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History of Audubon in Florida

The voice of conservation in Florida for more than 120 years.

In the beginning there was the Audubon Society
The creation of the Audubon Society by George Bird Grinnell in 1886 marked the beginning of the nation's conservation ethic. As editor of Forest and Stream, Grinnell appealed to his readership to unite for bird preservation and protection. Within a year 39,000 individuals joined the Audubon Society, which Grinnell named after the distinguished naturalist and painter John James Audubon. With the magazine staff unable to manage the overwhelming response, the society folded in less than three years.

In 1896, Bostonian socialite Mrs. Augustus Hemenway took up the mission and formed the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Hemenway was outraged by the slaughter of entire flocks of birds for their plumage, many in the recesses of the Everglades and South Florida. Florida had become the primary hunting grounds for plume hunters, where the change from abundant birdlife to scarcity and sometimes extirpation was occurring with incredible speed.

This time the Audubon idea endured, and by the turn of the century, more than 15 state Audubon Societies had been formed and were already working collaboratively to protect birds, wildlife and their habitats.

The First Decade: The end of the reign of the plume hunters 
From the beginning, Audubon made major strides in bird protection, from legislation outlawing plume hunting in the state, education programs that reached thousands of children and adults, to on-the-ground wardens who protected important rookeries. Florida Audubon's early success came from its partnerships with leaders of other state Audubon Societies, the American Ornithologists' Union, and the Florida Federation of Women's Clubs.

On March 2, the first meeting of the Florida Audubon Society is held in Maitland at the L.F. Dommerich estate. The list of early officers included: N.Y. Governor and later U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, Florida Governor W.D. Bloxham, American Museum of Natural History's Frank Chapman, Rollins College President G.M. Ward, Stetson University President J.F. Forbes, and the editors of the state's largest newspapers. A little later, the list grew to include President Grover Cleveland, Florida Governor W.S. Jennings, ornithologist Theodore S. Palmer, and Maria R. Audubon.

Working together, the state Audubon Societies successfully push for the passage of the Lacey Act, prohibiting the interstate trade of wildlife killed in violation of state laws.

A regular winter visitor to Florida, Frank Chapman, ornithologist and curator of the American Museum of Natural History, organizes the first Christmas Bird Count. The holiday tradition has grown into the largest volunteer wildlife census in the world and today, in Florida, more than 2,000 people participate in over 60 Christmas Bird Counts each year during a three-week period around Christmas.

William Dutcher, chairman of the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) Committee on Bird Protection, acts on behalf of the state Audubon Societies and is the glue that holds together the various elements of the conservation movement. Dutcher travels to Florida in 1901 and assists Florida Audubon in persuading the legislature to pass the Audubon Model Law, outlawing plume hunting in the state. Dutcher administers the AOU's Thayer Fund to hire wardens to protect birds, and hires lighthouse keepers in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.

Later that same year, FAS executive committee member Mrs. Kingsmill Marrs travels to New York to meet with Dutcher and other Audubon leaders to discuss the formalization of a National Association of Audubon Societies.

The National Committee of Audubon Societies is formed in November, in Washington, DC.

Dutcher hires Guy Bradley as warden in South Florida, upon the recommendation of FAS' Kirk Munroe and Mrs. Kingsmill Marrs.

On March 14, with the encouragement of Frank Chapman and FAS, President Theodore Roosevelt establishes Pelican Island in the Indian River Lagoon as the first Federal Bird Reservation, giving birth to the National Wildlife Refuge system. Audubon hires Paul Kroegel as the first warden of Pelican Island. By the end of his presidency, Roosevelt names nine more bird reservations in Florida

"The Audubon Society, which has done far more than any other single agency in creating and fostering an enlightened public sentiment for the preservation of our useful and attractive birds, is [an organization] consisting of men and women who in these matters look further ahead than their fellows, and who have the precious gift of sympathetic imagination, so that they are able to see, and wish to preserve for their children's children, the beauty and wonder of nature." 
- Theodore Roosevelt

By 1904, Florida Audubon's educational efforts are in full gear, with 14 educational leaflets produced and about 6,000 leaflets and pamphlets distributed. The following year, the Orange County Board of Education sets aside one-half hour per week for bird study. FAS uses bird outlines and large charts purchased from Massachusetts Audubon for the program.

