Court cases, teachings keys to Douglas legacy
Education and litigation are two words at the core of the Friends of the Everglades.
These activities have become paramount for the South Florida non-profit organization that is focused on conservation, preservation and water quality of the Everglades.
“It is important not just for Florida, but for the world. And I think we should do all we can to keep it,” said Carol Peterson, a member of the Friends of the Everglades.
Friends of the Everglades was founded in 1969 by environmental activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas to stop an airport from being constructed in the wetlands in the middle of the Everglades. The group not only helped stop the jetport project, but has since worked to ensure that the government keeps the protection of the Everglades at the forefront of its environmental-related agenda.
In April 2011, U.S. District Judge Alan Gold ordered that enforcement of water pollution and clean-up projects in the Everglades be passed up to the federal Environmental Protection Agency and out of the hands of state government.
This development allowed for the federal government to take over pollution discharge permits, which had been under the control of the state and weakened attempts to reduce the influx of phosphorus into the marshes, the leading nutrient threat to the Everglades. This was an expansion on an initial ruling in 2008 on a case filed by Friends of the Everglades and the Miccosukee Indian Tribe to expand clean-up efforts, which the state agencies deemed unaffordable in the current economy.
Beyond their mission-driven litigation in state and federal courts, Friends of the Everglades has focused on educating students in Florida schools on the importance of the Everglades and its conservation, the source of 90 percent of all drinking water for South Florida. With an education grant from the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resource Management 14 years ago, this grassroots organization has been able to educate more than 90,000 students.
“There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them,” Douglas wrote at the beginning of her classic book The Everglades: River of Grass.
Douglas was born in 1890 in Minneapolis. She became an editor for the society section of The Miami Herald, joined the nursing force during World War I, returned to South Florida to be a columnist, wrote fiction novels and spent the later part of her life writing non-fiction and fighting for environmental causes. She also was a major player in the creation of the Everglades National Park in the 1940s. She died in 1998.
Her early thinking on the protection of the Everglades originated from real estate developers and sugar refiners disposing their waste through the wetlands. And her work helped establish the defensive nature of many organizations today fighting for environmental purposes.
“I hope that by being a member I’m aiding in all the aspects of Friends of the Everglades,” said Peterson.
In the current economy, many non-profits like Friends of the Everglades have felt the blows of declining memberships and decreases in donations. This has brought environmental groups together to fight on equal fronts.
Connie Washburn, vice president of Friends of the Everglades, finds that this has strengthened their ongoing battles.
Washburn started her campaign for environmental protection and education as a fourth-grade teacher. But when H. Wayne Huizenga, a businessman known for his high-caliber investments, suggested building a theme park on Everglades lands, she started a student club named Young Friends of the Everglades that fought with many other groups to stop the development.
The led her to Friends of the Everglades and 15 years of service on the board of directors.
While she based much of her work on outreach and education, Washburn does not understate the importance of the group’s political battles against government agencies that she believes are not standing up for what they should.
“Our main opponents are the polluters,” said Washburn.
Friends of the Everglades is still developing litigations against government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency over the cleanup of sulfur, phosphorus and other nuclear infringements damaging the waters of the Everglades.