REMEMBERING THE OLD FLORIDA OF YESTERDAY
Over the years I’ve had the privilege of meeting, working with, and being guided by some amazing people, who have shared their memories of a Florida past.  Here’s one.

A young man returning from service during the Korean War, my friend JD was stationed in Papua New Guinea, which opened his eyes to a very different place and ecosystem.

Upon his return to Pensacola, he borrowed the family 10-foot john-boat and set off to see how this landscape differed from the one where he’d been stationed.

He learned that while he’d been away the government had finished engineering and building the Intercoastal Waterway, which enabled him to get all the way to the town of Apalachicola via protected waters.

Back then, Florida was ‘free range’ which mea

nt few fences between large tracts of land; live stock had open range, and homes were built hidden among the tree line, on ‘high’ ground.  In the 1950s the area east of Gulf Breeze might have had 10-15 families spread out along the bay and the sound beyond Navarre.

JD wasn’t in a hurry.  He knew how to live off the land and he enjoyed looking at the many wetland systems and sloughs that drained the inland areas to the intercoastal.

Once he saw Sabine Island, which was a fisheries facility back then, he traveled under the narrow beach bridge which led to Casino Beach.  He told me that he didn’t see another soul for the next ten days.

He read the weather through the clouds, winds and waves, beached his little boat from time to time to climb over the sand dunes to see the Gulf.  Back then, the dunes were 50’ high in some areas.  He learned to read wildlife and knew where the fish schools were found, based on the presence of gulls.

At night he slept on the beach under the stars.  If weather was coming, he’d flip his boat over and set up a little lean-to to stay dry.

He knew something was up one evening near the little fishing town of Destin Harbor, as the waves in the Gulf had been building for the past few days, and he noted the wind had become more moist and blustery.

That night, when he set up camp and flipped over his boat to make his shelter, a great blue heron took refuge with him as a terrible storm kept howling and dropping buckets of rain on the overturned boat.  By late afternoon the hurricane had passed.  He combed the beach and found the wrack line decorated in sea-life and shells.

That night he slept between the dunes and woke up to the bluest sky he had ever seen.  To this day, 97-year-old JD will tell me that the sky today is not as blue as it was, as he remembered it that time, in the 1950s.

The population of Florida was just over 550,000 in 1900 (US Census).   Today, the annual population of Florida is over21 million, and in addition we receive roughly 110 million tourist visitors annually.

That’s a lot of pressure on our resources.  I moved to Miami in 1970 from Chicago and was immediately sold on the area.  In those early days, colorful land crabs would migrate in giant armies across low lying areas during the full moon.

Other times, hundreds of tiny toads would hatch from small ponds in quantities too numerous to count.  In 1972 we drove across the state, through the Everglades, to see what the other ocean looked like.  These are my basic memories.  Will any of the real Florida remain for future generations?

Today, in 2018, we as a community have a responsibility to remind our elected officials and regional representatives about the manner of growth we wish to realize.  The current trajectory of continued growth and development is unhealthy for our community, ecology and frankly short sighted.

Elected officials must be held accountable and reminded that self-serving decisions based on 2-year & 4-year election cycles, promises and greed will not be tolerated anymore.

In 2014, 75% of the state of FL voted for the Land and Water Conservation Legacy Amendment.  Four years later, the intent of the amendment has not been implemented or followed as it had been presented.

The Legislature did not appropriate funding to the environment as intended, instead they used the funding to backfill agency operations.  This approach in concert with relaxing environmental regulations across the state, cutting funding and most insulting of all, questioning the science behind climate change.

Behold, it is 2018 and how convenient, another election year.  Suddenly the environment is being paraded around as though it were important to these individuals.

As political signs pop-up around town like mushrooms, prepare a list of questions to ask of these fine folks.  Do your homework on candidates.  Actions speak louder than words.

So, what happened to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to which the Amendment 1 dollars are being deposited? The account is healthy despite being pilfered for agency operations, as of the last legislative session, $100 M went to FL Forever Program, $246 M went for the Everglades, and $50M for springs.

The FL Panhandle doesn’t have springs or the Everglades.  Last I checked, there weren’t too many parcels on the High Priority or High/medium Priority for the Panhandle Counties either.

Well, many environmental groups sued the state (Audubon Florida did not*) and finally two weeks ago the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and against the Legislature; the Land Acquisition Trust Fund should only be used for the acquisition of land and the restoration and management of  land acquired after 2014.  

And therein lies the sticking point.  Audubon Florida wants to see the monies spent as intended on Everglades restoration, springs restoration, water resource protection and management of all of Florida’s conservation lands purchased to date and prior to 2014 (including 149 state parks, a myriad of wildlife management areas and state forests).

The next few months will be trying for many, as the hopeful candidates vying for office make promises they have no intention of keeping.  The shape and the accompanied growth of our future can and should be sustainable while recognizing that our resources are based on a landscape-scale, community-based conservation.

Vet your candidates, pose questions and ask how they will help achieve a healthy community, a health economy and a healthy environment.  You’re voice counts, please consider what our natural resources will look like seven generations out.

What will your grandchildren’s grandchildren have left?  Let’s shift the baseline to back to a healthier time when area waters were not impaired by every rain event.

By Barbara Albrecht

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