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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
University of Florida
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
University of Florida General Collection
Interviewee: Dr. John Henry Davis
Interviewer: Robert Johnson
Date: September 4, 1973
This is an Oral History interview with Dr. John Henry Davis,
conducted by Robert Johnson on September 4, 1973.
J: Dr. Davis, where and when were you born, sir?
D: In a Virginia, near a town called Farmville, July 16, 1901. My
father was a Presbyterian minister, and he and my.mother both
were Virginians. We came from a long line of Virginians all the
way back to Jamestown. I was invited back for the 350th
anniversary of Jamestown because I was one of the direct
J: Were you reared around this same area in Virginia?
D: The different places we lived were in Virginia until I was
eleven years old; Alabama for four more years after that, then
back to Virginia for two years. Then down to Florida to finish
high school, and in Florida, in and out, during my college days.
After I finished my Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in
1929, I taught at two colleges. We came to Florida and went back
to the colleges because my wife, Emma Adcock, was from Orlando.
Her father was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Orlando, so
we visited there quite often. During the times we were visiting
Florida, I made many trips to many different parts of Florida.
We returned to Florida, more or less permanently, on July 1,
1941. For five years I was with the Florida Geological Survey.
With the Florida Geological Survey, I travelled as much as 30,000
miles in one year in the state of Florida. I visited almost
every nook and cranny of this state on many different assignments.
I came to the University of Florida in 1946, with the exception
of four years spent in foreign countries. I've been in many
foreign countries that I'll talk about more later. I've lived
in Gainesville since 1946, and during those years I had many
classes that travelled all over the state to many places. I
would average quite a few thousand miles every year in different
parts of the state on my ecological work.
J: You went to college at Davidson College. What got you interested
D: I started my interest in nature when I was five years old. On
my fifth birthday, my mother told me that they were going to
have a party. The party meant to be dressing up in fancy clothes,
and I didn't like that. The only part I liked about a birthday
party was the ice cream. A colored boy came by and he showed me
some tadpoles. I said, "Where did you get the tadpoles?"
He said, "Down at the brick yard." So that afternoon I
took off for the brick yard, and they had the birthday party
without me. I was more interested in tadpoles than I was
in the birthday party. My daddy took care of the situation
when I got home out at the woodshed.
That's where my interest in biology started, when I was
five years old. You could not say it started at any one place,
because I was always outdoors, all my life. This was in
Virginia. When we moved to Alabama, the same outdoor things
happened. I went up and down the many roads. Once I found
wolf tracks in mud, and did other things like that. I've
never been confined to four walls if I could possibly help it.
J: Speaking of your coming from a long line of Virginians, did your
grandfather or father perhaps fight in the Civil War?
D: My ancestors fought in every war--the Indian Wars and all the
others. Astoundingly, none was ever killed from what I can
find out. My grandfather Davis was hit by a stray bullet during
the Civil War. He was a minister. He was hit by a stray bul-
let at Cumberland Church in Prince Edward County, Virginia, and
it didn't wound him very much. So one of the few people that I
know that was wounded was my grandfather when he was taking care
of the wounded soldiers.
Colonel William Morton was the main ancestor in the
Revolutionary War. He at one time helped George Washington
survey the North Carolina-Virginia line. My mother's name was
J: Have you more or less kept up with the genealogy of your family?
D: I know the genealogy of my family better than anyone else because
since 1927 I've gotten very accurate information about it. There
are fourteen generations on one side and twelve generations on
J: Okay sir, now you went to Davidson as an undergraduate, and I
believe you also attained your Master's there. Was this in
botany,or biology in general?
D: It was in biology in general for the undergraduate degree. For
my Master's degree I did my work in ecology. Although very few
people knew about ecology, I was trying to read things that were
recent, and ecology was interesting to me because I was interested
in natural history and the outdoors. So actually, my Master's
degree and dissertation were on ecology.
J: I was interviewing another biologist not too long ago, and we
started talking about evolution as being taught in schools in
these years. This was probably the middle twenties, I guess.
