Florida. Flor-i-da. The three syllables trip gaily off the tongue. Florida, the land of flowers, the American Eden, a glorious confluence of sun, land and water. Florida has 1,000 miles of coastline, more than any state except Alaska. Florida has 10,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 7,000 lakes and springs that well up from the great limestone bed underlying the peninsula. The only state except Hawaii that can be called tropical, it's a biological treasure-house, with more than 3,000 species of plants and a profusion of animal life.
This is an article from the Feb. 9, 1981 issue
Thirty-eight million tourists are expected to visit Florida this year, and some who like what they see will stay for good. There is a flood tide of people moving to the state. Every week some 7,000 people arrive seeking the good life. In 1950 Florida had a population of 2.7 million and ranked 20th among the states. By 1960 the population had almost doubled to 4.9 million, and Florida ranked 10th. Now the population has doubled again, to almost 10 million, and the state ranks seventh. By the turn of the century, Florida is expected to have 14 million people, and rank fourth.
Boosters and boomers see nothing but good in this population explosion. "Florida is the growingest big state.... On that basis the picture is bright," says a subscription appeal for The Kiplinger Florida Letter, while another business newsletter, Florida Forecasts, notes, in an item entitled "Music to Their Ears," that Governor Bob Graham has told the state's Industrial Development Research Council that his administration is dedicated to bringing in more industry. A special supplement in the magazine published by Eastern Airlines, which flies seven million people a year to the Sunshine State, reports that Florida is "turning into a state of euphoria for all who go there." A "striking example" of this giddiness is Tampa, where more new construction was announced last year than had been completed in the previous 50, and where one of "the most spectacular developments" will be an office/hotel/retail complex, starting with a 20-story office tower that will feature "a stunning lobby and a three-level atrium."
The sad fact is that Florida is going down the tube. Indeed, in no state is the environment being wrecked faster and on a larger scale. Some gorgeous places still exist, but there are few areas that aren't under siege, ranging from the Everglades in the south ("The Everglades—a Dying System," runs a headline in the magazine Florida Out-of-Doors) to the storied Suwannee River in the north, threatened by phosphate mining, housing developments and a pipeline to carry water to an adjoining county. And there are serious urban ills. Miami, which erupted in racial riots last year, has a soaring crime rate. Dade County, which includes Miami, had 580 murders in 1980, one of the highest per-capita rates in the nation, and many of the killings were drug-related. Drug smuggling may, in fact, be the biggest industry in the state. A skipper with a fast boat and a knowledge of shallow coastal waters can make $100,000 in a single night. The recent big jump in the price of real estate in south Florida is attributed partly to the laundering of drug profits. Last fall Governor Graham suspended the Monroe County state attorney after the attorney had been charged with using drugs.
On the environmental front, the basic integrity of the state's lands and waters is at stake. Florida, said ecologist Raymond F. Dasmann in his study No Further Retreat, "is a leading contender for first place in the nation's chamber of environmental horrors." Dasmann wrote those words 10 years ago, but since then the state's Department of Natural Resources, an ineffective agency at best, has conceded that Florida is undergoing "ecological disaster."
The key is water. For the last century, but particularly since World War II, federal and state agencies and a host of Floridians have been enthusiastically administering ecological enemas to marshes, swamps, wetlands and floodplains. Such areas cleanse water naturally, but now many have been drained to make way for cities, towns, housing developments, farms, industrial parks and shopping malls. This not only depletes the water storage capacity of the limestone aquifers below but also degrades the surface water. In many locations Floridians have, in essence, run a hose from their toilet to the kitchen faucet.
