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Enviro-hassles

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The good news, Brumberg says, was that reports of mass defoliation of nickerbean had been exaggerated. He discovered the bad news when he got back to the park's headquarters and looked over its management plan. "The Miami Blue wasn't in the plan," Brumberg recalls, which meant the bug received no consideration at all in matters such as mosquito spraying and trail location. "They knew it was out there, I believe. But until Jeff Glassberg keyed it up for everybody and said, 'Guys, we've got our people running all over South Florida, and this is the only place they exist,' until that happened, I don't think anyone had focused on it."

Brumberg found himself grappling with a contentious mishmash of state and federal agencies and territory-conscious groups. He quickly confirmed that the Beltway bureaucrats of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service weren't going to step up to the plate. A turf-minded state bureaucracy, however, wasn't exactly in the position of savior either. The DEP, technically Brumberg's own agency, had no direct jurisdiction over animals; that responsibility rested with the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Park officials had an altogether different chain of command. Joining in the fray, two warring private groups were working separately to try to save the Miami Blue.

Brumberg orchestrated the "mother of all conference calls" in which representatives of all parties concerned could hash out the butterfly's fate. He told them, "Folks, we're not leaving until we have a solution that's organized, that cuts through all the crap and the permitting and nonsense. We're going to get this thing organized, permitted, and funded on this conference call." At that point, he says, "I shut up."

The breakthrough came when Ken Haddad, executive director for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, confirmed that his office could issue an emergency endangered listing for the Miami Blue, though the state had never used that authority before. After that, Brumberg recalls, there began a frenzy of "I'll give you that permit if you give me this permit," and "I'll fund this if you fund that." Even the local agent for U.S. Fish and Wildlife stepped up and offered to fund the captive-breeding program. "Even though the federal bureaucracy is wearing a very black hat here," Brumberg says, "the local guys have been wonderful."

The emergency listing went to the board of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a body whose attention has always been on critters with "fur and claws and scales," Brumberg says. "I can imagine those eyes rolling: 'We're going to save a butterfly?' Well, they did." This past November, the board gave permanent endangered status to the Miami Blue, the first time an insect has ever been listed. "To me, that's very enlightened," Brumberg says. "They deserve kudos. They've seen past their hogs and deer and trophy fish, and they've got it -- they've got the picture. It's all linked together, that if you lose a species, it's one less color that our kids have to appreciate."


On a refreshing Saturday morning in late November, Brumberg is leaning back in a canvas folding chair on his backyard deck, a study in contradiction. His Fort Lauderdale home, in the Lauderdale Isles area, is sided with slabs of bark, and his cul-de-sac lot is bucolic. Meanwhile, the all-pervading rush of I-595 is a short way to the south, a symbol of unbridled development. He's "green," a fervent lover of parks and critters and an advocate of preserving public lands for more than just recreation. He's also a critic of spearfishing, overzealous mosquito spraying, and feral cats that devour native species. At the same time, though, he's a Republican -- not a party one normally associates with tree hugging -- and an unabashed Jeb Bush supporter. "Your readers may not like this," he offers, "but I find him singularly brilliant."

There was no pressure from the Bush administration to force him to leave, insists the 56-year-old Brumberg. He left of his own accord, and he remains an undaunted supporter of Jeb Bush. But in his own balance sheet of successes and failures as ombudsman, he confesses that the scale tips more to the latter -- despite winning such accolades as the Sierra Club's Distinguished Service Award last fall. Beyond all else, he bemoans the bureaucratic labyrinth Florida citizens face in accessing and affecting their own state government. "I feel frustrated that there was so much left to do," he says.

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Wyatt Olson
Contact: Wyatt Olson