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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewee: Walter A. "Tony" Rosenbaum
Interviewer: Brian Gridley
Date: February 14, 2001
G: This is Brian Gridley. I am at the University of Florida, and I interviewing
Professor Walter Rosenbaum. I would like to begin by asking you to describe
briefly how you first became involved with Everglades-management activities.
R: I was invited in the spring of 1997 to come, at my own expense, down to a
conference that they called a social science conference. It was being held near
Boca [Raton], and the purpose of it was to bring some social science people
together in the hope that they could get the working group, who was meeting
down there at the same time, an opportunity to hear some social science
viewpoints. We went down there and we spoke to the working group, and my
reason for going was, first of all, to make some remarks about some ideas they
had asked me to share, but also because I thought it was a good opportunity to
get my foot in the door. My feeling was that, if I would be willing to go down there
and spend my own time and money, they knew that I was serious, and if, at
some later point, they wanted somebody to get involved in a more collaborative
way, I would hope that they would take me seriously. That was another reason to
G: This was primarily something that you did on your own initiative?
R: I was invited to come down along with a lot of other folks, but basically it was on
my own initiative. I had no idea at that time exactly where that might lead.
G: Who primarily were you working through to first get involved with this activity?
R: The person who put together what was called the social science group was
Bonnie Cransor, who is the executive director, I believe, of the governor's
commission. At that time, she was just beginning to put together a group of social
science people from within the state, not exclusively but primarily from within the
state, whom she hoped would be able to form some sort of a more formal
advisory group that would make the working group aware that the social science
implications were important.
G: Could you briefly describe some of the activities you have been involved with
since you first became involved with the working group?
R: Yes. I did several things. First of all, there was a follow-up formal conference
called [the] Social Science Working Conference, which was held in the Florida
Keys in the spring of 1997, where a number of social science people from within
and without Florida were brought together to review some of the preliminary
ideas for the [Everglades] Restoration and to provide some perspectives on
social science. There were a number of people from economics, political science,
history, sociology, from a number of the Florida universities and other places. At
that time, a document was put together I should say a document was planned -
on the basis of the conference results, which suggested to the working group a
number of the socio-economic impacts that might be associated with the
Restoration project that would be worth the working group's serious
consideration. I should add parenthetically that, again, Bonnie Cransor was the
person who organized this, and her hope was, I am sure, that the working group
would take the social science implications seriously enough that they would give
it as much attention as they were giving to the scientific and economic side of
things, which up until that time apparently had been given almost all the
G: What were some of the conclusions that came out of that conference?
R: There were a number of different ones. They had three or four different working
groups. For example, the group that I was associated with was considering, if I
recall correctly, a proposal to do some renovation of one of the rivers that ran
through the interior urban area of Fort Lauderdale. The question which the group
was asked to consider was, what sort of issues would the working group need to
consider if it wanted to renovate, create a new recreation area, a new green
space, in what was essentially a very degraded urban river. Our job was to
suggest what kind of issues the working group needed to take into account, and
that involved such things as being sure that there were opportunities for public
participation in the project, being sure that environmental justice issues were
being addressed, being sure that the community leadership was brought into the
discussions early, very obvious kinds of things. But, one had the impression that,
at least from Bonnie Cransor's viewpoint, the working group was sort of rather
oblivious and perhaps not very well-equipped to deal with the social, particularly
the political, implications, things like the public-participation side of things and so
forth. I think the idea was that we were going to create some ideas that would
stimulate some thinking on the part of the working group, which in turn would
then create, hopefully, a demand for some sort of social-science consultation.
G: How would you characterize the reception that the working group has given to
your work? Have they been open to the involvement of social scientists such as
yourself and the type of messages that you have just been describing to me?
