Working today for Florida’s tomorrow
BY LINDY MCCOLLUM-BROUNLEY
Super Tuesday of 2008 was a long and hot one for Preston T. Robertson (JD 90), especially while wearing his bear suit — a Florida Black Bear suit, to be exact.
Robertson donned the costume to draw voter attention to the benefits of Amendment 4 — a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 state ballot giving voters the chance to decide if the state should extend tax benefits to FLorida land owners who palce perpetual conservations easements or long-term conservation use assessments on their properties. The Florida Black Bear was the movement’s mascot and star of TV and print advertisements, which featured an array of animated Florida animals endorsing private preservation of Florida’s diminishing wilderness. (www.youtube.com/user/floridabear4)
“That was just hot and bothersome, and I’m glad it’s over,” Robertson said of his bear suit experience, pictured in inset at right. “Honestly, the best part about the endeavor was the campaign. … It was the first time in a long time that folks from the Association of Counties, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Sierra Club and everybody in between came together.”
Amendment 4, Robertson’s brain child, was passed with a whopping 68.4 percent of the vote and a plurality in 66 of Florida’s 67 counties thanks to his efforts to bring the groups together on the issue.
“Getting 50 percent in anything in this state is a feat. Getting 60 percent is a hurdle and a half,” Robertson said. “I give all praise to the Floridians who, most all of the time, support environmental protection.”
As a Florida farmer who has protected his own property with a conservation easement, Robertson feels a deep affinity for land. In his professional life as the vice president for conservation and general counsel of the Florida Wildlife Federation, Robertson— a self-described “tree-hugging hunter” — works to promote ethical recreation and preservation of Florida’s natural lands and wildlife through penning legislation and lobbying state legislators. Though the Florida Wildlife Federation has traditionally been seen as a hunter’s organization, it takes a big picture view on the impacts of developmental pressures and emerging environmental trends on the state.
“A lot of our membership still enjoys consumptive recreation, whether it be hunting or fishing, but it’s true, we’ve had to get into a lot of other issues that are much more complicated,” Robertson said. “Growth management and water, wetlands protection and basic wildlife habitat protection. Climate change is also a huge issue with us because of the potential impact it will have on this state.”
One of the organization’s cooperative programs dearest to Robertson’s heart is the fledgling Get Outdoors Florida! Coalition, Inc. According to its Web site (www.getoutdoorsflorida.com), the organization’s mission is to engage Florida “communities, families and individuals in outdoor experiences to achieve healthier lifestyles and sustain Florida’s natural resources.” The cooperative initiative includes the Florida Wildlife Federation, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, federal and state land managers, state health and education agencies, educators, healthcare providers, non-profit organizations and businesses.
“I got involved in environmental protection and conservation because I was out there in the woods, seeing how cool it was,” Robertson said. “I’m very concerned that such a high percentage of our youth spends all their time either in a car, in a classroom or on the Internet, and they don’t have a very great appreciation for the natural world upon which we depend. So this organization’s goal is to get kids outside and get them excited and learning about the basic biology and functions of our waters, and our woods, and our wildlife.”
“They need to see that we are part of that, not separate — so their generation will also become stewards of the environment like we’re trying to be,” he said.