About Me

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He started his career in the family real estate and hotel business in Florida from which his concern for the environment steered him in public life. He has served six Florida governors and two presidents in many positions, including terms as chairman of the Florida Department of Air and Water Pollution Control, and Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Beyond his government service, he helped found 1000 Friends of Florida and has served as both president and chairman of the board of the organization. He currently or has served on the boards of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Geographic Society, Yellowstone National Park, Everglades Foundation and Hope Rural School.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Big Cypress National Preserve

Comments by Nathaniel Pryor Reed at the 50th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Big Cypress National Preserve on March 20, 2010

Director John Jarvis, Superintendent Pedro Ramos, Mr. Chairman Colley Billie, congratulations on your election. Colonel Pantano, Chairman Buermann, Chairman Bergeron, Superintendent’s Dan Kimball and Mark Lewis, ‘Father’ Clyde Butcher, Commissioner Jim Coletta, Mayor Sam Hamilton, distinguished members of the dedicated National Park Service Staff, and distinguished guests and indispensable volunteers.

Chairman Colley Billie, we are all deeply appreciative of your presence today. We need collectively to work with you and the tribal elders to undo years of mistrust and disagreements.

How could 50 years go by so quickly?

The photographs that I presented to the Big Cypress National Preserve of the events leading up to the congressional authorization and appropriations to acquire the Big Cypress wilderness and make it a part of the National Park System don't lie.

Joe Browder and I were young men cast by fate to have our life journeys cross simultaneously, centered on the Big Cypress.

Joe had been appointed the National Audubon Society's representative in south Florida with vague instructions on what his mission was and could be.

I was the first conservation advisor appointed by a governor in our country's history. Thankfully, there are 50 environmental advisors now in our 50 states, hopefully giving sound advice.

It was the construction of the Dade County Jetport, widely proclaimed to be ‘the jetport of the future’ that precipitated the great debate that led to the creation of this Preserve.

Somehow, I missed the first chapter of the potential environmental, fiscal disaster that the boomer Mayor of Dade County had sold his fellow commissioners double dipping as the ‘Dade County Port Authority’.

I will never know exactly who promoted the deal to acquire substantial land within the Big Cypress wilderness, pass a bond issue and build a full length runway complete with a control tower capable of handling jet traffic.

Bob Padrick, my great friend and member of the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District, the predecessor of the South Florida Water Management District, called me and stated that then Governor Kirk had attended a brief dedication ceremony and was 'ecstatic' about the prospects of a major airport in the Big Cypress. He urged me to fly down and take a close look because it looked to him as if it was the beginning of serious trouble: from a land use stand point and from fiscal realities.

Joe Browder was already on the case. He yelled, bellowed, and mobilized the then strange fellows who lived in the swamp or used the swamp to get away from their wives or to escape the ever growing misguided effort to lure millions of unsuspecting people to Metropolitan Dade County. I remember that Joe used his annual telephone budget up in one month. Joe's problem was for everyone who believed that he was on course. That the development of a jetport in the middle of nowhere was going to bring on a land boom that would destroy the major watershed of the south western everglades ecosystem and bring fiscal ruination to the county. There was the business community aligned with the 'snake salesmen'. The traditional Florida land peddlers who saw a golden opportunity to carve up hundreds of thousands of acres of land into saleable lots for industry, farming, and cattle, citrus: you name it. And the ‘Ole Boy’ network that led the Florida boom of the 1920's was re-energized and ready for suckers.

I flew down from Tallahassee, took one long look and nearly fainted.

The most obvious first question was: how is the airport to be served? How are the passengers going to go to their flights and how were they to be returned to Miami? The obvious answer was to cross the River of Grass with a high speed train and road systems. The Port Authority maintained that a system of high speed trains would whoosh passengers to and from the jetport on tracks perched above the everglades marsh—ecological and financial madness!

What about fuel and cargo? What about the hundreds of airport workers? What about customs and immigration?

It was obvious the entire scheme was typical of an era of irresponsibility that only the then Dade County mayor and fellow commissioners could have cooked up.

The rest of the story unfolded in waves. Browder roared. I quietly convinced Governor Kirk to change his position and to his lasting credit he quickly realized that he had been ‘taken’ by an impossible dream cooked up by schemers and land peddlers. Thanks to Under Secretary Russell Train of Interior and a responsive White House staff, federal support for the jetport was cancelled. During the discussions held at the White House and the Departments of Interior and Transportation, it became clear that the development of the Big Cypress watershed would have a very adverse impact on the western everglades ecosystem, yet it was an immense piece of land and any alternative was going to be expensive.

I became Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish, Wildlife and National Parks. Almost immediately the administration turned to me to focus on the long range future of the Big Cypress and how to close up the jetport.

The key question: what was the future of the Big Cypress? The answer was: “Reed, prepare a major study of the potential alternatives from land purchase to limited development.” I had a superb assistant, George Gardner, who had worked with me for many years in the governor’s office and knew many of the key everglades scientists who were needed to answer various technical questions as we explored alternatives, from full purchase to limited pod developments.

It took months to prepare an environmental assessment that would withstand legal challenge. It took the hard work of the combination of George Gardner, the genius of Dr. Arthur Marshall, Florida's greatest ecologist and the world famous Dr. Luna Leopold, to prepare a document that categorically proved that the development of the Big Cypress would be the final nail in the everglades coffin.

Recognizing the importance of the Big Cypress to the future of the everglades ecosystem, to the fishery of the entire southwest coast, including the Ten Thousand Islands and the southwestern portions of the park, compromises among traditional users and preservationists had to be hammered out and became part of the legislation and legislative history.

I testified before the congressional committees in favor of the acquisition of the Big Cypress as a “National Preserve” that included in holdings, specific uses such as sport hunting, to the Congress and the American people that the Preserve was to be used for recreation and protection of unique areas without damaging its resources. It was important that the permitted uses conformed to the traditional uses by the Miccosukee Indians who had ‘rights’ that were ethically superior to any other use. I am particularly pleased that Chairman Colley Billie is here to celebrate the opening of this Visitor’s Center as evidence of his tribe’s genuine concerns for the management of the Preserve.

Initially, the preserve concept was not appreciated by the senior officials in the National Park Service who viewed the concept to be a radical junction from the traditional national park ideal.

I can state categorically, we could not have saved the Big Cypress or millions of acres of land in Alaska if the preserve concept had not been approved by the Nixon Administration and the Congress.

I leave you with one admonition: I know that there will always be debates over usage. Compromises are difficult to maintain. I know that the combination of Browder, Reed, Kirk, Hickel, Train, Senator Lawton Chiles, Chairmen Scoop Jackson, Morris Udall, and the Florida delegation pulled off a 'miracle'. It is up to us and our future visitors and users to make use concessions without damaging the integrity of the watershed.

For me, standing here before you, the creation of the Big Cypress Preserve will always be one of the greatest moments of a life that coincided with the birth of the environmental movement and the recognition that our world's resources are finite and need to be protected and preserved for as long as man lives on the face of this tiny earth, our only home in the vastness of space.

I thank God that I, Joe and hundreds of others who really cared about the Big Cypress were here and worked together giving and taking: concessions – yes – but with the clear belief that the integrity of the watershed was the Holy Grail of our joint effort.

Congratulations on the opening of the Big Cypress Visitor’s Center! I hope the full story of the Big Cypress acquisition will not be lost and will remain a part of the great American history.

Thank you for the privilege of being part of this unique ceremony.

-Nathaniel Reed