Something very exciting is going to start happening for me this week.
I am beginning a new journey as a “fellow” of University of Florida’s IFAS Natural Resources Leadership Institute, or NRLI (http://nrli.ifas.ufl.edu). Our first of seven “field trips and study sessions” over the next year begins this Thursday right here along the Indian River Lagoon at NASA where our state’s developing space program is eyeing lands in the National Wildlife Refuge for new runways.
NRLI teaches “leadership skills” in dealing with such explosive environmental natural resource issues…it tries to teach you to build a “cohort” to get things done.
I will be participating as an elected official from the Town of Sewall’s Point. Elected officials in the program are rare and when they invited me to apply last year, I said: “Are you sure? I don’t see many “politicians or bloggers ” on your list of graduates and my town is really small….?” I was assured there had been elected officials before, and if I wanted to apply, I was encouraged to do so….
So I did…
I first came into contact with NRLI, when I was invited to be a speaker. In 2014, a year after the “Lost Summer,” and the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon’s toxic mess caused by releases from Lake Okeechobee and area canals. Area canals mind you that have been expanded to dump agriculture and development water into the river’s basin at five times beyond what Nature envisioned. So NRLI “Class 14,” was studying the “Indian River Lagoon, —-an Estuary in Decline.” Pretty bleak title isn’t it?
Along with their directors, the fellows met at a room at the Marriott on Hutchinson Island just over bridge from Sewall’s Point. There were about twenty “fellows” from varied backgrounds such as the ACOE, Water Districts, Florida Fish and Wildlife; the Nature Conservancy, the Miccosukee Tribe; the Department of Agriculture; South Florida County governments; etc…some younger, some older, all different…
It was cool.
I sat on a the panel with Jim Brother, a recreational fisherman; Leroy Creswell, University of Florida IFAS Extension Sea Grant Program; Scott Deal, CEO and President Maverick Boat Company; and George Jones, Indian River Keeper. I spoke about how the releases impacted Sewall’s Point’s peninsular real estate and wildlife as well as the grassroots formation of River Kidz and local advocacy. We the “panel people” sipped our bottled water and answered questions. We listened to ourselves talk and wondered how what we were saying could be happening…loss of seagrasses and oysters, dying and sick wildlife, loss of real estate values, loss of boat sales, kids can’t go in the water….
The fellows were attentive, inquisitive, and ask great questions. They were from all over the state so many were not familiar with the IRL. I always wondered what the fellows said behind closed doors after the session? “Man that’s one big mess! Didn’t they see it coming? Those kids are going to have to save that river!” or maybe not, maybe they had great ideas of how to really start moving in the right direction. Maybe they are doing that now behind the scenes as NRLI graduates? Maybe this is how we change the world?
NRLI states their purpose as the following:
We are all dependent on Florida’s natural resources. Decisions about natural resources involve complex sets of issues and stakeholders. Expensive and time-consuming disputes often emerge over issues such as endangered species, land use, coastal and marine resources, and water quality and quantity. Effective leadership in managing such issues requires a specialized set of skills, tools, and strategies to build trust and promote collaboration among competing interests. In recognition of this, the Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute (NRLI) was founded in 1998 to bring together professionals in sectors that impact or are impacted by natural resource issues to develop the skills required to work towards collaborative solutions.
When I got accepted, I immediately emailed my Uncle Russell, now retired in Gainesville. My mother’s brother, an Annapolis graduate who served in Vietnam and lived under the ice in the North Pole finding spy submarines or something top secret…..He is my favorite uncle…. My Grandfather Henderson, his father, worked for UF and IFAS so I wanted to share that I would be part of that legacy although it would be in a different capacity different from the “rape and pillage goals” of the 1930s and 40s. IFAS is remaking itself…
He congratulated me and then said: “You know Jacqui, they are probably trying to take the fire out of you…you know….calm you down….make everybody get along….but congratulations! Grandaddy would be proud…”
I laughed and said something like, “you know what Uncle Russ, you are probably right but I’m pretty good at capturing from the inside and keeping my head.”
He laughed…. we laughed….Dead Silence….
All I know right now, is that when I see my name on the list, I am honored, excited, and hoping to be a part of a better natural resources future for Florida and the Indian River Lagoon.
UF IFAS means: University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. IFAS has extension offices in almost all Florida counties. My Grandfather worked for IFAS for many years in the 1930s and 40. He taught Soil Sciences at University of Florida and surveyed the Florida Everglades.
IRL An Estuary in Decline, NRLI http://nrli.ifas.ufl.edu/pdfs/Newsletters/NRLIClassXIVNewsletter_Session1_IRL.pdf
Article of NASA and Wildlife Refuge debate:
• Space Florida sets course on reviving cape launch pads (Jim Turner, News Service of Florida, January 1, 2015): http://www.news-journalonline.com/article/20150101/NEWS/150109952/1040?Title=Space-Florida-sets-course-on-reviving-cape-launch-pads