A Unified Voice Advocates for the Everglades in Tallahassee

At Everglades Action Day, advocates work together towards a common goal: full restoration of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem.

Everglades advocates, local and state conservation leaders, environmental policy analysts, and college students from all corners of Florida made the journey to Tallahassee for Everglades Action Day on February 11.

During the eighth annual Everglades Action Day, these members of the Everglades Coalition met with legislators to discuss the critical importance of full restoration of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem—from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes into Lake Okeechobee, through the Florida Keys. The coalition, whose 62 organization roster includes Audubon Florida, represents the consensus scientific view of how best to conserve this vital Floridian ecosystem.

The coalition prepped for their day at the capitol by convening the night before for lobby training. The coalition reviewed “advocacy do’s and don’ts,” team roles during legislative appointments, the coalition’s 2020 conservation priorities, and the coalition’s stances on bills like SB 200 and HB 547 (both of which call for a statewide ban on advanced well stimulation treatments) and Governor Ron DeSantis’ budget for Everglades restoration.

Alyssa Lenkel, a marine biology and environmental studies major at Florida Southern College and part of Audubon Florida’s early-career mentoring and training program Conservation Leadership Initiative (CLI), says that the coalition debrief was very helpful for her first advocacy day.

“I was surprised at how quickly I got comfortable speaking in front of legislators. By the last legislative appointment, I was basically touching on all of our priorities and leading the meeting,” says Lenkel. “Thinking about personal connections, getting schedules planned out, and devising a game plan with fellow coalition members made the next day at the capitol so effective.”

Audubon Florida conservation organizer Laura Aguirre emphasized the significance of having CLI students participate in the Action Day. "It is important that legislators hear from fresh faces, especially students who traveled from far places to the capitol," Aguirre says. "Legislators were once in their positions and seeing students advocate for issues is incredibly meaningful."

On Everglades Action Day, all 62 coalition members brought a unified agenda to the capitol, lobbying for full funding of Everglades restoration, the strengthening of protections for all waters in the state, reinstatement of strong statewide and regional land use planning, and protection of investments in Everglades restoration from the effects of climate change.

Audubon’s presence at the action day took many forms, including Audubon Florida staff, Florida chapter members, and CLI students. Gabriela Espinoza, a sophomore at Miami Dade College, first heard about CLI program during an Audubon Ambassador meeting last year with Tropical Audubon Society. Building upon her participation in last year’s Everglades Action Day and involvement in conservation work on campus, Espinoza joined the CLI program to combine her biology background and growing interest in environmental advocacy.

“I attend Everglades Action Day because I want legislators to know that conservation issues are a priority for their constituents,” says Espinoza. “The Everglades Coalition represents thousands of people, so showing up at advocacy day with this passionate group, that share the same sentiment, elevates our local concerns to the state level.”

Espinoza’s sentiments were shared by fellow CLI student, Caitlin Westerfield, and Doug Gaston, Everglades Policy Analyst for Audubon Florida.

“Legislators want see and hear from young environmental advocates,” says Westerfield. “I learned that there’s more to it than showing up: You need to make your voice heard and continue advocacy in your local community.”

Capitalizing on the momentum generated at Everglades Action Day, Gaston and Audubon’s Everglades policy team are preparing written comments on proceedings, attending public meetings, providing oral comments during public comment periods, and submitting op-eds on water-related issues to maintain the excitement around the importance of Everglades and restoration.

“The biggest highlight of the day was how well informed our elected officials were about the issues affecting the Everglades, the importance of funding restoration and sustainable growth policies, enacting legislation to protect water quality, and climate change mitigation,” says Gaston. “When you get 62 organizations speaking with a singular clear voice to promote a shared set of goals and objectives, legislators listen and take notice.”

Audubon Florida and the Everglades Coalition know that sufficient and consistent funding levels are key to building momentum in order to complete projects and reap the ecological benefits.