Dedicated to the protection of birds, other animals, and their habitats through education and activism
Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170; president@SEVolusiaAudubon.org
The Audubon Assembly had a number of interesting speakers, including the new head of the Department of Environmental Protection, Noah Valenstein. If you check out his bio on the DEP website, he most recently served as executive director for the Suwannee River Water Management District. His previous experience includes working on environmental, agricultural and energy issues in the Executive Office of the Governor and Florida House of Representatives, as well as with several of Florida’s leading environmental nonprofit groups.
He has a strong belief in the power of partnerships, and is focused on building relationships between diverse groups of stakeholders, including environmental and agricultural groups as well as local communities and businesses.
And, according to Audubon Florida executive Director, Eric Draper, Valenstein is a birder and has been birding with him.
The Keynote Presentation was tremendously inspirational. Jennifer Adler has dedicated herself to protecting and preserving Florida’s rivers and springs through photography and videography, most of it under water as she dives into caves and springs and snorkels with manatees. She is a Ph.D. candidate at UF, a National Geographic Explorer and a TEDx speaker. She has an environmental education program that she takes to schools to inspire students by bringing them into the water with cameras in hand. Check her website here.
I attended two learning sessions,: “Water Policy Bootcamp” which presented an overview of Florida's most significant water-management policies, advice on how to advocate effectively for Florida's waters, and examples of successful projects and programs created as a result of stakeholder and government collaboration, and “Changing Hearts and Minds: How to influence Policymakers”, with projects like Stacy Greco, from Alachua County, who took advantage of the photography of John Moran, (see also the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute) which contains photos of many of our springs from past to present, showing the degradation over time. The photos she chose showed the degradation of the waters after the drought of 2011 and 2012. She took them to stakeholders to get action in her county.
In a special session, “Making Hurricane Irma a win for Conservation and Water Resources”, we discussed ways to use the hurricane as a focus for certain types of advocacy. It is not the time to stress water conservation, so much as land conservation and climate change. Why so?
Anne Shortelle, Executive Director of the St. Johns River WMD said that Irma dropped 2.2 trillion gallons of water on the St Johns River watershed alone. That is the equivalent of the entire consumptive use of the region for five years according to 2016 consumption report. And there are still regions that are flooded after the hurricane and subsequent heavy rain storms. Of course, not much of that will reach the aquifer.
However, climate change’s effects of frequency and strength of storms and droughts are certainly timely. More importantly perhaps, is the fact that many places flooded that were supposed to flood. They were protected as publicly owned, or as conservation easements on private lands like farms and ranches. They did their job, and we need to preserve more of them in the future.
Shortelle’s focus is on partnerships with local stakeholders, like farmers, urging them to install underground irrigation to decrease evaporation.
Among the important lessons in advocating with city and county governments is to realize that, by the time the issue gets to the councils/commissions, the planning staffs and developers and other stakeholders have been discussing it for a long time, and the staffs and have made their recommendations to the decision-makers. It may be too late, so we need to inject ourselves into the process earlier in the discussions.