"The failure of the state to manage water sensibly is involved in virtually every environmental issue," says Charles Lee, 30, lobbyist and vice-president for conservation for the Florida Audubon Society. "There's no common body of state policy on water, and that's why we are in very real danger of losing all. The Water Resources Act passed by the legislature in 1972 calls for development of a state water plan, but we don't have one yet. Every environmental fight funnels into government for a hearing. If you can muster a coalition with clout to beat back a project, you have 'a chance, but it's a case-by-case treadmill. Proponents of development projects are well financed and usually politically well connected, while opponents are most often citizens groups that don't have the resources of the pro-development forces. Some concerned officials in government take an active role, others play Pontius Pilate. As far as the environment is concerned, we have a government of men, not a government of laws. If the right man happens to be in the right spot, you have a chance. Otherwise the battle is lost."
If Lee's words seem overwrought, consider the following:
•The volume of fresh water in the Biscayne aquifer serving Dade County has decreased so much that in times of drought wells have to be closed because salt water intrudes from the sea. Even when there is no drought, Miami's drinking water is one of the most chemically contaminated of any city in the country.
•The Miami Canal and others in the state are grossly polluted with dangerous levels of coliform bacteria. "Perhaps if people knew something about the water quality of our canals, they would hesitate before buying waterfront homes," Chris Pflum, an environmentalist, writes in Florida Naturalist. "A child can pick up less bacteria playing in a toilet than in many canals."
•Forty states have one or more sites containing potentially hazardous wastes with no barrier to the groundwater. Florida is by far the worst offender in the country, with 103 such sites.
•Tampa Bay, once a glory of the state, is also filthy. "It's a mess," says Dr. Robert J. (Skip) Livingston, a marine ecologist at Florida State University. "There will never be an oyster in Tampa Bay-again. It's unsafe to swim in Hillsborough Bay, as the northeastern portion of Tampa Bay is called, it's so polluted."
•All told, only 38% of Florida's estuarine habitat is still in a near-pristine condition. Miles of mangrove stands, which shelter fish spawning and nursery grounds, have been ripped up and smothered, and fish populations have dropped alarmingly. Snook are in such short supply that the establishment of a hatchery is being considered. Great numbers of shellfish grounds have disappeared since 1950. Of those left, only 23% are safe for harvesting.
•More than half the fresh waters in Florida, reports the state's Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, "have been negatively altered or degraded.... Basically, the natural habitat that is crucial for fish and wildlife species has shrunken dramatically and what is left is being destroyed on a piecemeal basis. We are casually destroying an annual $1 billion freshwater sports-fishing industry." The St. Johns River in northeast Florida, the state's largest waterway and once the most famous bass river in the country, is perhaps too far gone to save. It's plagued by industrial waste, municipal sewage and uncontrolled urban runoff. In two major kills last year, 15 million fish went belly-up in the St. Johns.
•Central Florida's Lake Apopka, once one of the state's most celebrated bass lakes, is now a septic tank of pollution, and Lake Tohopekaliga, another sport-fishing mecca, may soon be destroyed by runoff from farms and developments and discharges from two sewage plants on Shingle Creek, a tributary called "an environmental time bomb" by the Orlando Sentinel Star. Last March biologist Vince Williams of the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission reported that Lake Tohopekaliga will probably be lost within the next decade. "If Lake Tohopekaliga goes, the other downstream lakes in the chain, including Cypress, Hatchineha and Kissimmee, will undoubtedly do the same," says Williams. Lake Okeechobee, one of the largest lakes in the U.S., is polluted by farm wastes and pesticides.
The loss of habitat is continuing at such a pace that John C. Jones, executive director of the Florida Wildlife Federation, tells his 50,000 members that he doubts there will be any need for hunting licenses in 20 years. The same, he says, could go for fishing licenses. There simply may not be any game or fish to go after. Jones, who 10 years ago gave up a successful plumbing contracting business to work fulltime toward saving his native state's wildlife, believes that the most endangered species in Florida is not the well-publicized manatee or the Everglades kite but the Florida sportsman. The marsh where Jones once hunted ducks is now the Palm Beach Auditorium; a housing project is situated on his dove-hunting grounds; the Florida Turnpike runs over another favorite spot; Century Village, a condominium complex with 15,000 residents, covers still another; the field in which he used to train his dogs is filled with litter, broken glass and abandoned cars; and the meandering Kissimmee River, where Jones and his wife, Mariana, once fished for bass, is now a channelized and polluted ditch. A Mormon convert, Jones likes to quote Isaiah 5:8: "Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place...."