In January, the National Association of Audubon Societies for the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals [later to become National Audubon Society] is incorporated. William Dutcher is named president, John E. Thayer first vice president, Theodore S. Palmer second vice president, Frank Chapman treasurer, and T. Gilbert Pearson secretary.

NAS assumes full responsibility of the warden program. Dutcher and Mrs. Marrs work closely to retain the Florida wardens, including Guy Bradley.

Bird-Lore [later to become Audubon Magazine] becomes the official magazine of NAS and includes Florida Audubon's annual reports, written each year by Kingsmill Marrs.

On July 8, Guy Bradley is killed in the line of duty near Flamingo.

Audubon warden Columbus G. MacLeod is killed in the line of duty at Charlotte Harbor. The murder sparks the nation's conscience and Audubon intensifies its nationwide campaign against the wearing of feathers.

The 1910s and 1920s: Gaining Ground, Losing Ground 
Audubon lost some ground in the 1910s, when the Audubon Warden program suffered from a lack of funding and wardens were withdrawn from Florida. In "The Florida Audubon Society: 1900-1935," Lucy Worthington Blackman recounts: "The Alligator Bay rookery [in southwest Everglades], the largest egret rookery in Florida, was shot out and burned that year by hunters, simply for lack of $750 for wardens to protect it - burned so that the remnants of the colony would abandon the place ... Three Audubon wardens had carried the eight hundred egrets in the colony safely through the 1915 nesting season. The next year they were abandoned to their fate."'

But Audubon still made major strides in conservation during this era through the establishment of sanctuaries, passage of important legislation like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and after years of battle, the establishment of the State Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

William Dutcher suffers a disabling stroke. T. Gilbert Pearson who grew up in the backwoods of Archer, Florida, succeeds him as chief executive officer and leads the Society for the next twenty-four years. Pearson works tirelessly to push for legislation to protect wildlife.

In 1911, FAS member Oscar Baynard encourages NAS to purchase Bird Island in Orange Lake in Alachua County. Baynard is named as warden.

FAS' L.F. Dommerich retires his presidency due to poor health. After his death in July, Dommerich's family donates $5,000 to National Audubon to protect birds in Florida.

Pathologist Dr. Herbert R. Mills, St. Petersburg leader Katherine B. Tippetts, and botanist Professor Henry Nehrling are named to the executive committee.

After an intense campaign with an estimated 200,000 letters and telegrams written to Congress, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is passed into law.

National Audubon and Florida Audubon jointly hire Katherine Stuart to lecture at schools and Junior Audubon Clubs in 25 towns throughout Florida. By 1914, 30,000 leaflets had been distributed and Audubon in Florida boasted more than 3,500 members and 162 Junior Audubon Clubs.

National Audubon acquires Micanopy Rookery and, four years later, San Sebastian Rookery, adding them to the sanctuary program.

The last Passenger Pigeon dies in captivity in Cincinnati.

Alligator Bay Rookery in southwest Everglades is wiped out in the absence of Audubon wardens.

Audubon celebrates the creation of National Park Service.

The last Carolina Parakeet dies in captivity in Cincinnati.

Florida Audubon begins publishing the Florida Audubon Bulletin, predecessor of the Florida Naturalist magazine.

Katherine Tippetts, a strong leader with St. Petersburg Audubon, becomes president of FAS. She had already convinced Pinellas County to create 11 municipal bird sanctuaries, and within three years of her presidency, helps to establish 30 more municipal sanctuaries, including the designation of all of Volusia County as a bird sanctuary for a 2-year period.

The Legislature makes bird study compulsory in schools. NAS and FAS arrange for credit courses to be taught at colleges and universities.

After years of efforts, Audubon succeeds in getting the legislature to pass two acts, one creating a Department of Game and Fresh Water Fish, and the other establishing a State Game Commissioner.

Florida Audubon Bulletin is transformed into the Florida Naturalist magazine. R.J. Longstreet becomes it first editor and remains editor for more than two decades. Longstreet also serves as president of Florida Audubon from 1930 to 1936.

The 1930s and 1940s: New vitality in the Everglades and Audubon Warden program
Despite the Depression, National Audubon found new vitality in the leadership of John Baker. Like every NAS president before him, Baker spent time working directly in Florida to protect birds in the state. The Audubon warden program was strengthened under Baker's leadership, with a flurry of activity in the Everglades and south Florida.

Long-time FAS activist, Dr. Herbert Mills hires warden Fred W. Shultz to protect Green Key in the Tampa Bay area. Almost immediately, his territory is expanded to include several other islands in Hillsborough Bay.

