Capitol Bytes: Environmental recognitions abound

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist received a conservation achievement award from the National Wildlife Federation and the Florida Wildlife Federation. Crist was recognized for his role in conservation including encouraging the South Florida Water Management District’s recent approval of the purchase of 180,000 acres from the U.S. Sugar Corp. for Everglades restoration. During a ceremony at the Governor’s Club near the Capitol, Crist thanked the groups for the award and said he remained committed to keeping the state beautiful. “We must take action in our lifetime to protect Florida’s treasures – from the Everglades and the white-sand beaches to the crystal clear springs – so that future generations can experience the Florida we love,” Crist said, according to a statement issued by the Governor’s Office.

Tomoka Basin State Parks biologist Charles DuToit has been named “resource manager of the year” by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. DuToit is charged with protecting natural and cultural resources at five state parks totaling 10,000 acres in Flagler, Putnam and Volusia counties. DuToit coordinated a multi-partner marsh restoration, securing 770 acres and 16 miles of mosquito-control ditches during the last five years. The award is named for former DEP biologist Jim Stevenson, who DuToit worked under at DEP for eight years after being hired in 1979. DuToit said Stevenson’s vision of “The Real Florida” left a “very deep” impression on him. But DEP Secretary Mike Sole told the governor and Cabinet during a ceremony today that DuToit likewise had played a similar role. “He mentioned that Jim Stevenson has been a role model for him,” Sole said. “The reality is after 30 years he has turned into that role model and has been a mentor to others.”

The divers who have explored and mapped more than 30 miles of cave connected to Wakulla Springs were honored by the governor and Cabinet today. More than a decade of discoveries by the Woodville Karst Plain Project increased public understanding of the spring drainage area and led the Wakulla County Commission in the 1990s to enact the state’s first springs protection zone. The divers, whose group works on donated time and money from the public, also broke world records for the longest underwater cave dives. But the exploration is more than an extreme sport, said Jim Stevenson, a former DEP biologist and coordinator of the Wakulla Springs Working Group. “While the rest of us have been comfortably going about our business in the warm Florida sunshine, they have been searching in the darkness for the next opening in the limestone aquifer, the next undiscovered cave channeling water to Wakulla Springs and remaining deep underwater in the cold for an additional 15 hours decompressing at the end of the dive,” Stevenson said.

Gov. Charlie Crist today declined to weigh in on a draft bill that would transfer state planners from the Florida Department of Community Affairs to the Department of State. The proposed committee bill was met with an outcry Monday from environmental groups who suggested that development interests were targeting DCA for blocking bad development projects. But Crist told reporters it’s too early in the legislative session to comment on many bills. “I don’t think it’s even been heard in committee so that would fall into the category of not opining too early,” Crist said. The House Military and Local Affairs Policy Committee is expected to consider the draft committee bill on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.