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Investing in our Planet

Southwest Florida embraces Earth Day now and into the future

Earth Day is upon us. Celebrated every April 22 since 1970, we take a look at area organizations that work tirelessly to preserve our corner of paradise.

We feature Meredith Budd, regional policy director of the Florida Wildlife Federation. She’s an inspired and inspiring advocate of balance as it relates to policy and the creatures who inhabit Florida’s wildlife.

On Feb. 17, the Florida State Senate seemingly pushed through and confirmed “water bill” SB 2508 with few modifications, prompting area conservation organizations to sound a veto alarm to Gov. Ron DeSantis. Here, we take a look at how the bill affects daily life and provide resources for your information and legislative commentary.

We caught up with Ana Puszkin-Chevlin, Ph.D., regional director of Growing Climate Solutions, who tirelessly networks with Southwest Florida organizations, leaders and citizens to support the protection of our natural resources and environment.

Having recently relocated from the Northeastern U.S. to Naples, we shine a light on Cocoon. The Naples showroom and woodshop employs Southwest Florida talent to transform sustainably gathered, magnificent cuts of wood into heirloom-quality, serviceable furniture and design pieces.

And finally, we present a calendar of key local Earth Day events for the local public to enjoy.

To paraphrase a quote by John James Audubon: True conservationists know that the world is not a gift from their ancestors, but a gift borrowed from their children.

 

CHAPTER 81

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FEATURE

For the Benefit of Man and Beast

Meredith Budd advocates balanced policy affecting all Florida habitats

by Kathy Grey

Her family moved to Coral Springs, Florida, when she was 10. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in biology from University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, followed by a master’s degree in Marine and Environmental Affairs from the University of Washington/Seattle.

Today, Meredith Budd is the regional policy director of the Florida Wildlife Federation, overseeing environmental policy positions for the South Region.

“I discovered what I wanted to do with my life early on. I never had a doubt about protecting our natural resources — ocean, wildlife, sea creatures — and I’ve always been drawn to Florida.”

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Meredith Budd

After her post-graduate work, Budd moved back to Florida to protect its unique ecosystems, particularly the Everglades, saying there’s nothing like it anywhere in the world.

With thousands of people moving to the state every day, she says, “We can either plan for this growth in the long term or move forward on the status quo and lose out on what makes Florida special. Protecting habitats is mandatory. We have to be better at maintaining wildlife.”

An affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation, the nonprofit Florida Wildlife Federation’s mission is to conserve Florida’s wildlife, habitats and natural resources, protecting, restoring and connecting remaining wildlife habitats in a rapidly developing state and address ongoing climate change.

“We are made up of 12,000 members interested in improving, preserving and protecting Florida’s ecosystems,” Budd says of Florida Wildlife Federation. “The Naples-based office was established in 1994 because we saw unchecked growth in the Everglades.”

And now, with the population soaring in the state, Budd emphasizes that action must be taken to balance the inevitable human influx with protecting our natural environment.

Budd was instrumental in creating “Wildlife in Our Backyard,” a six-minute video documentary illustrating our area’s growth and the impact it has on wildlife.

All About Balance

“The key is balance,” Budd says. “From an economic and social structure, we require roads as we grow. Roadways are necessary,” she says, but roadways also bisect habitats, and wildlife mortality is high.

Planning and mitigation are key to connecting habitats so that wild animals don’t have to cross roads, she says, “leaving the land in its current state instead of converting it into rooftops.”

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Dan and Meredith Budd

Interestingly, Budd’s husband, Daniel, born and raised in Naples, works in the construction industry. It’s another form of necessary balance in Meredith’s life.

 

“It’s an interesting dynamic,” she says. “While I’m an advocate for protection of land, I also understand property rights. My husband is a sounding board. Being able to see different sides of things broadens your perspective.”

The couple, now in their mid-30s, met online in 2012 and eloped six years later, flying to the Smokey Mountain foothills. They own a home in Naples and are the parents of two Staffordshire bull terriers.

We’re in it Together

Her vital policy work at Florida Wildlife Federation is varied, but a shining star in her advocacy has been the wildlife coexistence initiative Share the Landscape, which includes the award-winning six-minute film, “Wildlife in Our Backyard” that we’ve presented here. Produced in partnership with the fStop Foundation, the film educates Floridians about the importance of living with and protecting wildlife and their habitats.

