When WPB State Rep. Mark Pafford announced he was offering walking tours of the Florida outback to his constituents (and anyone else who cares to make the trip), "bemused" was the word that came to mind: What was a nice Jewish boy from Miami doing trekking around in the swamp, scoping out the wildlife?
But the tours are in earnest, and an extension of Pafford's legislative focus. Awarded "Environmental MVP" for the 2013 legislative session by the Florida chapter of the National Audubon Society, he's been a consistent point man for green. He was a sole vote against this year's cynically-named "Everglades Improvement and Management" act, which weakens protections for the 'Glades. He was also a sole vote against bonuses to the DEP for favoring speed over rigor in approval of environmental permits.
The first Pafford tours were held August 10, at the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area in the morning and at Grassy Waters Preserve in the afternoon, the following week at the Arthur R. Marshall National Wildlife Refuge. Eight to fourteen people have shown up for each of the first three events.
Pafford says he has a long, pre-legislative interest in Florida's environment, and a body of knowledge on which to draw. He was a Miami-Dade Parks Department "Junior Naturalist" as a kid ("Seeing a peregrine falcon hunt only yards from you, diving off a ten story building to seize a wayward male cardinal is stunning," he told New Times. "You don't forget those things"). As a teen and in college, he served in the Youth Conservation Corps, getting to know legendary Florida archeologist Bob Carr.
The tours idea came to Pafford three years ago, on a family camping trip to the Everglades, and solidified when he came to realize he "could continue to be a legislator talking to folks who don't get it [like the Florida GOP], or make an attempt to teach people directly, allowing them to help guide policy development via voting...What better way to get people interested in our environment?"
Here's how he describes a typical tour:
I use stories of Spanish galleons using Biscayne Bay to replenish fresh water supplies 200-plus years ago; the "extinction" of the Tequesta tribe; or the first major industry in South Florida, involving a tubular plant ground at mills along flowing freshwater creeks. I describe grackles and their ability to eat apple snails, and the snail kite's ability to use its bill to easily pluck a snail from its shell, stripping its "foot" carefully out of the way before eating. Reptiles and other forms of wildlife come to life from prints in the mud. I describe the importance of water levels to the wood stork and how it will fail to breed if food is hard to come by in any given year.
Those who've toured with Pafford praise the experience. You can see their posted reactions and comments, as well as photos, on Pafford's Facebook page and the Pafford Tours Facebook page. (The Paffster loves him some social media.) The next tour is August 31, in Miami's Shark Valley, with four more scheduled in October and November.
You can contact Pafford and sign up for the tours on those pages, and also reach him here: email@example.com; 561-247-1865
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