R: I would say they have been pretty indifferent. It depends a little bit on whom you
talk to. The problem with the social-science component is that the working group
has been so preoccupied, up to now, with both the scientific and the hydrological
and, to some extent, the economic side of the project that [they have] not really
sat down and either thought out, or perhaps did not really want to think out, what
would be some of the long-term social implications. You would think that they
would, but they apparently have not. To give you one example of this, one of the
things that I was very surprised about, when I got into a more formal consulting
relationship with the working group, was that the working group, although it had
set up special sub-committees to deal with public participation and public
involvement, these were practically moribund. Apparently, they were not being
well-supported by the different organizations or part of the working group, and
the leadership was not very inspired or enthusiastic. I had the impression that
many of the people who were working group members did not have any good
advice about how to go about constructively having a public participation
G: What do you think the consequences might be if the things that you have just
been talking about are not incorporated and addressed by the working group
R: If the public involvement side of things is not very carefully planned and very
premeditated, I think there are going to be a couple of very unfortunate
conclusions. One is that the working group is going to be ambushed by a number
of issues that they did not anticipate, because they did not take the time to bring
in a lot of potential stakeholders into discussions early on about the project, and I
could suggest what some of those are. The other thing that I think is going to
become increasingly important is the environmental justice issues, which are
going to be surfacing when some of the Restoration begins to affect urban areas
that have heavy minority populations. I do not think that the working group is
really sensitized very well to the implications of what that might mean. Part of the
problem is that the working group is composed of different members who
represent different organizations. Many of these organizations do not have
particularly well-developed public involvement programs, so they do not have a
whole lot of backup when it comes to providing some support for public
participation. They do not have a whole lot of coaching about it. I also think that
many of the working group members are rather uneasy about what might happen
when they start getting a very aggressive public participation program. I think
they are afraid that what they may be doing, at least in their minds, is inciting all
kinds of problems and potential opposition and creating issues that might not
otherwise be there, and I think that is a misapprehension.
G: What, more specifically, are the type of problems you think they are reluctant to
address or that they fear may result from public participation?
R: Let me give you a couple. One problem I think they are very concerned about, as
I mentioned earlier, is the [area of] environmental justice problems. They are very
uneasy about how to deal with potential minority stakeholders who would be
raising issues about discrimination in environmental justice and so forth, with the
exception of the Indian tribes. They have been dealing with the Indian tribes to
some extent. I am talking about, for example, Afro-Americans or Hispanic
Americans, who might also be inclined to raise environmental justice issues. I
think the working group people are very uneasy about how to deal with these.
They have no experience with them. I think also there is a concern about how the
media is going to get involved in all of this, and I think there is a concern that the
media not be brought in at a point where the media would seize upon issues and
sensationalize them, create a kind of public misapprehension about what is going
on. And I think some of the working people are afraid that once you start this
process of public participation going, you will not be able to stop it; it will kind of
have a momentum of its own. The media will begin to get involved, and the thing
will kind of spiral out of control.
G: So the Social Science Working Conference was in 1998?
R: That was in the spring of 1998. That is right.
G: Have you been involved with any activities since that time?
R: Oh, yes. At that time, I came in contact with a friend of mine who is a consultant
to Rock Salt's [former colonel in the Army Corps of Engineers and head of the
Everglades Restoration project] office. He [the friend?] was asked to manage
the First Lessons Learned Conference that the working group was going to hold,
and he asked me if I would help him to get the documentation together for the
Lessons Learned project, to go to the conference and sit in on it and,
subsequently, to prepare the Lessons Learned document which would come out
of that conference. So, I was involved from that point about a year and a half and
repeated trips to Miami, either to sit in on working group meetings or to sit in on
conversations with Rock Salt, primarily to find out what kind of documentation
and information they had available at his office. Then, subsequent to the actual
Lessons Learned conference which the working group held in, I think, 1999, this
friend of mine who is the consultant, Stuart Langdon, and I put together the
Lessons Learned document, which the working group reviewed and then
G: When you say Lessons Learned, you are using that in what type of context?