 

“I’m really proud of it,” Budd says, explaining that several years ago, she saw a news segment featuring a home video of a panther stalking a deer — caught from a local resident’s lanai. It sparked an idea.

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A Florida panther traverses under a highway overpass.

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LOCAL INITIATIVES

Call to Action 

Senate Bill 2508 jeopardizes Everglades restoration

by Kathy Grey

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Nicole Johnson

Everglades restoration efforts are in jeopardy, say officials from a number of conservation organizations, including Nicole Johnson, Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s director of environmental policy.

A letter dated March 29 was sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ email imploring the governor to veto Senate Bill 2508, which raises major environmental concerns for signators representing Friends of the Everglades, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, Calusa Waterkeeper and Johnson, representing the Conservancy.

The Conservancy states, “This is one of the most concerning bills (we have) ever seen in regards to reversing efforts to protect coastal waters. It must be stopped.”

DeSantis has historically backed Everglades Restoration and improved water quality since his 2018 election.

The Florida legislature “did amend the bill to remove some of the most concerning language,” the letter concedes, but “the bill that is coming to you for consideration still undermines important components of Everglades Restoration and the development of the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM).”

Even as amended, the bill’s language forces the South Florida Water Management District to advocate for more water for agriculture users (notably “Big Sugar”) if it wants to receive state funding for restoration projects. The bill’s language also indicates reducing beneficial flows to the Caloosahatchee (River) and Everglades during the dry season and, the letter states, “increase damaging high-volume discharges to our coastal communities during the wet season.”

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The Conservancy released a policy statement imploring concerned citizens to take action, saying, “Your emails, phone calls and petitions made a difference!” Read the full statement here.

Friends of the Everglades and other conservation organizations provide forms for citizens to voice their concerns directly to Gov. DeSantis. On the same page, Friends of the Everglades also provides educational links related to the issue.

The bottom line, the Conservancy’s Johnson says, is that the bill, having been passed by the state senate, bypasses citizen engagement, encouraging them not to take action.

“Write a letter to the governor!” she urges. “That’s when (policymakers) realize ‘paradise’ isn’t (necessarily) paradise. Every little bit helps, and the power of one voice has impact.”

 

She notes, “There are resources on the Conservancy’s policy page. The estuaries report card takes a look at water quality and grades Southwest Florida Watersheds to get a sense of our water quality. The grades are not good.”

To learn more about the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s policy and advocacy, science and research, environmental education and wildlife rehabilitation, visit conservancy.org.

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RENEW, REUSE, RECYCLE

From the Forests of Fallen Trees

Creating exotic, sustainably repurposed and functional works of wooden art here in Naples

by Kathy Grey

There’s a lovely showroom in the heart of Naples' 5th Avenue South called Cocoon. The shop features exotic wood furniture and objects of art crafted by Naples artisans employed by the company.

Their artistic medium? Fallen trees from Southeast Asia.

Mitchell Siegel founded Cocoon in Greenwich, Connecticut in 2009. In February 2022, Siegel permanently moved the entire woodworking operation to Naples, employing Southwest Florida residents.

Born into a textile family (“I was brought up in a fabric store in Westchester,” he jokes), Siegel’s first trips to Southeast Asia were for the garment industry. On his extended stays, he wandered around the Asian subregion, intrigued by its natural beauty.

“I’d see these huge cuts of trees,” he says, adding that he was further intrigued by the possibility of taking pieces of nature and being able to reuse them to make functional pieces of art.

He had no interest in making a business of it, but his ambitious nature took hold.

“I started to think of what was next: What can we do with all these things from nature? There’s knocked-down wood rotting.”

He started “messing around” with the idea, and in 2009, Siegel founded Cocoon.

The Creation Process

One would think that Siegel’s clients not only want to own the product, but they want to know them, just like a collector knows every detail of his or her collection of fine art. But Siegel disagrees.

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Wood slab in Cocoon Woodshop Naples

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Mitchell Siegel relaxes in the Naples Cocoon gallery

“I don’t consider us to be in the art-collector realm. I don’t consider a $6,000 sustainable piece of furniture that way. It’s sustainable, and you can use it. That’s what’s important.”

Bending to the heirloom-quality question about Cocoon’s creations, he relents, “They are one-of-a-kind pieces, but we’re a whole lot different. These come from a raw slab of wood. We’re making something out of it.”