It was taught, for instance, at Davidson. Or did you have...
D: That was an issue that was brought up, but never taken below
the level of the present heads of the department. We had de-
cided that the less we talked about it, the better. We just
went on and taught it. Church schools didn't have any trouble
unless somebody outside raised hell about it. Inside the de-
partments, I don't recall any professor ever changing his lec-
tures or his textbook or anything else--and I went to many
different schools. That was like so many other objectionable
things that appear in life. The academic situation wasn't
bad at all.
J: I see. The students were receptive more or less to this...?
D: I just don't think anyone withdrew from school because I taught
it. I didn't think I could be a good scientist without teaching
J: You left Davidson, and was there an interim between your Master's
degree and Ph.D. at Chicago?
D: I taught at Davidson for two years, and then I saved enough
money to go to the University of Chicago [for one year] and
taught two years more and saved enough money to go to the
University of Chicago. So I was at the University of Chicago
over two full years. I was doing my research work on Mount
Mitchell area of western North Carolina so I could do summer
work in different times during the winter. The study was about
the ecology of the Black Mountains of North Carolina. So
when I went to the University of Chicago, I spent all the time
on class courses and so forth. I didn't have to spend the
time there on research.
J: Were there formal courses offered in ecology in those days?
D: There were about six or seven at the University of Chicago.
It gave the first Ph.D's in ecology in the United States.
My work was under Dr. Henry C. Cowles. I think the first
Ph.D. was probably given in about 1908, and by the time I graduated
I was the ninety-ninth Ph.D. in ecology.
It wasn't a new science at all--not then. The University
of Nebraska had a few...Dr. Clements. But I think the University
of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin later on had some.
The courses at other schools were taught by the University of
I knew some of the first ecologists. There are a few
still living, but I suppose I'm one of the oldest now; I was the
ninety-ninth Ph.D. in ecology. And it's interesting that Stanley
Cain at the University of Michigan was the 100th. He became
Assistant Secretary of the Interior at one time.
J: Was the public aware of the importance of ecology in those days?
D: Not at all. Just an academic subject. My wife added up that for
thirty-seven and one-half years she couldn't tell anybody what I
was! She still had to tell them I was a botanist. That was just
a beginning, because ecology includes animal and plant life. I
took courses in zoology that were related to ecology, as well as
those in botany that were related to ecology. So my degree is
really an ecology degree.
J: You graduated as a brand new Ph.D, and I guess you went job-hunting.
D: I didn't go job-hunting; they hunted me--Davidson College. I don't
like that word "job-hunt." I don't think I've ever job hunted
yet and I don't intend to.
J: Well, you're fortunate then.
D: I don't know whether you're fortunate or not. If you've got
something that's saleable, as they say, and if you're interested
in a particular place, they find out about it.
I taught at Davidson four years--full time, not as an
assistant, or anything. I was always full time. I never have
been an assistant. I never took a fellowship at a university
or an assistantship if I could possibly help it, because I thought
that that was an unnecessary waste of time. It's about the cheapest
pay you can possibly get and be a graduate student assistant.
I became professor at Presbyterian Collage in Clinton, South
Carolina, for five years. And Southwestern College in Memphis,
Tennessee, for five years. That brought me up to the year 1941
when I came to Florida, at the Florida Geological Survey, in
Before 1941, during some summer months, I spent quite a bit
of time in different places in Florida with the Carnegie Institu-
tion in Washington. They gave me good grants. I got grants almost
all of those summers I was teaching up to 1941, and most of them
were related to Florida.
J: When was the first time you came to Florida? Was it part of
academic pursuit, or were you visiting?
D: I came to Eustis in September, 1918. My senior year in high
J: What are your first recollections?
D: First recollections is frogs thatwer-emaking noise outside the
window, which I recall very much easier than I do the people. I
couldn't identify their croaking as to what type of frogs they
J: Was Eustis just a small, dirt road...?