R: There is a fairly well-defined protocol for a document called Lessons Learned.
Apparently, this is a ritual now which is considered to be very important in any
kind of strategic planning for something like the Restoration project. The idea is
that if you are going to have adaptive management, then you need to periodically
stop what you are doing at the leadership level and sit down and say, what have
we accomplished, what have we learned. Then, that document becomes a kind
of reference point for planning in the future, the idea being that you kind of create
a cumulative document of what you learn as you go along, both good and bad;
you have some documentation that you can look back on. Presumably, the idea
is you are going to learn from that experience, and, therefore, this adaptive
learning process will continue. They are going to probably have another Lessons
Learned conference at some time in the not-to-distant future.
G: What were some of the main lessons that you saw as coming out of that
R: You understand, the conference was held in a sort of remote retreat literally in
the middle of South Florida, at the River Ranch. I do not know if you have ever
been there, but it is a rather peculiar place. It is a western cowboy-type ranch out
there right off the Kissimmee Canal. They took all the working group people and
also brought in the the National Academy of Science advisory group.
They put everyone in this place for about three days, and everyone sat around a
table with their staff and, literally, shared experiences and ideas. There were a
number of different groups working on Lessons Learned out of the working
group. There was not just a single group doing this. I can share with you a couple
of the things that seemed to come out of it that I remember, although there were
quite a number of things. One of the first was, and not surprisingly, that there
needed to be more continuity of membership on the working group. One of the
things that concerned some of the members of the working group is that the
initial working group, when it was put together, apparently was able to establish a
very comfortable working relationship with each other, and that was not
necessarily preordained, because the different agencies did not necessarily have
a history of congenial relationships with each other, but the initial working group,
when it was put together, discovered through interaction that they could not only
work together but enjoyed working together. They established a kind of personal
ambiance, which made it a lot easier for them to get their job done. What
happened then is, with time, the original representatives of the various
institutions that were represented on that group, the personal representatives,
would leave and someone else would come on. The result that, after a while, you
had to re-socialize the new people into the understandings and the accords and
so forth that had been established before. I think there was a feeling that there
was beginning to be such a rapid turnover in the membership of the working
group that a lot of those personal, carefully developed relationships were lacking,
and that would make it a lot harder for the working group to achieve the kind of
collaboration it seemed to have had in the early days.
G: Would you say that the focus of that group was more on institutional relations
than necessarily issues of policy debates or scientific debates?
R: It was at least as much a matter of institutional relations, yes. For example, they
spent an awful lot of time talking about how to create and integrate these cross-
cut budgets. The thing that was very clear, as you listened the conversation, is
that many of these people had never collaborated in this way before, and so
nobody had any clear ideas as to how it should be done. A lot of the discussion
was of the gosh-gee-whiz, we are surprised that we were able to do this, or we
did try to do this but it did not work, but there was a feeling that, on the whole, we
learned some things and we saw that there was a possibility of doing some
things collaboratively that we had not thought we could do before. Having said
that now I am giving a personal opinion I also want to say that there was also
a certain weariness on the part of different institutional representatives, a kind of,
well, this is all very well and good, but we still need to be on our guard. There
was a kind of tentativeness, in the sense that at least some of the people in that
working group seemed to be saying, well, things have gone all right so far, but
maybe with a different cast of characters, we are not going to be able to continue
G: Is the weariness primarily from personnel change?
R: There was certainly an awareness in the need to have more continuity of
personnel. There was a feeling that there needed to be more continuity of staff
people who were supporting the working group people. There was also a
recognition of the need to have a lot more resources available for the executive
director's office. The executive director, Rock Salt, was, and perhaps to some
extent still is, running on a shoestring. There was a feeling that there probably
would be more resources coming, once the feds and the state actually bought
into the project. Now, subsequently we know that has happened, so it may be
things are a little better, but at that time, there was a lot of concern that support
services were just not quite adequate to the mission of the work of the task force.