 

He’s more comfortable with the notion that Cocoon could be considered a gallery of fine furniture, but his heart is in his commitment to being a fully licensed importer of exotic wood from Southeast Asia, where a tree must be planted for anything he takes away.

“A serious buyer can select a piece of wood to create what they want. They will know what it’s made of,” Siegel says.

Siegel cannot and does not down live trees. He has a subject-to-law, 25-year license that prohibits it. He respects that, knowing a tree will be planted in Southeast Asia for every fallen one Siegel exports.

“Most people recycle. We recycle dead wood. We’re not killing trees,” Siegel says. “We’re taking downed trees and putting them back into people’s homes. We take wood that is damaged and make something beautiful from it: something that will last.”

 

LOCAL INITIATIVES

Serving the People

Education and outreach organization Growing Climate Solutions forges on, one person, one group at a time

by Kathy Grey

“Climate and sustainability issues are still viewed as a political issue,” says Ana Puszkin-Chevlin, Ph.D., quickly adding, “No! This is a societal issue.” 

With the focus of familiarizing people with the climate issues that uniquely affect Southwest Florida, Growing Climate Solutions, led by Regional Director Puszkin-Chevlin, has established connections with dozens of groups and organizations — anyone willing to lend an ear and a hand.

Even in pandemic isolation, Puszkin-Chevlin and her team pressed forward, drawing public interest and building on the support of the community from its youngest members to its oldest.

“For a brand-new organization that just started chugging in 2020, people know who we are,” Puszkin-Chevlin says. And they should. “Everyone needs to understand what’s going on.”

The organization has expanded its reach to more than 35 community partners “to develop a more positive public discourse and cast (climate issues) in a light where people can get to the solutions. This is serious, and it has to be sooner than later,” she says.

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Ana Puszkin-Chevlin

The goal is to engage community members, sparking their interest in being part of the solution by taking steps to modify their own contributions to climate change. Upcoming climate-change community events include:

• Saturday, April 23 – Earth Day events at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and in Cambier Park in Downtown Naples organized by the Collier Waterkeepers.

• Wednesday, May 4 – A “Y&HOW” workshop on composting.

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• mid-May – a tree-planting event in collaboration with Robbie’s Trees. Date and time TBA for those who want to volunteer to plant trees on Conservation Collier lands.

• May 23, 24 and 26 – meetings with residents and leaders in Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties (folks from Hendry, Glades and Desoto counties can also participate virtually).  Outcomes from these meetings will inform the Protect Our Paradise program, where the aim is to develop priorities and actions on climate for the region. Visit the Growing Climate Solutions website for information as it develops.

• Thursday, Aug. 25 – Protect Our Paradise Summit, inspiring more residents and organizations to adopt sustainable lifestyles, engaging in climate policy discussions and demonstrating to elected officials — prior to the November elections — that meaningful action on climate is supported by voters. Visit the Growing Climate Solutions website for information as it develops.

• Growing Climate Solutions provides climate presentations to local civic and professional organizations, neighborhood associations and church groups. Visit the Growing Climate Solutions website for more information.

 

Keep abreast of happenings by following Growing Climate Solutions’ calendar of events. Register you and your group and become involved in Growing Climate Solutions’ mission by clicking here.

 

Growing Climate Solutions: Path to Positive Southwest Florida’s network of local organizations, leaders and citizens is being formed to support the protection of our natural environment, the prosperity and health of our community, and the education and empowerment of all community members to engage and support solutions in the face of a changing climate and its impacts in Southwest Florida.

FOR YOUR INSPIRATION

Out and About: Exploring Ma Nature

Earth Day happenings abound in Southwest Florida

by Kathy Grey

Every year on April 22, Earth Day marks the 1970 anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement. To read about the history of Earth Day and view compelling media coverage of the first Earth Day, hosted by Walter Cronkite, visit https://www.earthday.org/history.

 

Now a worldwide movement, Earth Day is honored in Southwest Florida with happenings such as those below that pay tribute to Mother Earth and inform the public about her growing frailty.

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Preschool Program: Earth Day Exploration

Thursday, April 21, 10-11 a.m.

Collier Museum at Government Center

3331 Tamiami Trail E., Naples

 

Spend the morning outdoors on the property of the Collier Museum, where your little one can enjoy fun crafts and activities related to the planet. A themed story time will teach them about the importance of caring for our environment. Free. RSVP here.  Call 239-252-8476.

 

Earth Day Walking Trail

Friday, April 22, 9-11 a.m.