D: The main street going down to the lake, and the high school up on
the hill, and the pond not very far away from where my father rented
a home. He was pastor of the Presbyterian church there.
J: Did you attend that high school?
D: Yes, at that high school, 1918-1919. It had a clay basketball
court and I played basketball. I didn't make the first team,
but I was a good substitute.
The pond was interesting because it had quite a few al-
ligators in it. I learned to swim with the alligators and push
them out of the way. They didn't bother me. They bothered my
brother a bit more than it did me. They were just wild alli-
gators, but they didn't bother you. My brother and I were good
swimmers, so we could get out of the way of 'em. Some of 'em
six and eight feet long, and we didn't pay any attention to them.
We didn't dive right on.top of them, but we did dive right beside
J: I guess that was an ideal place to grow up, particularly interested
D: Well, after I 'd been there two or three weeks, they had a
hunting trip in the Ocala Scrub, as it's called now, the big
scrub of Marion County. I shot at a bear, and nobody knows to
this day whether I killed a bear or the other fellow. Two of
us shot at the same time, and there were two sets of bullets
in the bear; and I think both of us hit the bear. But anyhow
I got some of that bear steak. I remember eating it.
J: Black bear, I guess?
D: Yes, black bear. Not a big one, but about 300 pounds, 250
pounds. So I killed my first bear before I was twenty years
old. I don't think I've ever killed one since, or any other
animal if I could possible help it. I killed one or two deer.
One of 'em I killed when I was hungry and we just had to have
something to eat. I got it at the first shot with a rifle, and
I thought that was pretty good.
J: Deer hunting is very difficult.
D: No, I don't find it difficult at all. If you just stay quiet,
the deer will come your way. You gotta know where the deer are.
No trouble for me to find the deer.
J: They are of course very rare nowadays.
D: No, they're not. I want to correct you. Deer aren't rare.
Very few animals are really rare; people just think they are.
They make too much noise to find out whether the animals are
there, and they go with somebody else. The only way to see
animals is to go by yourself, and you control the whole situation.
J: Just stalk them or let them come to you?
D: No, just sit still most of the time. It takes hours of observation.
J: Now you were in Eustis back in 1918, and you left and went to some
higher education. When was the next time you came back to Florida?
D: Well, I came back during the 1930s, often.
J: Yes, well, let's say for any length of time.
D: I didn't come back 'til I think you'd say 1921 or '22. I
came back because I dropped out of college at Christmas time,
and I spent the winter. My parents had moved to Wauchula. So
I know the region around Wauchula better than I know the region
around Eustis. The Peace River or the Peace Creek--I learned that
area very well. I taught at a little one-teacher school just one
mile from Eustis and at one time I watched the development- of the
ridge section. That would include the towns of Sebring and Lake
Wales, and others.
I remember when the Lake Wales Hotel was built, and I still
stop and stay in it sometimes. I remember when they had the in-
augural, as you might call it. They had a big dance and that was
the time I was doing a little flirting. One of the girls had a
Cadillac, so she took care of the transportation situation. We'd
all go over to Lake Wales and have us a big time. They also had
a home at Sebring. I can remember very well Mr. Smith--I think
it was H.K. Smith, I can't remember his initials--Mr. Smith living
in Wauchula had bought the land. Mr. Sebring, who ran most of the
town of Sebring, bought the land from him. George Sebring.
J: When was this--in the early twenties?
D: Early twenties--'21, '22--1 can't remember exactly which year.
J: When did you come to Florida more or less permanently?
D: 1941. July the first. I had a high fever when I crossed the
state line. I'd gotten strep throat and I suppose I was as sick
as I've ever been. I was almost in a coma state for four days.
In those days they didn't have antibiotics; I came as near to
dying as you could, without dying.
J: And you took a position here [University of Florida] in 1946 as
D: I came here as full professor. This was entirely due to my
research with the Carnegie Institution.
