Jack Davis held a conversation at the Tampa Bay History Center this Sunday, discussing his new book An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century. Marjory Stoneman Douglass was a renowned Florida Environmental activist, writer, journalist and feminist who changed the way Floridians and Americans think about the importance of preserving the Florida Everglades.
Everglades National Park was opened the same year her book Everglades: River of Grass came out. The 1947 non-fiction work has sold over half a million copies. Marjory Stoneman Douglas died at the age of 108 on May 14, 1998, but her legacy lives on. Douglass worked well past typical American retirement to promote her cause.
“This is one of the things I find so amazing about Marjory Stoneman Douglass. After founding Friends of the Everglades when she was 79 years old, she stuck around long enough to devote more than 20 years to the cause to repair and protect the Everglades. And she gave her last news condference on the subject at the age 101 but she continued to let her opinion be known through her letters and organizations for another two years,” Davis said.
Davis offers a bleak assessment for the health of the Everglades or the state of Florida in the face of sudden or overwhelming effects of climate change. “Florida will clearly be devastated if the predictions of sea level rise are somewhat accurate; we can pretty much say goodbye to the Everglades. Because the Everglades formed with the lowering of the sea level at the end of the ice age 2500 years ago. People lived in Florida longer than there have been Everglades.”
Davis shared his inspiration for writing the first comprehensive biography for Marjory Stoneman Douglass: “I grew up in Florida, and of course was real familiar with the Everglades and Marjory Stoneman Douglass. I spent a lot of time canoeing, and hiking and camping in the Everglades, and when she died, I thought this would be an opportunity to write about this fabulous wetland and this really fascinating and interesting woman.”
Davis also commented on the effect the recent housing boom in south Florida has had on the region. Political battles have been fought between developers and environmental groups who want to see the western development boundary line cease to continue being pushed further westward into the protected areas.
“The population growth in south Florida and the expansion of agriculture in the 20th century really has devastated the Everglades. They are approximately 51% of what they were in mid 20th century because of growth, and because of water policy that has benefited agriculture and facilitated growth in south Florida, and at one time you thought the Everglades might be protected in the West after it was already mutilated on the East, but before our most recent recession housing developments were going up left and right and pressuring the Everglades on that side. Historically, the state doesn’t learn from economic depressions or hurricanes. As soon as our memory grows dim of the bad times, we start repeating our mistakes and that growth on the west side will certainly continue after this recession.”
Davis also commented on how citizens can be more influential in local politics, as a way to become active in protecting the Everglades. “Well I think it’s going to have to take citizen action. Florida has model growth management laws and has had them since the 1980s that states like Oregon (which has done a wonderful job of managing its growth; [we have] laws equal to what Oregon have) but we don’t have policy makers in Tallhassee who pay attention to them or enforce them, so it’s really going to take citizen activism-radioactivity if you will-to elect the right people and put pressure on them to ensure they understand the benefits of growth management rather than the benefits of exploitation and unmanaged growth.”
The Everglades Foundation and Friends of the Everglades are among some of the Everglades preservation organizations that Davis recommends checking into.
Jack E. Davis teaches environmental history at University of Florida. His book book was written for a general audience, not an academic one, and Davis hopes this will inspire interest around not only the life of Marjory Stoneman Douglass, but also the Florida everglades.