On Our Way to an Everglades Day
By Dawn Shirreffs, Everglades Restoration Program Manager
Everglades and Biscayne National Parks bring millions of visitors to Florida. Keeping these parks healthy is not just ecologically sound; it also supports thousands of jobs and a strong state economy. Yet 2011 was a dismal year for Everglades restoration in the state legislature. Lawmakers dismembered laws intended to discourage urban sprawl, diluted water quality protections, and drastically cut critical funds to park restoration projects.
Was it just the economy, or were other issues to blame? Here’s what I’ve learned: It’s hard to win the Super Bowl with a team full of rookies.
In January 2011, newly elected Governor Rick Scott was sworn in, along with 43 freshman representatives and 12 new state senators. The sea of fresh faces in Tallahassee meant less institutional knowledge about the economic and ecological benefits of America’s Everglades to Florida’s economy. Just a dizzying 16 weeks after the start of the session, the legislature had already passed damaging laws and a devastating budget.
Compounding the problem, Florida is a large state, spanning nearly 60,000 square miles. This can create a challenge for reaching lawmakers on the issues facing the Everglades’ vast ecosystem. It’s not only difficult for advocates to travel to representatives in every corner of the state, but it also means that some lawmakers are physically disconnected from the natural riches in South Florida.
NPCA’s Sun Coast team is working with Florida lawmakers during the 2012 session to establish an annual Everglades Day to underscore the state’s dependence on a healthy Everglades for a clean water supply and strong economy. This day would be a special observance of Everglades activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s birthday on April 7th that could help bring conservationists and citizens together to educate elected officials in Tallahassee every year. This effort would ensure the Everglades ecosystem remains a top priority for elected officials and all Floridians while honoring Douglas’s legacy of protecting the “River of Grass.”
Senator David Simmons of Orlando and Representative Steve Perman of Boca Raton have recognized this need and spearheaded legislation to designate Everglades Day to elevate awareness, restore historic funding levels of $100 million annually, and protect America’s Everglades for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.
UPDATE, MARCH 7, 2012: The Florida Legislature voted this afternoon in favor of an Everglades Day. Read the official statement by Dawn Shirreffs on NPCA’s website on this victory for the Everglades, and thank you to everyone who took action on this important issue.