Now, the work with the Carnegie Institution was more interesting
probably than when I:came here permanently. I got the grant
from the Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1936. Not the
Carnegie Institute, but the Carnegie Institution of Washington,
which was a great research organization. It had the Dry Tortugas
laboratories, seventy miles beyond Key West. It was the most in-
ternational of all the marine labs in the world. Men came there
from all over the world. I got a grant to go to it for five summers.
J: What did this involve?
D: It involved mainly my studies of the mangrove swamp coast of
south Florida. That was the thing that set me up with my ec-
ology reputation, and still does. Then many people still think
I'm an authority on mangroves. I suppose I am. I've been all
around the world on the basis of mangroves. Those four or
five summers during the 1930s were active, because I would get
$500. In those days, it was a big grant of $500. That could
last me all summer for travelling.
J: Did they furnish your car--transportation?
D: No, they didn't furnish that, but they were generous enough so
that sometimes I could send them a telegram: "I was getting low
on the five hundred, send three hundred more." Almost all
my investigations and research that has been done are open-
ended. In other words, no limit to the amount of money I
spent, just to make accountability. I made very strict account
books on every penny I spent, so I always got the grants re-
newed. Those grants were from the American Philosophical Society
and the Carnegie Institution of Washington. One time I think
the application went in with three hundred other applications.
Only three of us got any. So I felt pretty good when I was one
out of a hundred that got a grant.
Very few people were getting grants in those days. I was
doing research on something on a world-wide scale that almost no-
body knew anything about. Karsten had studied mangroves in Africa
and some people had studied them in Asia. All the mangrove
coasts were an absolute unique type of vegetation, which we call
an ecosystem now.
J: From an ecological standpoint, I guess very important. Mangrove
coast, or would you say...?
D: No, Icalled it the "Ecology and Geological Role of Mangroves
in Florida." That was the title of my paper. It's been out of
print so long. But as recent as the last few weeks they were
asking me could they reprint it. And they probably will.
J: The Florida Press?
D: No, it's the Carnegie Institution of Washington. I never pub-
lished anything in the academic press, and I published only one
or two things in the journals.
J: But this four or five years probably made your reputation?
D: I don't think there's any doubt about it.
J: Of course, this was during the Second World War years. What
was Florida like during the war? A busy bustling place, or were
you mainly out in the so-called boondocks most of the time? Do
you recall anything particularly about that?
D: The thing was the Geological Survey itself became involved.
Some of the other men who knew more about geology than I did
enlisted or were drafted. I think all of 'em enlisted, because
they went in as officers. This left me holding the bag on
some of the geology. Dr. Herman Gunter was head of the Geological
Survey for the state of Florida. Dr. Bob Vernon left and went in
the Navy. So that left me trying to do some of his work and
some of the others. The only person we could hire during that
time was a man from Switzerland. We couldn't hire anybody in
the United States; they were all in the military service.
When oil exploration first started, we didn't know too
much about the oil resource supply of Florida. I was in the
Geological Survey when we got the first oil well in Florida.
I'd go down and look at that.
J: When was that?
D: I can't remember the exact year, but say 1945 or 1944. Back
then the place was Sunniland. That's south of Immokalee. I
can remember the New York Times phoning me. It wanted some
information, and Dr. Gunter was out of the building. He was
down at the well. They could tell in a few minutes, because
the man talking to me knew something about oil or petroleum
geology. He said, "Are you talking about this? Do you know?"
I said, "I'm not a geologist."
He said, "Well, why in the hell are you talking?"
I said, "Nobody's here." So what I said got in the New
York Times as being the facts, and Ihope they were.
J: Did this oil drilling expand or was it more or less just ex-
D: Oh, it continued, but it was not a very high grade oil.
J: Immokalee is around where?
D: It was on the western edge of the Everglades. It's in the
Big Cypress area. Big Cypress is not part of the Everglades.
That's a misnomer.
J: Is that right? We're talking about the national park, and you're
talking about more or less just the area adjacent to it?