G: What kind of impact do you see this Lessons Learned document as having had?
Do you think it has been taken seriously by the participants in the working group,
and has it actually been applied in practice in terms of some of its suggestions?
R: I do not know. That is a very good question. I have heard nothing one way or
another, which may be an answer of sorts. On the other hand, I have not sat in
on some of the working group sessions since that [one], which was about a year
and a half ago. And you have to realize that you have a substantially different
working group now than you had back then. So the answer to your question is, I
am not clear as to how much impact it might have had. Obviously, if it does not
have a whole lot of impact, that does raise some questions as to what the idea of
adaptive learning is supposed to accomplish.
G: That was in 1999. Let us continue along our time-line. Are there any other
involvement activities that you would like to describe?
R: I was involved with some very distinguished members of the history department
here at the University of Florida in creating an oral history project, which I think
will probably have the most lasting impact, in many ways, of any of the things I
am doing, because we are, we would like to think, creating permanent record of
the experiences of a lot of the participants. I participated in the science
conference down in Naples in December as a keynote speaker on the social
science side of things, so what I am hoping to do, frankly, is to keep my own
visibility in this to the point where I can continue to be involved, for all kinds of
reasons, both personal and professional. The thing about the social science
people who are involved in it, we are very much kind of the tail-end of everything.
We have got to kind of fight for any recognition and resources and so forth that
are going to be given to us because, I think, the social science people are
perceived to be at least partly trouble-makers.
G: Do you believe that is in part how the resource managers are defining the
problem, again, in terms of science rather than community?
R: I think a lot of the people sitting on that task force know full well that the political
side of it is as important as the science side. I think, however, their feeling is that
they have got to have a very impressive, substantial, high-visibility, scientific
bulwark created for themselves to justify what they are doing, and I think, for that
reason, they are concerned first of all and primarily to get the science as good as
they can get it, to get that lined up as much as they can with the purposes of the
project, [and] then the social science where it can fit in and if it can fit in, but I
think social science is being considered very marginal at this point.
G: Out of the experiences that you have described, are there any personal lessons
that you have taken from that as it applies to management in the Everglades?
R: What I personally think is that the people who are involved at the moment are
genuinely committed to an enterprise which they themselves recognize is
unprecedented. Some of the allure comes as much from the idea of doing this,
which has never been done before, as the particular project itself. I think there is
a certain attraction that comes from moving into the unknown. At the same time, I
think that the institutional members, the major players people like the Corps of
Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District and so forth vary
between enthusiasm and tentativeness, because they are very much afraid of the
long-term political repercussions of this, particularly at the local level.
G: Can you explain what you mean by that?
R: Yes. I think that a lot of the people who sit on the working group recognize that,
even though the state of Florida and the federal government has bought in both
substantially and also symbolically, that the rest of the bill is going to have to be
paid by the local governments, and that a lot of the real difficulty is going to be at
the local level, because you are no longer dealing with a handful of governments;
you are dealing with literally hundreds of governments. There also are going to
be some very delicate issues, involving the need to give up a certain measure of
local authority and autonomy, and I think there is a recognition that this is going
to be a real tough go. This is probably going to be as tough or tougher than
getting the federal government and the state to buy in.
G: Let me turn your attention now more broadly to how these problems in the
Everglades developed. Could you describe in your view how the present situation
in the Everglades evolved?
R: How many hours have you got? [Laughs.] You start with the [Army] Corps of
Engineers and then work forward.
G: Let me rephrase the question, perhaps. Are there any specific things that you
would identify of being core factors that have contributed to the present problems
in the Everglades?
R: Yes, two things really, and they are very obvious. One, you had a very powerful
mission-oriented agency with enormously well-established and historic
institutional relations with Congress that had a very technocratic viewpoint toward
the management of resources.
G: You are referring to the Corps of Engineers.