Even some of the state's most famous natural assets are being destroyed. "If there's any one thing that makes Florida unique from an environmental standpoint it's the coastal areas," says Tallahassee attorney Jay Landers, former secretary of the state's Department of Environmental Regulation. "To me the biggest environmental tragedy in Florida is the fact that so many of our beach areas have been ruined. Until 10 years ago, it was common practice to bulldoze sand dunes to put in a development. That has changed dramatically since the passage of the Beach and Shore Preservation Act in 1965 and the subsequent establishment of coastal construction setback lines on a county-by-county basis. No construction is allowed seaward of that line except through special permits. But for many areas of the state it's much too late. Had we had a law like that 50 years ago, Florida would still be a remarkably beautiful coastal state. There's not much left. There are a few stretches here and there where we can still go and see what it was like 100 years ago. Some stretches along the panhandle, which is relatively undeveloped, are just magnificent."
Miami Beach is a classic example of the destroy-and-develop concept of building. Nelson Blake, historian and critic of urban water systems, describes in his recent book, Land into Water, Water into Land, how developers "transformed a swampy island into the glittering resort of Miami Beach. Armies of laborers hacked away the mangroves with machetes, and great dredges pumped sand from the bottom of the ocean and spread it over the swamp to provide land for hotels, polo grounds, golf courses, tennis courts, yacht basins and bathhouses." Yet as destructive as the creation of Miami Beach was to the immediate environment, it did not, in the view of most ecologists, create the kind of long-term problems caused by the filling, draining and development of other coastal and interior wetlands.
Last September, the Orlando Sentinel Star, in a special 10-page supplement entitled "Florida's Water: Clean It or Kill It," reported, "Waters are befouled by farms, developers, industry, cars and homeowners.... When compared with 20 years ago, the picture is bleak. Once-pristine lakes and streams run dark from years of use as convenient septic tanks in the growth-at-any-cost philosophy. What the future holds is uncertain. Some experts foresee a crisis of major proportions by the year 2000, a teeming Florida choking on its own wastes, a paradise lost, the legacy of public officials unwilling to protect the environment that attracted them and their neighbors here in the first place." In an editorial, the Sentinel Star described local governments, particularly its own Orange County Commission, as negligent and guilty of political cowardice and concluded, "Florida will wither and die if it is continually choking on ever-increasing amounts of human and industrial waste. It is, it always has been, a case of life or death. It is only now that we are finally realizing that."
As bad as the mess is in Florida, it would be a lot worse were it not for the local environmentalists who have been battling this degradation since the 1960s. In Miami they've included attorney Alice Wainwright, later president of the Tropical Audubon Society; the current Florida Audubon vice-president, Lee, then a 15-year-old sports fisherman whose mother chauffeured him to environmental meetings; Jim Redford, now a Dade County commissioner, and his late wife, Polly; and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of The Everglades: River of Grass, who's still active at 90. Working in various combinations, these pioneers scored some stunning victories in the '60s and early '70s. They stopped a refinery project on Biscayne Bay, fought off development of the northernmost keys and got Congress to establish the Biscayne National Monument, a 96,000-acre preserve of small keys, coral reefs and bay shore. This was followed up with the defeat of the Everglades jet-port and a corollary effort that resulted in the acquisition of the Big Cypress Swamp as a national preserve. To the north, Marjorie Carr of Gainesville, a fisheries biologist and mother of five, and Bill Partington, a jazz pianist from Winter Park, helped stir up such a commotion about the Cross Florida Barge Canal that President Nixon finally halted construction of it in 1971.