D: To the west of it. Collier County. Collier and Hendry counties.
J: Right after the war you must have come here to the university.
What brought you here?
D: Well, I want to say some more about during the war. One of
the main things was the shortage of capable scientists. Humble
Oil Company and some of the others were prospecting in Florida
for oil [and] would have very few men to send. I'd go on trips
with them to do some of their prospecting and show them the sur-
face geology as best I could. That occupied some of my time.
One of the interesting things about the war was the shortage
of gasoline and the speed which you drove. Sometimes I was in
a hurry, but they asked us not to go over 45 mph. More than
once an officer drove up beside me to say I was going too fast.
I said, "Well, I'm on a job, and I have to get there." And I
explained to them that we were hunting for oil, and he said,
"Make it 60 if you want to!"
We had, I think it was called an "X" card for rations. My
own private car and the car I drove, because I alternated driving
mine. I'd get six cents a mile or something like that for driving
for the Geological Survey. And here I'd pull up at a filling
station, "Fill 'er up!" They'd fuss about it, and I'd say,
"Well, how are you going to get any more gasoline unless you
keep me in business?" 'Cause we were looking for oil! My
wife was doing welfare work, and so she had an "X" ration also.
We had three cars around the place, all with "X"s--unlimited
J: Not have to worry about tires or anything else.
D: And unlimited expenses, because it had to be done. Of course, that
was a war emergency when you get that situation. The people
themselves didn't pay too much attention to what was being done
in the way of academic research. So they were interested in
that angle of it, but I was doing other kinds of research, too.
I wasn't just helping these petroleum geologists, but I did as
much as I could.
There was one very interesting thing that came up because
it caused the energy crisis then. We knew about it during the
war. They had a meeting and Cleveland invited me up there and
some of the others. They brought that up, and used the words,
"energy deficiency." They didn't have enough fuel. We could use
up in the war petroleum and all other types of fuel, but coal
couldn't be mined fast enough because the miners were in the war.
And there were no other sources. I mentioned the word "peat."
Peat, you know, is deposits of humus material. The Everglades
are full of it. Florida had peat all over. So I did a two-and-
a-half to three year research on the peat deposits in Florida.
That was one of my big publications. For instance, you could
take the peat and burn it if you could get it dry enough to put
in the furnace. I got it dry enough to put in the furnace, but
the cost of drying it made it prohibitive. Peat was used in
Leningrad. It was used in -iireland and other places as a
source of heat.
What was very interesting to me was as soon as the war was
over, something happened to show you how good the Russians were
keeping up with what we were doing. I'd started before I left
the Geological Survey teaching down here at the University of
Florida. I was teaching here four days a week and going back
to the Geological Survey and working three days a week. So
I had two jobs going and I got paid for one.
I was on the campus when two men asked me in broken
English, "Where was Dr. John Henry Davis?"
And I said, "I think he's in Tallahassee," because I
identified them as Russians and I was correct.
They knew about my peat interests. I hadn't finished the
manuscript, but they knew about the work for the manuscript.
Most American scientists knew nothing about it. Here they were
from Russia over here to talk to me, and I didn't want to talk
to any Russian. So I never talked to them. I lied to them.
J: You found out they were actually Russians?
D: Oh yes. I'd gotten so much in the habit of what we call security.
I had a high security clearance during the war, and I did two
things that got me citations. What was right interesting was
one of those was finding some maps. I never did know whether the
maps were of the coast of Korea or the coast of Japan. I didn't
know anything except that I copied down the Chinese symbols from
the upper right hand corners and some of the others, and sent
them to the captain of the port of Tampa. He sent an armored car
to get these maps.
I said, "Why the armored car?"
They said, "We don't know, but we're ordered to bring them.
Get the maps."
J: What were these now? Maps that somebody had overlooked?
D: Coastal maps. In the library of the Geological Survey. We had
quite a library of maps of all kinds of places in the world.