Today, Audubon's Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries program protects some 50,000 breeding pairs of birds from Tarpon Springs to Sarasota, as well as five islands near West Palm Beach.

John Baker becomes executive director (and later president) of NAS and succeeds in building Audubon membership in the midst of the Depression. His first day on the job, Baker hires the great teacher and illustrator of birds, Roger Tory Peterson. Baker goes on to build a team of educators, artists and scientists, including Allan D. Cruickshank, a photographer and popular lecturer who teaches with slides and an amazing assortment of bird calls. Soon, Peterson and Cruickshank team up to create some of the most successful natural history programs in the nation.

Later, Cruickshank retires with his wife, Helen, to Rockledge where the naturalist team continues to be active in monitoring and photographing Florida birds and publishing several books on the natural and human history of Florida.

Alexander Sprunt, Jr. becomes Director of Audubon's Southern Sanctuaries and supervisor of wardens in the southeast. After the Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Sprunt conducts the first aerial survey of the Great White Herons.

Aldo Leopold, who revolutionized game management, is named to the National board.

Marvin Chandler becomes the first in a series of family members to serve as Audubon wardens to patrol Kissimmee Prairie and Lake Okeechobee.

NAS acquires Lake Okeechobee Sanctuary in 1938, and the Ordway-Whittell Kissimmee Prairie Sanctuary in 1980.

NAS' Director of Audubon Sanctuaries, Robert Porter Allen establishes a research station in Tavernier, in the Florida Keys, commencing a full time study of the life history of Roseate Spoonbills.

By the 1950s, Audubon expands the focus of the Tavernier Science Center to include all aspects of the Florida Bay and Florida Keys environment, ranging from corals, seagrasses and mangroves, to game fishes, crocodiles and Bald Eagles. Today, the Roseate Spoonbill studies that Allen began 65 years ago continue in Tavernier.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Bald Eagle Protection Act into law.

Audubon works with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Ira Gabrielson to salvage the Whooping Crane from the jaws of extinction. Today, a non-migratory population of Whooping Cranes is being reintroduced in Florida by Gabrielson's grandson, Dr. Steve Nesbitt, who works for the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas publishes The Everglades: River of Grass and teaches the world to love a swamp. That same year, Audubon's long efforts in the Everglades pay off when Everglades National Park is established.

The 1950s and 1960s: The Dawn of Ecology, War on Pesticides 
By the 1950s technological advances presented Audubon with new and more complex threats to wildlife than the market hunting of the early days. Audubon expanded its scientific research programs and became heavily involved in the effort to ban the use of pesticides that were suspected of causing population failures in eagles, ospreys, brown pelicans, and other "end-of-chain" consumers.

After a nationwide grassroots campaign, NAS' John Baker secures acquisition of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, the last great stand of ancient bald cypress left in Florida.

Today, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has become the model for Audubon Centers in Florida, with its new Blair Center, interpretive programs, and boardwalk that meanders through the cypress swamp.

Bald Eagles in Florida hit their low point with 251 nests. After the release of Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring," Audubon launches campaign to ban toxic pesticides.

Alexander "Sandy" Sprunt IV becomes Research Director at Tavernier. He conducts a continent-wide study of Bald Eagle reproduction and pesticide effects.

Today, Florida boasts the largest population of Bald Eagles in the continental United States with over 1,000 nesting pairs. Audubon continues its commitment to the Bald Eagle by serving on the Southeast Bald Eagle Recovery Team to establish protection for the eagle once it is removed from the endangered species list, and by rehabilitating and releasing injured eagles at Audubon's Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland.

Audubon celebrates legislative successes including the Water Conservation Act, the Wilderness Act, and the state's Outdoor Recreational Lands program.

Alligator products are boycotted, leading to listing and protection until populations recover.

With the support of Florida Audubon, long-time board member, Marjory Harris Carr, establishes the Florida Defenders of the Environment to halt construction of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal.

The 1970s and 1980s: Nature in the Balance
Population growth and industry were having an increasing affect on wildlife, wetlands, rivers and streams. Audubon worked to develop major new federal policies and laws for endangered species, clean air and water, and wild and scenic rivers. The focus in Florida was on land acquisition programs, protecting wetlands and managing the state's explosive growth.

The first EarthDay is held on April 22.

Congress passes the Clean Water Act.

Audubon blocks a proposed jetport in Big Cypress.

