the vast improvement in public education, the real value of the everglades system became recognized as not just for ‘the birds’, but as the source of all drinking water for southeast Florida. Every poll shows that Floridians from every corner of this elongated state all support everglade’s restoration by wide margins.
The board is extraordinarily generous, paying the cost for the office and the salaries of our extraordinary staff. We have extraordinary leadership. Paul T. Jones is a dynamo. Mary Barley is a bulldog.
The board has an extraordinary range of knowledge and is totally committed. We are not eco-nuts. We speak with one voice: everglades restoration is our mutual goal and we want it to be your goal and every Floridian’s goal.
Donations from you and your friends are pooled and divided into grants to the non governmental organizations that furnish staff that is guaranteed to be focused on everglade’s issues. We carefully monitor their activities and have made them our effective allies.
It is a system that we devised in lieu of forming a membership organization, one of the best decisions we ever made.
We make the grants that keep the very best representatives from many statewide organizations at the countless meetings bringing sound science, support when needed and criticism when it is due.
Why should you care what happens in the far away everglades? Aldo Leopold, our nation’s first great ecologist quietly explained to our land managers 75 years ago, that “All things are connected. Break off pieces and the whole will suffer”. The everglades are an integral part of ‘our’ Florida.
Water issues will dominate our children and grandchildren’s lives. Water issues are of vital importance in north, central and south Florida. Water, clean water is the life blood of the everglades system.
You too are Floridians. Your presence this evening indicates that you care. It is in caring that progress is made. Your financial support is sought by every known organization, every real need, every excellent cause, but an investment in the Everglades Foundation will make you a partner in the greatest restoration effort ever attempted on Mother Earth.
Please join us!
Jennifer and Joe, thank you for this extraordinary evening. Thank all of you for coming.