Nature’s Steward: A History of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, by Nick Penniman. Pineapple Press. 368 pages. Hardcover $24.95.
This is a book that should be in the library of every citizen and devotee of Southwest Florida. Each public and institutional library in the state should have several copies. Anyone interested in the interplay of environmental science, conservation advocacy, environmental education, and the politics surrounding natural resource protection and managed growth must read it.
Is it easy reading? No. The issues at hand cannot be reduced to light fare. Yet “Nature’s Steward” is immensely engaging, charged by the author’s expertise, patient exposition, and passion for his subject. What makes reading it even more difficult is discovering how limited success has been over several generations. What makes it heartwarming is that matters could have turned out much worse, and that we are on the edge of accepting and acting sensibly on the hard truths that Mr. Penniman presents.
As Nick Penniman points out in various ways, effective policy making (let’s not yet thing about implementation) involves the constructive interaction of various levels of government, the activities of nonprofit groups like The Conservancy, the interests of community associations, the goals of residential and retail/commercial developers and investors, and the lifestyle/hobbyist voices (boaters, for example). You probably get the point already.
To make matters more complicated, the borders of cities, counties, and even specially defined regional planning districts hardly ever coincide with those of a natural system (a slough, watershed, you-name- it) that is threatened by development. Who makes the policy for what? In a way, everything in the natural environment is connected, but governmental jurisdictions only look inward – as do most special interest groups.
Private property rights are yet another interrelated factor.
In organizing his issues and sources (documentation), Nick Penniman found an effective tripartite plan: “Acquiring Land,” “Managing Growth,” and “Water.” Within these stages he orchestrates discussions of such topics – case studies, really – as “Big Cypress Swamp and the Fakahatachee Strand,” “Pelican Bay and Barefoot Beach” (contrasting studies in how to and how not to balance conflicting interests), and “Villages of Sabal Bay and Hamilton Harbor.” The discussions reveal how shifts in public and leadership opinion bring about cycles of advocacy, legislation, and enforcement at various policy-making and administrative/enforcement levels.
Throughout, Mr. Penniman keeps readers aware of the enormous responsibilities vested in the Army Corps of Engineers, an organization that often seems ill-equipped to meet those responsibilities. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 30, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 1 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here Florida Weekly – Penniman 1 and here Florida Weekly – Penniman 2.