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Friday, February 19, 2016

Making An Environmentalist

When I was living in central Florida I joined a largemouth bass fishing club that was part of a nationally organized fishing network. I ultimately ended up as the president of the club and we had monthly fishing tournaments. We would occasionally catch a bass that had a disproportionately large head  compared to its body. The head would indicate a 5 lb. fish when because of the small body it would only weigh 2-3 lbs.  We caught enough fish with this distortion that we were concerned.

I heard of a group forming that was also looking into these strange fish. I found the group and went to one of their meetings and soon became a member. Next thing I knew I was voted in as a director and speaking to large numbers of people about the St. Johns River with the state biologist. While all this was happening some specimen fish were sent off to Auburn University to determine what was causing this anomaly. The technical term escapes me this many years later, but we found out from the reports that it was caused by pesticide/herbicide and fertilizer run off by local farms. The chemicals being introduced into the river by creeks and run off caused the cells in the fishes body to turn to liquid and stunt growth.

As I read expert report after report and learned more and more about what was causing the problems in the river and heard and watched the culprits lie and distort their involvement it became clear to me that trying to save a valuable resource was not easy. It further went against my natural instinct of right and wrong. The culprits with large money resources could influence an unsuspecting and ill informed public that relied on others to tell them what was wrong. How important it was to be fact specific when I would speak at gatherings or we would be marginalized as nothing more than rable rousers. Educating the public who probably wasn't interested in the first place was going to be very important.

I went back to college to take environment biology courses to learn how to back up facts with scientific documentation. It was often difficult when speaking to large audiences and I can sympathize with those who are yelled at or interrupted when speaking. It did help however when I would appear with the State of Florida biologist who could speak with absolute authority. I learned that doing my research and understanding my subject fully went a long way. Our environmental group grew to well over 100,000 members and ultimately far more than that. It was recognized nationally for its efforts and was well known.

That was what instilled a sense of protecting our resources and preserving them (conservationist) for future generations. I also found out what it was like to be disparaged for doing what was good. When I left central Florida I took all those lessons with me and have been involved in various like organizations ever since. I still fear that one day we will wake up and find ourselves in a totally toxic world because conditions have not only become worse but accelerated in my opinion. That in substance is what makes an environmentalist and I expect I will continue to be one until my very last breath.

Anyone wanting to take on environmental causes must be willing to do endless research, not be offended when people verbally attack you with labels or personally because often they have an agenda that is not in the public interest. It is always an uphill challenge but we need those who are willing to take on that uphill climb.  

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