Volunteer experts and grass-roots workers have been the key to the environmentalists' most important victories. Or, as Carr puts it, "When it comes to the final battles, the bodies have to be there." At 65, she's now directing her efforts toward increasing the clout of the Florida Defenders of the Environment, an organization she helped found in 1969. "The objective then was to defeat the canal," she says, "but now the thing I'm most excited about is trying to expand the organization. We plan to hire an executive director and a couple of assistants so we can make the best use of our volunteer specialists. And we want to open a year-round office in Tallahassee because we think there ought to be at least one environmental center in the state capital."
There is still much work for enthusiasts like Carr. For instance, in a second special supplement in December, the Sentinel Star reported that the phosphate mining industry, which is based primarily in central Florida's Polk County, currently uses 200 million gallons of water daily, almost four times as much as the city of Orlando. But the quantity of water consumed, the pollution by waste of yet more water and the miles of landscape scarred by slime ponds and gypsum piles are insignificant compared to the uncomputed damage to human and animal life that may result from exposure to radioactive by-products of the mining operation. One Florida organization, Manasota 88, based in Sarasota, south of Manatee County, is making the problems created by phosphate mining its major concern.
Countless conservation groups have sprung up in the decade since environmental awareness took root in Florida. And countless thousands of individuals have joined the activist ranks. These crusaders believe that, though parts of Florida are ruined forever, other areas can be at least partially repaired, such as the Everglades system, which is vital to south Florida's human and wildlife populations, and still other parts can be preserved, such as the Apalachicola, the last major undisturbed river and estuary in the state.
The fate of Florida depends on these environmentalists as well as on its well-informed hunters and fishermen because they're light-years ahead of everyone else, including government, in the drive to keep Florida livable.
A central figure in this battle is Nathaniel P. Reed. 47. of Jupiter Island. 25 miles north of Palm Beach. A former assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks in the Nixon and Ford administrations. Reed is wealthy, articulate and extraordinarily energetic. Sooner or later anyone who messes around with Florida's environment has to reckon with him. "Nat Reed is a 2,000-pound gorilla." says Jones of Florida Wildlife Federation.
An avid birder and lepidopterist and a skillful hunter and fisherman since boyhood. Reed went north to prep school and college and then served four years as an Air Force intelligence officer until his discharge in 1959. "The change in Florida in those four years was so dramatic I couldn't believe it," he says. Reed traveled the state and was appalled by what he saw. "I became totally incensed about what was happening. I started speaking to Rotary Clubs and local Audubon chapters and wrote a great many letters. Now there are hundreds of thousands of people who are willing to raise hell, but they weren't there 20 years ago. I was regarded as a lunatic or the rich kid who didn't want to share Florida with anyone else. I actually got thrown out of one water board meeting."
In 1966 Reed met Claude Kirk, the GOP gubernatorial candidate that year. No Republican had ever won the governorship of Florida, but after Kirk told Reed that he was "going to change everything in Tallahassee." Reed helped raise campaign money and. with Lyman Rogers, a sporting-goods salesman and angler, wrote Kirk's position paper on natural resources. When Kirk was elected. Reed served as the governor's special assistant for four years. "I did everything from opening his mail to troubleshooting." Reed says. "For the last two years I also served as chairman of air and water pollution control. Things were so bad that even the polluters wanted some guidance. Kirk was the first governor to take a stand for conservation. He became the strongest proponent of the Biscayne National Monument. He was against the barge canal and the dredging of the Kissimmee River."
In 1969 Reed, Rogers and others organized Conservation '70s to serve as a lobbying group in the legislature and as a result, the next year the legislature passed 41 of 55 proposed environmental bills. Although some of the legislation was weak, the new laws gave much-needed muscle to Florida's environmental movement by providing funds for sewage-treatment plants, penalizing polluters, creating a state wilderness system and establishing setback lines for beach construction.
In 1970, after Kirk lost the governorship to Democrat Reubin Askew. Askew asked Reed to stay on in his same role. He remained for seven months and then moved to Washington and the Department of the Interior. Askew kept the momentum going for reform, appointing a 15-member task force to recommend legislation. In 1972 the legislature passed four important bills: the so-called Endangered Lands Act, the State Comprehensive Planning Act, the Water Resources Act and the Environmental Land and Water Management Act. These constituted the last big burst of legislation. The last two were landmarks at the time. No other slate had anything comparable in scope.