Since we are so much interested in coastal things we had coastal
maps. I knew these maps as well as anybody. I had such high
security clearance nobody at the Geological Survey knew what I
was looking for. I just got information from Washington by
telephone, not by written information. They asked would I
please hunt for maps of either the coast of China or Japan or
I said, "How will I know these?"
They said, "They're written in Japanese or Chinese symbols."
So I started looking, and I found them. Later, when the war
was over, the captain of the port came up to me himself, read
me a citation, and then burned it.
I said, "What are you doing?"
He said, "There's no record of this, and we never want any-
one to know that you scientists helped us during the war."
I think that my security clearance probably still exists
to this day. That's one reason I didn't tell those Russians
anything. I avoided having to talk to anybody about what I
was doing or what I knew. I knew quite a few things that were
going on. I knew something about the atomic bomb, for instance,
before it happened.
J: In what connection was this now?
D: Friends. Friends knew I had this high clearance, and knew I'd
never talk. You couldn't get me drunk enough to talk. I
didn't make friends that much. I talked to my fellow scientists.
I remember sitting on the side of the bed when he told me
about the probability of an atomic bomb. I think it was July
16 or July 20.
The damn thing went off and I said, "Hey, you knew it was
going to happen before it happened."
"There were a few of us that knew about it," he said.
J: The Los Alamos Project, I guess.
D: No. The one in Japan.
J: But I mean this project...
D: I knew about that one, that got in the paper.
J: The Manhattan Project is what I'm trying to get at.
D: Oh, yes, the Manhattan Project. We didn't know the name of
it; nobody had told us the name was Manhattan, but I knew some-
thing was going on. They never told me the place or anything.
They just said, "We're getting something done."
I'd say, "How's that plutonium junk doing?" So there were
all kinds of aspects of the war effort that I knew something about.
J: Quite involved in it, it seems like. What about the maps?
D: I wouldn't call myself very much involved. I don't know whether
they ever thought we'd have to invade Japan, but now I suppose
it had been Japan there they were planning. I don't know why they
were so valuable to this day. The man that thanked me and read
me a citation, he didn't know.
J: After the war now, did you come to the university here? Was
this position taken because of your research during the war?
D: Well, it was partly. But this is where I'll have to say something
about the academic drag.
The academic excellence of the academic capabilities is not
due to the administration or the administrative officers; it's
due to the people who know each other--the scientists who know
each other. I don't think they'd have ever thought of me at
the University of Florida if it hadn't been for Dr. Harold
H. Hume. His middle name was Halrida. Very few people knew it,
but I knew it. He knew I knew it. He didn't like for other
people to know it.
He phoned Dr. Gunter, who was a friend of his, and said, "Can
you get John down here?" I heard them talking. I heard-Dr.
Gunter talking to Dr. Hume. Dr. Gunter said, "John, come in here.
Dr. Hume wants to talk to you."
I said, "Dr. Hume, what do I do when I get down there?"
He said, "You teach the returning veterans."
I said, "Is that all?"
He said, "No, you can do as you damn well please."
I said, "I'm coming."
He knew me. He knew he couldn't pin me down to sitting in
a university. So, as long as he was dean....
J: What do you recall of Dean Hume?
D: He was excellent. Of the best in comparison to the later deans.
I don't think I've ever known a better scholar at the University
of Florida. He could read his Latin. He would come over from
his office, sit on top of a desk, and I'd get on the other end
of the desk or prop myself up someplace.
But he wanted to be informed. He said, "What do you think
I said, "I don't know. I don't think that green's typical."
He'd have a plant in his hand, or else he'd have a description
in a book--a new variety of a camellia or holly or some native
plant. And we'd argue the point a couple of hours. I was just
one of his friends.
As an administrative officer, he was by far the best. He
was a good dean and he became vice-president, as you know, when
they couldn't find another one. Then he became president. Just
for a few weeks or months. But he ran the whole agriculture show,
as I call it, excellently. Everybody admired his scholarship.
