When University of Florida’s, Paul Monaghan invited me, the answer was “yes!” Paul called to ask if I’d like to be part of an alumni panel for UF’s Natural Resource Leadership Institute (NRLI) Class XVIII Session 5, Changing Dynamics in Rural Communities & Agriculture, in Clewiston.
I am an alumna of NRLI, Class XV, and first became acquainted with the program as a panel member in 2014. The topic? The “Lost Summer,” and ever worsening destruction of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.
This unique program studies and deconstructs conflict particularly dealing with Florida’s natural resources, and gives students tools, experience, and most important, personal relationships across disciplines, to help deal with this sometimes crushing reality of natural resource work.
NRLI is an eight month professional development program. Each intensive three-day session is held in a different part of the state and focuses on a specific and contentious natural resource issue….Today, since 1998, the program is on its way to producing 400 graduates. These NRLI grads are changing the dynamic of Florida by “reaching across the aisle” shall we say.
A SPECIALIZED LEADERSHIP TRAINING PROGRAM; GEARED TOWARD NATURAL RESOURCE PROFESSIONALS
In Florida, time-consuming and expensive 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 need, the Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute (NRLI) was founded in 1998. Its mission is to bring together professionals from sectors that impact or are impacted by natural resource issues and provide them with the training required to find inclusive solutions to seemingly intractable problems. Learn more here: http://nrli.ifas.ufl.edu
I am part of Class VX for the University of Florida’s Natural Resources Leadership Institute. It has been an incredible journey, and I have learned so much. It has been both exhausting and rewarding. As I am on the campaign trail running for Martin County Commissioner, and a sitting commissioner for the Town of Sewall’s Point, leaving for three to four days every month is difficult. When I get home I am behind and worried I will not meet my fundraising and outreach goals for the month….My husband, Ed, has been supportive, but it is an additional challenge for our family balance and my responsibilities.
Last year Ed and I really talked it through. “Go!” He said.
“You need to learn what they are teaching, Jacqui. You need to learn how to take out the emotion and deal with these political issues objectively…”
And I have been learning….
I have been learning “leadership.” I have been reading. I have been building relationships with others in agencies and government positions across our state. I have been practicing… And most important, I am learning to apply a “framework for understanding conflict,” to resolve conflict together–collaboratively.
—-I keep my notes on my dresser and look at them every morning. Recently, it has all has begun to make sense.
This journey to study some of Florida’s top resource conflicts began almost one year ago and reads like a “Who’s Who”of Florida issues: Titusville, NASA: Indian River Lagoon–Space Port in National Wildlife Refuge; Apalachicola, Water Wars/Dying Historic Oyster Industry; Silver Springs, Aquifer Recharge/Springs Health; Jacksonville, Wildland Interface (where the state burns wooded areas within feet of people’s homes due to rampant development); Key Largo, Sea Level Rise; Crystal River, Manatees/Endangered Species, Recreation/Protections; and finally our last stop tomorrow before graduation in April: Clewiston, Agriculture South of Lake Okeechobee….
I have been to Clewiston before, but that was a few years ago to protest at the “Sugarland Rally.” Remember the Sugarland Rally that statewide paddle-boarder Justin Riney organized during the “Lost Summer of 2013?” When the St Lucie and Indian River Lagoon were toxic for three months with overflow waters of Lake Okeechobee?
This time I will visit not to protest but to study the situation objectively using my new tools. It’s of kind of ironic that Clewiston is my last stop, isn’t it? The final test. My class will be meeting with stakeholders and touring US Sugar Corporation’s headquarters in Clewiston.
I am excited to learn. I am excited to see it up close and hear their side of the story on their home turf. To be fair, this is a historic issue. But whether I can take the emotion out of it or not….that I’ll have to let you know.
Don’t get me wrong… the first time I read that coyotes were “here,” in Marin County…the first time I saw Bud Adams’ picture on the back page of “Indian River Magazine,” the hair went up on the back of my neck. Old wives tales and ancient fears gripping me….
Since that time, I have read a lot and learned more. I am cautious but not afraid. In fact my roommate at this month’s University of Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute class was a coyote expert for the Florida Wildlife Commission. We stayed up late into the night; she showed me photos of all the things coyotes eat and told me first hand stories of how places like Hernando County, Florida, are dealing with the issue.
I sat in silent awe….
One of the most interesting things she shared was that the population of coyotes goes up the more populated an area is–you would think the opposite. “Coyotes have moved in and adapted so well we sometimes wonder who the suburbs were actually built for, us or them.” Her excellent article is at the end of this post.
Last night at a Sewall’s Point Commission meeting, a resident came forward during public comment to report about the coyotes in her subdivision. Passions flared! The discussion included guns, protected wildlife, unprotected wildlife, trapping, not leaving out cat food, not leaving out cats, as well as not leaving your small dogs or small children outside unattended. In the end, it was decided comprehensive town education was the best approach.
I find my self struggling with the image of coyote. Last night after the meeting, I took a walk and kept waiting for one’s red eyes to shine in the reflection of my iPhone. At every corner I was sure one was standing….They do intimidate me, but I am intrigued with their success. I respect them.
This animal is deeply associated with Native Americans who of course “we” eradicated. Remember the Seminole Wars? The US relocation plans? Not that long ago really. Perhaps this is our karma?
For many Native American tribes the coyote, known as a trickster for his ability to “be everywhere at once,” was the most powerful of creatures. In fact, it was believed that tribal members of tremendous power could “shift” shape into a coyote achieving amazing things….Why the coyote? The reasons are many, but one is because “Coyote,” just as in the Greek story of Prometheus, —-(also a clever trickster)—-brought fire from Heaven to the Earth, betraying the Gods, to help us survive.
Perhaps there is a greater message here? I don’t know…but it has me thinking…One thing is for sure: smart, master-adapter, coyote is here in Sewall’s Point, and throughout Martin County. And he is so smart and adaptable that “he is not going away.”
—Coyotes are now reported in all 67 counties of the state of Florida. They also live throughout much of the nation.
–Due to agriculture/rancher and landowner complaints, California spent 20 million dollars to eradicate coyotes with no success and now ironically the population is perhaps higher than ever.
—Coyotes are omnivorous, like people, eating everything especially insects, pet food, vegetation, road-kill, rodents, and “trash.” Thus they adapt easily.
—-Coyotes have flourished and spread since the human eradication of the larger canine family wolf —in Florida and through out the U.S. When top predators are removed others expand.
—Coyotes hunt in family groups not “packs, or alone; ” They mate for life and their social nature is part of their success.
—Read article below for tips on how to live and/or deal with coyotes.
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.