By executive order, President Richard Nixon puts a halt to the Cross-Florida Barge Canal. Today, Audubon and Florida Defenders of the Environment continue the fight to remove the Rodman Dam and let the Ocklawaha River run free.

After a long battle with Audubon in the forefront, DDT and DDE are banned from use in the U.S.

The Legislature enacts Land and Water Management Act and Water Resources Act. These laws become the basis for Water Management Districts, and land use protection, including designation of the Florida Keys, Big Cypress and Green Swamp as Areas of Critical Concern.

The first environmental ballot vote for land acquisition is passed in Florida, creating the Environmentally Endangered Lands Program.

Audubon helps to establish the Florida Ornithological Society.

Audubon plays role in setting strict regulations for oil drilling in Big Cypress.

Congress passes Endangered Species Act.

Audubon pushes the state to pass oil and gas rules and regulations.

Congress establishes Big Cypress National Preserve.

Audubon's Peter C.H. Pritchard calls a meeting of experts to discuss a recovery plan for the Florida Panther. Soon after, the Florida Panther Recovery Team is formed.

Audubon's campaign to protect the West Indian manatee succeeds in passing the Manatee Protection Act.

The Legislature passes the Conservation and Recreation Lands program [CARL].

Establishment of Audubon's Center for Birds of Prey. Since opening, more than 22,000 raptors have been cared for, many released, including hundreds of Bald Eagles.

Save Our Rivers and Save Our Coasts programs are approved by the Legislature.

Congress passes the Wetlands Protection Act.

Growth Management Act approved by Legislature. Florida Audubon publishes "citizens handbook" to guide environmentalists in using the new process.

Lake Apopka Restoration Act is passed by Legislature.

Audubon encourages the purchase of North Key Largo lands and begins restoration projects in the Florida Keys with support from Environmental Protection Agency's Florida Keys Environmental Trust Fund.

Surface Water Improvement and Management Act [SWIM] is approved by the Legislature.

Audubon supports the expansion of Big Cypress National Preserve by 115,000 acres through an Arizona land exchange.

Attempts to save the Dusky Seaside Sparrow by Audubon's Dr. Herbert W. Kale II, Santa Fe Community College Teaching Zoo, Walt Disney World Discovery Island Zoological Park fail, when the last Dusky dies in captivity.

Legislature passes the Wekiva River Protection Act.

The Last Decade of the Century: Conservation alive and well 

During the last decade of the 20th century, our 100-year commitment to the Everglades paid off when Floridians passed two constitutional amendments, and both the Congress and Legislature committed funds to restore the River of Grass. In addition, Audubon played a strategic role in placing the Conservation Amendment on the ballot in 1998, and led the campaign to see it ratified by an overwhelming majority of voters, showing that Floridians - across the board - care about the environment. And, on November 6, 1999, Florida Audubon and National Audubon unified their work in the state, to become one booming voice for conservation for the new century.

Preservation 2000, a model land acquisition program, is approved by the Legislature with Audubon support.

Upon the suggestion of Audubon, Disney purchases Walker Ranch as mitigation, giving birth to the "Disney Wilderness Preserve."

Audubon establishes Everglades Conservation Office in Miami to ensure the restoration and conservation of the Greater

Everglades Forever Act approved by Florida Legislature. The 49-member Governor's Commission for a Sustainable South Florida (GCSSF) is established by Governor Lawton Chiles.

In their Initial Report, the GCSSF finds South Florida's future unsustainable, both ecologically and economically.

The GCSSF develops broad-based conceptual plan for Everglades Restoration. Congress approves the Water Resources Development Act, which calls for full restoration of the Everglades based on the GCSSF's conceptual plan. The Act calls for the development of a comprehensive restoration plan (the Restudy) as an intergovernmental partnership.

Congress approves the farm bill for $200 million for Everglades restoration and Vice President Al Gore announces Clinton Administration's $1.2 billion Everglades Restoration Plan. 1996Voters approve two of the three "Save Our Everglades" amendments, calling for a "Polluter Must Pay" requirement concerning Everglades pollution.

Audubon serves on Constitutional Revision Commission, which places "Conservation Amendment" on the ballot.

Audubon leads campaign to see Amendment 5 ratified by over 70% of voters.

Florida Audubon and National Audubon unify their efforts in Florida, becoming a stronger, more effective Audubon Florida, with 40,000 members in 45 community-based chapters throughout the state.

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