R: Yes. And I think you had a developmental psychology in the part of the state of
Florida which played very well to that sort of mission orientation. I think the basic
problem well, it was not a problem was simply that there was a very felicitous,
congenial kind of marriage of interests between two very large institutional
players, and the rest is history.
G: Do you believe, then, that the current Restoration effort is in some way different
than previous efforts?
R: Oh, yes.
G: In what ways is the current effort different?
R: It is taking place in an entirely different historical and political setting. Whatever
else you can say, both the public and a lot of the people who are sitting making
the decisions about how to deal with this problem right now are a lot better
educated and much more sophisticated logically, and the public is a lot more
ecologically aware. Now, that does not guarantee anything necessarily, but what
I think it means is that you have the possibility of discussing things that you could
not discuss before, and considering alternatives that would not have been on the
table before. The other thing is that, clearly, the situation has reached a palpable
crisis level; that is, it has become clearly a crisis to the point where it is visible.
People can understand and they can see it, and that helps a lot. I am thinking, for
example, about the fact that you can visibly see the deterioration of parts of the
Everglades. You can see the problem of groundwater-quality deterioration.
People who have lived in this part of Florida can begin to see the transformation
visibly. You are working in a different psychological era.
G: Do you believe that those changes have, in turn, addressed the two causes that
you identified? For example, do you believe that this has brought about a change
in the Corps of Engineers and a change in the way the state of Florida
R: Yes. I do not think this has brought about a change; I think there has been a
change in the Corps of Engineers which made it congenial to rethinking the
whole South Florida project. I do not think this changed the Corps; I think the
Corps has been changing and this is one indication of the direction of that
change. The other thing is that there has been a very great change in the political
leadership of Florida. I am not thinking just about Governor [Lawton] Chiles
[1991-1999]. I even think [Governor] Jeb Bush [1999-present] represents a very
different kind of developmental attitude than you would have seen twenty or thirty
years ago if a Republican had come in.
G: I would like you to comment on what I see as a potential contradiction between
an earlier statement you made, that the public really has not been fully included
in the decision-making process, and your comment now, in which you are saying
that a part of the reason for the change is the change in public perceptions and
R: I am really talking about the difference between the stakeholders and public
opinion. If you look at the public-opinion polls that have been taken in the last few
years, in the state of Florida particularly, I think there is no doubt that the public
recognizes that there are problems with the Everglades and is generally
concerned about environmental issues and generally responds to arguments
about the need to protect the environment. In that sense, I think the public has
changed its mood a lot from what it was twenty or thirty years ago. But when I
talk about public participation, I am talking about the stakeholders, I am talking
about the organized interests, I am talking about the people who are going to be
hanging around the doors and sitting in on the conferences and reading the
minutes and the people who are really looking at things very, very carefully.
These people, I think, are the ones who probably need to be brought in much
more explicitly into the decision-making process than they have been so far.
G: To the extent that you see changes occurring and being reflected in the South
Florida project, are there any specific historical events that you would refer to as
being turning points leading to these changes?
R: Certainly, Governor Chiles' decision, whenever that was made, a few years ago.
G: Which decision, specifically?
R: This was the decision not to fight the federal government anymore over the
pollution in the Everglades.
G: The settlement of the lawsuit.
R: Yes. I think certainly, strategically, that was a major turning point. I would have to
think a little bit about that. To me, a lot of what happened has been incremental.
The constant revelations in the newspapers, all over the state, of the
deterioration in the water quality, both groundwater quality and surface water
quality, the problems with Tampa Bay, the problems with Florida Bay, some of
the problems involving groundwater quality in South Florida saltwater intrusion
and so forth. There has just been a whole lot of news, which has incrementally
worn down a lot of public resistance to the kind of things that we want to do, that
thirty or forty years ago the public would not have been congenial to.
G: Since you mentioned Governor Chiles and the settlement of the lawsuit, let me
focus on that and ask, in what way did you see that as contributing to change, or
what kind of impact did that have?
