Posted on April 6, 2023

The Skimmer | Southeast Volusia Audubon Society (SEVAS) Newsletter | March 2023



Forces of Nature: A History of Florida Land Conservation by Clay Henderson
Review by Robert Merideth


Former Audubon Florida president and CEO Clay Henderson talked recently about his new book, Forces of Nature: A History of Florida Land Conservation, at a gathering in New Smyrna Beach sponsored by the Atlantic Center for the Arts.

Henderson narrated a history that has yielded a good deal of protection for Florida’s land, water, and wildlife, especially when compared to that in other states. He described how such an outcome arose despite continual forces inflicting damage and destruction, and cautioned why we need to build on this legacy and protect even more critical areas.

Forces of Nature offers a substantial accounting of Florida’s land conservation history through more than two dozen chapters, ranging from reports of the early naturalists William Bartram, John James Audubon, and others, through present-day institutional developments, such as constitutional amendments, ballot initiatives, and comprehensive land purchase programs. That’s a lot to cover and the book does it in nearly 450 pages, including an appendix, notes, bibliography, and index.

The way I’ve approached this tome is to select chapters to read by interest rather than by order. For example, I jumped quickly to Chapter 12, “National Wildlife Refuges,” which describes Merritt Island NWR and the role of ornithologist Allan Cruickshank in its creation, then to Chapter 13, “National Seashores: Art as Advocacy,” which features Doris Leeper, founder of the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and her efforts to establish Canaveral National Seashore.

Henderson is a native of New Smyrna Beach. He’s been an environmental lawyer, educator, and author and was elected to two terms on the Volusia County Council. Later he was executive director of the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience at Stetson University in DeLand. He also worked in private practice for many years supporting land conservation acquisitions and developing policy tools.

What I like about Forces of Nature is that it draws both on Henderson’s insights from his “lived experience” as a land conservationist and on his skills as a legal scholar. In that sense, the book is a creation of a seasoned practitioner and a knowledgeable researcher, synthesizing details from an assembly of primary and secondary published materials, interviews, and other sources. Appropriately, the book is published by the University Press of Florida.

One overarching storyline I take from the book is that in the face of significant and constant efforts to clear, drain, pave, develop, and otherwise destroy the natural landscapes of Florida, there have been significant countering forces—a combination of passionate and persuasive citizen actions, colorful personalities, scientific evidence, political deal making, sometimes fate, or the “luck of the cards” (apparently there was a poker game many years ago in which the winning hand also was a big win for Florida land conservation).

The gist of Florida’s land conservation history seems to be one of good news, bad news. Florida has the highest percentage of protected land of any state east of the 100th Meridian (more than 30 percent of Florida’s land is protected by federal, state, local, or private entities). However, Henderson says that’s not enough: the amount should be between 40 to 50 percent to keep pace with the unrelenting effects of climate change, population growth, invasive species, and pollutants.

Which prompts me to offer this aspiration: Read Forces of Nature. Let it inspire you to act. And let it help you contribute to writing the next chapter of Florida’s land conservation history.


View original article