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Will Graf gives Eyre lecture

Dr. William L. Graf, Dept. of Geography, University of South Carolina

Science, Policy, and Politics for the Florida Everglades

Toy Lounge
Friday, September 16, 2011

This presentation is the true story of the environmental history of the Florida Everglades, an endangered, world renown ecosystem.  The Everglades constitute a 6,000 sq km remnant of what was once a 12,000 sq km wetland in central and southern Florida, populated by a unique array of biota and defined by unusual hydrology and geomorphology.  The purpose of this presentation is to explore how science, policy, and politics have interacted with each other to produce the present degraded ecosystem, and to provide a basis for the ongoing Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).  Historical analysis of the Everglades ecosystem and south Florida shows that there have been distinct periods of interactions among science, policy, and politics: the pre-development era before 1890 when natural hydrologic and ecosystem conditions prevailed, the development era of 1890-1980 that saw the installation of a vast water control infrastructure, and the restoration era after 1980 that has seen attempts to reverse ecosystem damages while preserving the water supply and flood control benefits of the system.  Science has slowly developed explanations for Everglades forms and processes, but at each step science has served the needs of the prevailing policies for the region.  Politics that grew out of a culture tuned to public investment in economic development strategies have guided decision making.  Modern adaptive management and incremental adaptive restoration are also products of goals established under the influence of cultural forces.  The history of science for the Everglades, encapsulated in a conceptual model, shows that a feedback mechanism operates to cause continual reinvention of goals.  As a result, Everglades science has been adaptive to changing demands by society, with a constant stream of new research questions driven not by research curiosity, but by economic and environmental necessity.  The true story of the Everglades is how science and policy have been driven by the political tension between two fundamental aspects of American culture:  resource exploitation to fuel commercial consumption and ecosystem preservation in support of an environmental ethic.


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