R: Two things. First of all, it said to the sugar industry that the state of Florida is not
on your side anymore. That is one thing, if it needed to be said that publicly. The
other thing is, it removed a huge judicial roadblock which would have translated
into an awful lot of time and money. It was, to me, a kind of political signaling that
the state of Florida was sort of moving over, shifting the balance, from essentially
a resistance to the kind of development which we need to do to create the South
Florida project to a willingness to support it, which means kind of tipping away
from its rather historic identification with the sugar industry in the past.
G: How would you explain that shift in Florida policy?
R: That is a good question. I am inclined to say it makes a lot of difference who is
governor. That is one thing. I also think it bespeaks a change in the political
weighting of different interests in the state of Florida. I think that we have kind of
crossed a historic milestone or historic benchmark of some kind where the
political weight of the interests that were for development agriculture, sugar,
real estate people and so forth I think that political weight that was so heavily in
their direction up until maybe fifteen, twenty years ago has shifted, enough that
these people no longer can count upon becoming the dominating influence in
G: Is that shift rooted in the shift in public opinion that you were talking about, or
would you identify it with other factors as well?
R: I am not sure. Certainly, public opinion nowadays is a lot more congenial to the
kind of things that we would call environmental development than the case of
twenty or thirty years ago, but I think there are other things. It may have to do
with the changing in the nature of the population in Florida, the erosion of
agriculture as a major industry, the migration to this state of a lot of people who
are now in service industries or in various kinds of commercial or software type
or technological industries, rather than the traditional industries that were always
strong in Florida, which is agriculture and tourism and that kind of thing. That
may have something to do with it. It also may have something to do with the fact
that we have pushed the margins of our ecological safety so far now that we are
beginning to see palpable consequences, adverse consequences, and I think
that has had a lot more to do with shifting public opinion than perhaps people
G: You have already mentioned Lawton Chiles. Let me ask you if there are any
other specific individuals, groups or organizations that you would point to as
particularly important catalysts for change?
R: Yes. I think the environmental community, certainly, and particularly that network
of people who are associated not just with some formal organization like
Audubon or Florida's Defenders of the Environment, but also that network of
people who are associated with, say, Nat Reed [former environmental advisor to
Florida Governor Claude R. Kirk, former Assistant Secretary of the Interior under
President Richard M. Nixon, and prominent environmentalist], and the names
have escaped me at the moment, but there are a number of other individuals
who have, over the last twenty years, been very outspokenly pro-environmental
and conservation who represent the, kind of, patrician Republican class in
Florida, which has its roots not just on the Democratic side of things, but which
has a very substantial constituency in the Republican party. To me, these kind of
represent the old- line Progressives in some ways, almost go back to some of the
original conservation people. You know, the Republicans always had some
decent claims of being conservationists until fairly recently.
G: What would you say, then, is the primary contribution that the environmental
community has brought to the Everglades?
R: They brought a lot of economic and political clout, because they represent a very
substantial segment of the patrician economic elite in Florida, I would say. They
got the attention of people in the Republican party that conservationists might not
otherwise have been able to get. Also, I think the large national organizations,
the Audubon Society, for example, the Sierra Club, and then a lot of the local
groups that have formed specifically to defend the Everglades. I cannot think of
the names of those groups at the moment, but there are a number of them,
Friends of the Everglades, for example. There is a large network of these groups
that is probably a lot more substantial and a lot more influential than it may be
perceived to be, that has had a great deal of influence in political leverage and in
changing the attitude about the Everglades.
G: Do you believe that their primary impact has been in pushing this issue onto the
agenda, or would you say that they also had an important role in shaping the
policy choices that have since been made?
R: Both, as much at the national level as at the state level.
G: Are there any other groups or individuals that you might cite as being particularly
R: I know I should, but I cannot think of others at this point. Now, if I think of things
later, should I add them?
[End of Interview.]