When Graham, who is generally credited with getting the bills through the state senate, was elected governor in 1978. environmentalists were full of hope. But the Democrat from Miami Lakes has been a disappointment to many of his supporters.
Florida sportsmen recently attacked Graham for siding with "the despoilers" in a "many-million-dollar drainage deal that benefits a precious few" in Hendry County. "With the exception of Warren Henderson, there never was a better environmental senator than Bob Graham." says Jones, "but as governor he has wandered away from us. I can't even get in to talk with him, and I run the biggest conservation organization in Florida. As a governor, he ain't got it. People say he has gotten more conservative, more right-wing, so he can run for President, and to do that he has to pacify those people who don't like environmentalists—the sugarcane league, agribusiness, the biggies. I'm a conservative, and to me that means conserving clean air and clean water as well as money."
The people and how they respond to their own increasing demands on the state's resources will determine what happens to Florida. David Pearson, a marketing consultant to developers of resort communities, was Graham's campaign manager. A member of the board of directors of the Florida Audubon Society, Pearson regards himself as an environmentalist. "Florida is the cutting edge for the rest of the country," he says. "All the problems we face here are simply problems that are waiting to exist in other places. We're under a magnifying glass." Indeed, ENFO, the newsletter of the Florida Conservation Foundation, considers the "basic cause of present national and world turmoil" to be the growing scarcity of natural resources. Reed also believes that "the great problem America faces is coming to terms with limited resources. We've been a nation of boomers, with Florida traditionally the biggest boomer state of all."
According to Reed, a board member of the South Florida Water Management District, which includes the Everglades system, the place to start undoing the damage is in the Glades. "The option is still open to repair that system," he says.
"Note the word repair, not restore," says Arthur R. Marshall, the author of just such a plan. "To restore the Everglades, I'd have to move 300,000 houses." A scientist who's widely regarded as having the best insight into Florida's ecological problems, Marshall, 61, embarked on his mission as an environmental evangelist in 1960, when he became the Florida administrator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After a brief stint as a professor and the director of the division of applied ecology at the University of Miami and later as a professor at the University of Florida, he became a private consultant in 1974. Marshall preaches a regard for ecosystems, for how they function and for how mankind can use them to advantage. In 1962 he caused a furor by predicting the end of the million-dollar-a-year scallop fishery in Pine Island Sound off the west coast of southern Florida if Lee County built a causeway to Sanibel Island. The county attorney demanded, unsuccessfully, that the Fish and Wildlife Service transfer Marshall out of the state. The causeway was built, and in two years the scallop fishery had disappeared for good. "I hit that right on the nose because I was doing ecological-systems thinking," Marshall says. "The causeway retarded the outflow of fresh water and backed it up into Pine Island Sound. That reduced salinity levels below 20 parts per thousand, and that killed the scallop larvae. We don't have any agencies in state government that consider whole ecosystems, and that's a major problem. If we don't change our way of thinking, we're going to see the collapse of our systems and the resources they've provided."
Marshall has spent 20 years studying the Everglades, a system that doesn't originate within the national park boundaries, or even in Lake Okeechobee, but to the north near Orlando, in a chain of lakes in the upper Kissimmee River basin. "Historically, these lakes overflowed during the rainy season and sent a sheet flow of water over the mile-wide floodplain of the lower Kissimmee River," Marshall says. "That river should never have been channelized. Some of the water soaked into the shallow aquifer, while the rest ultimately spilled into Lake Okeechobee. Water then moved out of Okeechobee through six or seven streams running south from the lake into the great sawgrass country of the Everglades. This freshwater flow into Florida Bay, at the tip of the state, created the brackish estuarine conditions that shrimp and many fish need to thrive. But because of the reduced flow, the marine fisheries in Florida Bay are now under duress—guides are going broke—freshwater fish are threatened, some bird species are on the brink, the aquifer is absorbing less and less fresh water, and we're losing muck because the whole system has been diked and ditched. But it's still a single basin, and we can upgrade it, repair it. We can't take it back 150 years, but we can do a lot.