J: Was botany under agriculture or was it under biology in those
D: No, botany was under agriculture. It got under agriculture
purely by accident. That was partly because Dean Hume had
the money and Dean Leigh didn't. As simple as that.
I think the simplest thing to say is that botany was a half-
way subject, because they had only one person teaching until I
came. I was the second person in botany. And Professor Cody was
the professor of botany. He taught very little. I had two or
three courses when I came. The university was expanding faculty
because the university grew in size very rapidly. So then Dr.
Ford came, and then some of the others. We built botany to
four or five members of the botany department. Biology and
botany were not related at all in administrative or any other
attitudes they had. Because persons like Francis Byers, for
example--he and Hubbell and some of the others over there in
biology had sort of an ivory castle, other-world type of approach
to science. Botany was on the practical side. Training people
to get that agriculture degree. That's what we did.
J: That was the main attitude you're speaking of?
D: Meant we had more money to spend.
J: Pragmatic attitude as against the strictly academic biology
D: Biology was giving Ph.Ds. I'm not going to say anything about how
little they learned; but they didn't have the staff to give a
Ph.D. They had an academic attitude. Make do the least possible--
that's what I like to call the academic and theoretical. I
thought some of the courses were taught by men that weren't
equipped to teach them.
J: Was botany actually not a department in those days?
D: Well, first it was under the Department of Plant Pathology.
So that it was a combination of plant pathology and botany,
botany being sort of a nursemaid to agriculture to help them
get the requirements for an agriculture degree. Biology was
an entity by itself, with a program that led to an M.S. and
later a Ph.D., but with too small a staff to give a very
good degree, although the men themselves were good. Archie
Carr was one of them; and H.K. Wallace is another one. H.K.
Wallace and some of the others, their aptitude of the subject
matter was probably supplemented a great deal by going to
Harvard or some other places for some of the courses they took.
In the case of botany, I had all the travel monies I
wanted. I didn't have to sit in Gainesville; I could go
look at the whole state. By that time I'd been all over the
state anyhow. I spent four years travelling--sometimes 30,000
miles a year--so my field work involvement was very exten-
sive. I took classes all the way down to Key West and all
the way out to Pensacola. Anywhere I wanted to go we could
get money to go, because Dr. Hume got it for us.
J: What are your attitudes towards a basic course in botany for
undergraduates? In other words, do you think it's necessary?
D: Very few people are inclined towards botany because they're
more interested in animals. So I doubt if a general botany
course is necessary. You can teach genetics and some other things
that can work with animals or plants. Of course, the genetics
is better with plants because you can do experimental work so
much faster. I don't see any necessity at all to require a
general botany course of anyone unless they're going to go into
the plant sciences. Now people forget that the plant sciences
are still one of the biggest, if you take them all together;
horticulture, plant pathology, botany, and some phases of ag-
ronomy. Very extensive. And with experiment stations, I suppose
there are more Ph.Ds in the plant sciences than in anything
else at the University of Florida--hundreds of 'em. When you
consider all the applications of the plant sciences, to.all
kinds of aspects of agriculture. It's not an academic subject
at all--it's an applied subject. So the general course of
botany had entirely different implications than the general
course in biology.
The "C" courses in the University College were aimed at
this average person that would go out, and just hoped he knew
something about biology when he got through taking the course.
He carried the rest of his life with a half knowledge of the
subject. I always called the course a "once over lightly,"
and very lightly at that. I wouldn't have considered it basic
to anything. When they asked me to teach it, I said, "Never!
I can't teach a course like that. It doesn't have enough meat
on the bones. Just has the bones." That was my feeling about
J: Were ecology courses offered as such in those days?
D: No. I started the first one to be actually labelled "Ecology."
