It is hard to believe that I am already half way through my University of Florida, Natural Resources Leadership Institute (NRLI) fellowship for 2015/2016.
This week I will be taking a blog-break to prepare for this week’s NRLI course in Jacksonville, “Wildland Urban Interface.” This subject deals with the challenges, dangers, and importance of prescribed burns and how they become more complicated as Florida’s growing population is allowed to develop further into once undeveloped/natural areas of our state.
Fire, of course, is a huge issue here in Martin County in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon Region as well. Fire is a natural part of the Florida ecosystem and necessary for the health of the lands, its wildlife, and the protection of people. “Not burning,” is not an option, as excess fuel– due to vegetation build up, causes fires to burn even hotter and is extremely dangerous!
As many may remember, in June of 2014, a controlled burn in Savannas State Park, in Jensen, quickly got out of control during high winds. This was a scary and nerve-wracking situation for the fire fighters and for the public, especially those who live across the street on Jensen Beach Boulevard in Pine Crest Lakes subdivision.
Fire, like water, is a part of the greater whole of our ecosystem…something we must understand.
I will return to blogging later next week. Thank you for reading my blog; see you soon.
As part of my University of Florida “Natural Resources Leadership Institute” program, I will be leaving this Wednesday for five days to Apalachicola Bay in Florida’s panhandle where the historic oyster industry is dying due to lack of upstream fresh water from Georgia. Last month, I traveled to Titusville, along the Indian River Lagoon, to learn about NASA, Space Florida, and serious concerns over possible future land use inside the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
I have been waiting to write about my experience in Titusville until now. It was rather intense, and I wanted time to think. Also our NRLI Class XV newsletter came out recently and provides perspective and background on the visit and the program.
On the second day of NRLI, after much preparation, our class was driven to NASA to visit the assembly building for the rockets and to take a tour of the grounds. Nothing would have prepared me for walking into that building. I can only liken it to the cathedrals in Belgium and Germany I saw when I was younger whose Gothic architecture “forced my eye to God.”
Upon entering the building, I was struck by a feeling of awe. It hit me, the creative force of humanity necessary to organize and go into space. The successes and the failures. Lives lost and new perspective of the universe gained….and what about the future?
I felt proud to be American, my eyes teared up, and I turned away from my fellow classmates for fear they would think me nuts. Later on, I learned that many others had the same experience.
It is very difficult in a blog post to get into all the detail of my visit, but I can share that NASA’s Kennedy a Space Center is presently located in the area where you see Highway 528 on the above map. NASA is recreating itself since the Federal Government basically shut down the space program here just a few years ago, and around 8000 people lost their jobs. According to NASA’s literature:
“Kennedy Space Center will pursue transformation through consolidation of NASA operations, asset partnering, and agreements development in order to preserve the Center’s and nations crucial launch infrastructure. The transformation to a multi-user spaceport will allow NASA to subsidize costs of expensive infrastructure and facilities and still maintain the country’s ability to push the boundaries of our understand of the universe.
KSC was established in 1962; is a 6 billion $ asset; 140,000 acres; 55,000 acres of submerged wetlands; 3500 acres of development. “
In 1963, NASA realized it had so much land, as only a small part is developed, that they asked it to be managed as a national wildlife refuge… and thus it has been for over 50 years.
“The Refuge, which is an overlay of the John F. Kennedy Space Center, was established in August 1963 to provide a buffer zone for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the quest for space exploration.”
“Space Florida is the aerospace economic development agency of the State of Florida. The agency was created by consolidating three existing space entities into a single new organization via the Space Florida Act, enacted in May 2006 by the Florida Legislature.”
Space Florida is proposing to put a launch pad at Shiloh north of Titusville in an area of the wildlife refuge along the lagoon that is very sensitive as it contains many endangered species, historic cultural resources, as well as Native American historic resources. This area is utilized by fishermen and “recreationalist” today. You can see this location near the red pin in the Google Maps image above. Some say they “couldn’t have chosen a more sensitive area….”
I did not go to Titusville to have an opinion on what is right or wrong concerning this situation. But I have thought on it, and those of you who know me can probably guess where I ended up with my position. But this is only for me personally, not for what I am supposed to learn at NRLI.
At NRLI, I am there to learn how to be a “leader in collaborative decision-making.”
NRLI puts it like this:
“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.
Vision NRLI seeks to impact decision-making in Florida by creating a network of professionals prepared to effectively address natural resource issues through conflict management and collaborative leadership.”
Well, I hope I gave you enough information to get started on your own opinion.
I am looking forward to my second NRLI session this week. There are great people from many backgrounds in the program and I learn from them just as much as anything…For it is really through building relationships that we will better the condition of our state and our Indian River Lagoon.
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.