"I mentioned muck. Say the word muck to someone and they think you're out of your mind, but muck to me is the key to the Everglades. If we can generate muck, we're improving the system. The muck soils of the Everglades are 5,000 years old. Muck is created by decomposing vegetation, but this vegetation has to be saturated by flooding for seven or eight months. Anaerobic bacteria then convert the vegetation to muck. But when you cut off the flow of water to the Glades, the muck dries out, oxidizes and blows away. Right now we're not getting any new muck, and the agricultural area of the Everglades is losing old muck at the rate of an inch a year. This area of 1,200 square miles has already sunk six to seven feet. Underneath is hard limestone that rings like a bell. What will happen when that muck disappears? They'll sell the land for houses, which will only add to the problem. What I want to do is reflood the system."
Here's the Marshall Plan. He would raise the levels of the lakes on the upper Kissimmee to restore a gradual sheet flow into the floodplain below. During dry-season drawdowns, increased oxidation and wind would expose the dried-out bottoms of accumulated organics to the atmosphere. He would dechannelize the Kissimmee River, allowing it to meander over its old 100-mile course rather than through its current 50-mile chute. Thus, water would again flow over now-dry lands. "Ultimately many Floridians will evaluate this plan in terms of its worth to mankind," Marshall says. "Its value in three areas—muck for agricultural production, marine and freshwater fish for food, recharge of the Biscayne aquifer for water supply—is evident in our world of increasing needs and diminishing resources."
Meantime, other lands vital to the ecosystem are being saved. Huge tracts are being acquired. In fact, General Tire and Rubber announced in December that it would sell and donate a total of 78 square miles it owns in the East Everglades. Reed helped set in motion the acquisition of such tracts while at the Department of the Interior. Concerned about the impact that activities on adjacent lands could have on the Everglades National Park, he got the EPA to put up $1.2 million to fund the East Everglades Resources Planning Project, an endeavor that complements Marshall's plan.
The Federal Government is committed to buying additional wetlands in the Big Cypress Swamp, but locating the 40,000 people who own the property is going to be a chore. "The swamp peddlers sold the land mainly to buyers in Central and South America," Reed says. And thanks to the persistent urging of Rod Chandler, a warden for the National Audubon Society, the society has bought more than 6,000 acres of the old Kissimmee floodplain as a wet prairie sanctuary.
Money and legislative acts can go a long way toward resolving some problems. Others, not manmade, can never be totally controlled. Lethal yellowing, a bacteria-like plant disease, has destroyed 95% of the coconut palm trees, long the very symbol of Florida, in Dade County and is fast spreading.
A far more sinister natural threat, which has been compounded, perhaps direly so, by man's actions, is one the boomers and boosters never mention: hurricanes. "The Gulf Coast and southeast Florida are the most vulnerable areas in the United States," says Dr. Neil Frank, director of the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables. "Yet we have hundreds of thousands of people living on islands and on coastal tidal lands who don't know their homes will literally go underwater someday. Part of the problem is that there has been no big bad hurricane in Florida since the enormous population increase on the coast." Reed agrees, though he also suggests that a major storm could be an important educational experience. "Only then, perhaps, will land developers learn that they cannot build on tidal lands," he says. "Only then will those who fought this no longer be considered lunatics."
