(L to R) Jim Rathmann, Mark Middlebrook, Doug Young, Chris Castro, Lt. Evan Laskowski, Joyce King, Charlie Causey. Photo: Charles Lee
TALLAHASSEE, FL – More than 300 participants from across the state met at the 2019 Audubon Assembly in Gainesville Florida to discuss conservation, water, and birds. Field trips, learning sessions, a plenary panel, and a keynote presentation by Dr. Tom Frazer, Chief Science Officer for Florida, focused on science-based strategies for clean water and healthy watersheds, while awards recognized individuals and organizations that went above and beyond to create a more resilient Florida.
The Philanthropist of the Year was awarded to the Rathmann Family Foundation for their generosity and passion for addressing the water problems in Southwest Florida. Over the past five years, the Naples-based foundation has seeded a $2-million campaign to restore 1,000 acres of marsh and prairie wetlands at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The Foundation is not only providing multi-year funding for the initiative but has been visionary with their investment – committing over $375K over the past 5 years and the next 3 years – and catalyzing the investment of an additional investment of almost $400K from other funders. Jim Rathmann, President of the Rathmann Family Foundation, accepted the award on the Foundation’s behalf. More here
The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Joyce King. Joyce has been with Audubon since the 1980s when she was inspired to do conservation work at her first National Audubon Society convention. She was a critical leader with St. Pete Audubon Society and has spent multiple terms on the Audubon Florida Board of Directors. She started a local chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and created Audubon Academies, a learning weekend planned by Audubon chapters for Audubon Chapters. She moved to Melrose from St. Pete approx. 12 years ago and started another new Audubon chapter, Santa Fe Audubon.
The Theodore Roosevelt Award went to Charlie Causey for his enduring support of the health of Florida Bay and the Everglades. Charlie has supported the work of Everglades Science Center directly through his foundation, the Florida Keys Environmental Fund, which has been supporting natural resources of the Florida Keys since 1989. Driven by his desire to fish and awareness that good fishing is dependent upon a healthy environment, Charlie was instrumental in getting Everglades National Park to establish “pole and troll” zones and no motor zones. He also created the Coalition of Park Users with funds for seasonal rangers to patrol remote areas with active wading bird colonies, created a boater education program that morphed into the mandatory boater education program included in ENP’s General Management Plan, and found funds to pay for much-needed signage throughout Florida Bay and many other infrastructure items in the Park. He was instrumental in galvanizing the community and has supported scientific research into coral, sponge and seagrass die-offs with a focus on manually re-establishing damaged communities. More here
The City of Orlando was the recipient of the Guy Bradley Award. Much like the plume trade represented a threat to birds at the turn of the century, climate change is a threat to birds in this century. In the face of sea-level rise, the City of Orlando has been taking gigantic steps toward mitigation and adaptation by addressing the challenge of climate change with urgency and innovation. The award is named for the National Audubon Society game warden who’s much-publicized death in 1905 galvanized conservationists and served as inspiration for future legislation to protect Florida's bird populations. More here
There were two recipients of the Champion of the Everglades Award: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Senator Marco Rubio. Everglades restoration is a great example of what is achievable with cross-party and bi-cameral cooperation. Senator Rubio and Congresswoman Schultz were both recognized for their individual achievements and their exemplary bipartisan partnership to secure much-needed funding to advance the largest ecosystem restoration project in the world. Both members of Congress this year were able to accomplish an appropriations bill in their respective committees that secures a historic $200M for Everglades restoration projects. The work by Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz and Senator Rubio gets us closer than ever before to finally achieve the level of funding needed to accelerate the completion of ongoing Everglades projects and continue critically important Endangered Species recovery. Todd Reid, Senator Rubio’s State Office Director, accepted the award on Senator Rubio’s behalf. And Ms. Rebecca Schultz, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s daughter, accepted the award on her mother’s behalf. More here
Mark Middlebrook received the Special Places Award for a career dedicated to the protection of Northeast Florida’s iconic natural landscapes. He coordinated with a team of city officials and park partners on former Mayor John Delaney’s Preservation Project Jacksonville, which acquired nearly 50,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land. He also oversaw the design and construction of Camp Milton Historic Preserve and Castaway Island Preserve. He has served on a number of boards of environmental organizations and was appointed to serve on the state’s Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) and St. Johns County’s Land Acquisition and Management Program board (LAMP). Most recently, he was the executive director of the St. Johns River Alliance.
Dick and Sharon Stillwell, volunteers at Corkscrew, received the Volunteers of the Year Award. Together, Sharon and Dick have amassed more than 4,700 career service hours since 2006 at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. As active volunteers, Dick and Sharon serve as Boardwalk Naturalists, guiding specialty Early Birding Walks, leading backcountry buggy tours, as well as serving as members of the Cypress Council, the Sanctuary’s highest level of donors. Finally, Sharon serves on the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Sustainability Board. Sharon and Dick were not present to receive the award due to health reasons. Dr. Lisa Korte, Director of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, received the award on their behalf. More here
Lt. Evan Laskowski with FWC received the Law Enforcement Award. According to Audubon's Shorebird Stewardship Coordinator for the Tampa Bay area Holley Short, "Lt. Laskowski has been a key player in the success and protection of the St. Pete Beach Black Skimmer colony. He was there from the start, doing undercover work to prevent disturbances as the Black Skimmer colony was trying to settle, and was present at the St. Pete Beach colony the evening of July 4th to prevent additional disturbance to the colony." More here
Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell presented awards to all of these individuals and organizations during the 2019 Assembly.