Baker Park
50 Riverside Circle, Naples

 

Join friends and neighbors on an Earth Day nature walk at Baker Park to observe the great outdoors. Registration is required. Click here.

 

Earth Day in the Garden

Friday, April 22, 9 a.m. to noon

North Collier Regional Park – Butterfly Garden

15000 Livingston Road, Naples

Learn about pollinators, do a butterfly hunt in the garden and/or take a self-guided butterfly tour. Optima Classical School will have virtual reality pollinator life cycle demonstrations, Naples Native Plants will be selling Florida native plants and pick up your 2022 collector coin. This free event is hosted by the Collier County Parks and Recreation Volunteer Garden Program. To register, click here or call 239-252-4033.

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Earth Day Wading Trip. Photo by Trish Schranck/Lovers Key State Park

Earth Day Wading Trip

Friday, April 22, 10:30-11:30 a.m.

Lovers Key State Park

8720 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach

 

Join a park ranger for a special Earth Day wading trip into seagrass flats. With a push net in hand, you’ll discover the creatures that call the seagrass their home; discuss their anatomy, diet and unique adaptations; and learn how you can help protect this vital ecosystem. Participants should be prepared to spend time in the water. Free. Space is limited. Reservations are required. Click here. Call 239-463-4588 with questions.

 

Note: The trip begins promptly at 10:30 a.m. at North Beach. Traffic is heavy, so arrive early.

Earth Day Beach Cleanup

Friday, April 22, 3-4 p.m.

Lovers Key State Park

8720 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach

 

Join a park ranger for a special Earth Day beach cleanup. Enjoy a lovely hour on the beach as you do your part to keep our state park (and planet) clean this Earth Day. Participants will be asked to record the types of trash they pick up on the beach on data sheets from the International Ocean Conservancy. The data will be compiled to help inform park messaging on debris. Gloves, trash bags, pickers, pencils and data sheets will be provided. Register here.

 

Storytelling Salon: FGCU Professors on “Earth Day”

Friday, April 22, 6-7:30 p.m.

Florida Gulf Coast University Art Galleries
10501 FGCU Blvd. S., Fort Myers

 

FGCU professors from very different departments present stories and perspectives on Earth Day. Free. Register here.

 

Save Our Planet – Earth Day Jamboree

Saturday, Apr 23, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Cambier Park
755 8th Ave. S., Naples

 

This family-friendly, big-tent, nonpartisan Earth Day festival features nonprofit agencies, city and county officials, schools and universities and green businesses. Beer sales, vegan food trucks complement entertainment, speakers and videos on stage. Learn more here.

 

 

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Earth Day Festival

Saturday, April 23, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center

1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples.

 

The Conservancy’s free Earth Day Festival will include live animal encounters, Kid Zone activities, electric boat tours, food trucks, BioBlitz Nature Walks, the new Learning Adventures Bus, local exhibitors and more. Enjoy hands-on activities while learning more about the issues facing our natural environment.

Scheduled programs include:

  • 10:30 a.m. - Little Explorers, ideal for kids 1½ to 5 years old

  • 11 a.m. - Super Science Show with Glen Beitman

  • 11:30 a.m. - Invasive species talk

  • Noon - Little Explorers and Ocean Plastics, featuring artist Pamela Logobardi

  • 12:30 p.m. - Animal injuries talk

  • 1 p.m. - Sea turtle program, featuring the Conservancy science team

  • 1:30 p.m. - “Science on a Sphere,” climate change talk
     

For more information, visit conservancy.org/events/earth-day.

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“Who are we sharing our landscape with? Which developments are encroaching on our wildlife habitats? What can we do to minimize negative encounters?” she asks.

The Share the Landscape project began in 2020.

“It’s a tool to understand our own backyard,” she says. “We (man, nature and habitat) have to be respectful of each other if we’re going to share this space.”

 

Tireless Advocate

As she plunges forward into growing conservation and protection needs, she urges citizens to stay informed about environmental issues and the habitat of man and beast.

“Find an organization that resonates with you and sign up for their newsletter or membership. Join a movement,” she suggests, or send letters that reach the governor’s desk.

“We want our members to know that the Federation supports and gives them opportunities to go ahead and make their voices heard.”

As a graduate of Leadership Collier, she is a proponent of such programs “to understand and take ownership of how you can better your own community. Engage with people who make decisions and those who influence or inform decision-makers,” Budd proclaims.