Fortunately, there are a number of less drastic ways to change the state's direction. The most ambitious environmental scheme in all of Florida is the one to save the Apalachicola River and Apalachicola Bay in the panhandle. In terms of water flow, the Apalachicola River is the ninth-largest in the U.S. It runs 107 miles from the Georgia line to Apalachicola Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. The system is incredibly rich: largemouth bass, striped bass, sea trout, flatfish, Atlantic sturgeon, blue crabs, shrimps and oysters. In fact, 80% to 90% of all Florida's oysters come from the bay, and the fisheries industry, a multimillion-dollar-a-year business, is basic to the local economy. The Apalachicola basin is one of the most lightly populated areas in Florida. Franklin County, which lies on both banks of the river and bay, has a population of less than 7,000, and the oystermen and fishermen don't want to see their livelihoods buried beneath a tidal wave of condominiums and pollution. The county clerk, Bobby Howell, has been outspoken about the dangers of overdevelopment, though he admits he didn't always feel that way. "When they put up that bridge to St. George Island [a narrow, 33-mile-long island in Apalachicola Bay] in 1962, I was just as crazy to see it built as I am now to see it blown into the bay," Howell says. "I was convinced that financially we'd be paying lower taxes. I was so narrow-minded I could see through a keyhole with both eyes at the same time. All these damn fools that don't want the bridge, I said then, don't have any sense. I was the damndest fool of all. My philosophy changed. You know, men change their minds, fools never do."
Howell's environmental education began in earnest in the early 1970s when he met Florida State's Skip Livingston. Livingston had come down from Tallahassee to examine the river and bay, and he was so beguiled by them that he began bringing researchers with him. In the ensuing years, Livingston and some 850 researchers, mostly undergraduates and graduate students at Florida State, have studied the river and the bay from top to bottom, from the basic productivity of grass flats to the impact of forestry on the watershed. A year after Livingston began his research, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it had plans to erect as many as four dams on the river; shippers upstream in Georgia and Alabama wanted to make the river a barge canal. Livingston became the ringleader in the fight to stop any dams from being built. "Their plans were based on rotten economics and rotten environmental facts," he says. "We had the facts, and we used them. We took polls, and they showed that more than 70% of the people living along the river and bay didn't want the dams. So the Corps said it would only put in one dam, and when we showed that was uneconomical, too, the Corps withdrew. We beat the Engineers for the time being. You can never say you've beat the Corps for good, because all it does is put the plans in a drawer and then come back at you again. But I'm hopeful."
Excited by the richness of the Apalachicola system, Livingston and Howell went to Washington in 1974 to see John R. Clark, senior ecologist at The Conservation Foundation. Clark was fascinated by the Floridians' plan to save the Apalachicola system, and he put them on to officials in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the EPA. "Howell spoke eloquently," Livingston says, and their hopes began to burgeon. The next year, the state of Florida spent $8 million under the Endangered Lands Act to acquire 20 miles of key river frontage extending four to five miles inland on both banks. In 1979 Congress established the Apalachicola River and Bay Estuarine Sanctuary. The sanctuary now encompasses 192,000 acres, including all the vital wetlands that fringe the bay, and there are more land acquisitions in the offing. All oystering, fishing and utilization of other renewable natural resources can continue, while the sanctuary board, on which Livingston sits, conducts research and education programs. "We're now going to work with the whole Franklin County school system, right from kindergarten on up, to make the sanctuary a regular part of the kids' education," says Livingston. "We're going to teach students how their system works. We're going to train them as environmental managers, and actually have a growth industry in education and research through the sanctuary. This is the cleanest industry we can think of, and we're going to export this idea of people having control of their own fate to the world at large."
At present, Franklin County and other counties along the river and bay are preparing master zoning plans in accordance with state law. Seeking to keep the population stable, Franklin is considering a limitation on building sites in areas deemed critical to the basic natural resources. Developers are kicking up a fuss, particularly those who own property in the middle of St. George Island. "Bad development there could wipe out a fourth of Florida's oysters," says Livingston. "We've mapped out every blade of grass, every fish, every crab in the area. We know all the important areas in the bay from the standpoint of productivity." There's court wrangling on the issue now, but Livingston is optimistic that the Apalachicola system will be saved. "I really would love to see this happen," he says. "Just one place where we can see what it used to be like. Well, I think we're going to do it."
St. Johns R.
GULF OF MEXICO
Everglades National Park