We had some animal behavior courses like that, but mostly the
identification of ecology is erroneous. Those people think that...
if you do taxonomy for kinds, if you know all the insects, you don't
know how they behave or how they live at all. If you know all
the mammals, you don't know where and how they live or how they
behave. They, and the habitats they live in, and form the eco-
systems. Insects occupy niches in an ecosystem. So a great
deal of the subject matter that they taught was considered ec-
ology and wasn't. It was just on the natural history side of
it, which Dr. Archie Carr will tell you. He's a natural historian,
but he's not an ecologist. To me, he never claims he's in
ecology, because he doesn't have the basic ecology slant, which
are the plant and animal communities combined to make an ecosystem.
And for so many years, nobody even knew what the word "ecosystem"
meant. The word "ecosystem" was started in the 1800s.
J: Of course, you had lived in Florida off and on for many years.
What was Gainesville like right after the war? I guess quite
an influx of veterans. Did you have a home here?
D: We bought a place close to the university, on Twenty-first Place.
I would say that Gainesville was a country town with the unusual
situation of the railroad running down the main street and stopping
at the hotel. The "town and gown" were not too clearly sep-
arated, because many of the people who lived in the town knew
the people that taught at the university, and vice versa. We
did things together and made friends, so Mrs. Davis and I still
have friends with town folks. In fact, I'm kin to some of them;
not directly, but by marriage. So I can say that it was a nice
place to live and shop and see people that you knew every time you
went anywhere. Not that there's anything bad about it now; it's
just grown into a city.
The university itself was a small-scale operation. Of
course, it looked big to me, because I'd taught in colleges.
However, looking back on it, it was a small-scale operation
with inadequate funds, inadequate housing, and inadequate staff--
outside agriculture. Agriculture had a good staff, because Dean
Hume got it. He got things done for some reason. Of course, the
legislature always gave the agriculture division of the University
of Florida more money than it gave the others. Not more total
amount of money, but in proportion to what they requested, they
got a higher allocation of funds. They continued to do so all
the time I was here, and they probably still do.
J: When do you see Florida as a university more or less moving from
this agricultural leaning? Of course, there's nothing wrong with
it, but more or less to a university as such, on an academic level
with some of your better Southern schools, if not some of your
D: That began in 1946, and was in good shape by 1955. It is very
interesting that so many of the young professors--they weren't
necessarily young in age, some of them were past fifty, and quite
a number of them were about my age, about forty-four--we swung
it. We made something happen. I suppose 30, or 40, or 50 percent
were new men. It's on the record somewhere. Of the new pro-
fessors, many were very capable people. Some of them started
off as assistant professors. I came as a full professor. The
fact is that they had two or three good departments in Arts and
Sciences: English was good, History was good, Chemistry was
good. These three subjects gave some good Ph.Ds. They had
a very good staff in some of those things. I don't want to dis-
credit them at all; I just mean that compared to the funds
they had and the personnel they had, they didn't have quite as
good teachers, and they certainly didn't have as much funds as
the College of Agriculture. But they soon changed during those
early fifties. And that's when they became a university.
J: I guess perhaps the great influx of students was after the war?
D: The post-war students, mostly vets, were the best students we
ever had; the veterans of World War II. They're the ones who
made it happen. Some of them came back for graduate degrees,
and they worked hard and learned fast.
J: When were graduate courses offered in the agricultural areas?
Was there a Ph.D. in botany at this time?
D: No, not for quite a number of years. But there were Ph.Ds
in other subjects: Agronomy, soils, horticulture--they had
J: So the caliber of the students after the war was perhaps the
best the university has had?
D: I find so, of course I'm prejudiced.
J: Yes, well it has been said before that 1946 through 1956
was a very important decade at Florida.
D: Very important decade. That's when the university became a
university and started getting some funds. Dr. Hillis Miller
helped make it great. I think his influence was great. His
name was Joe Hillis. I always knew him as Joe. In fact, I
called him that because he's from Virginia, like I was, and
some of his good friends were friends of mine. So when nobody
else was listening, I'd call him Joe.
J: It's been said that Dr. Miller was probably the prime mover.
D: I think he was. He went after outside funds, and started
building some buildings, and of course, he thought of the
medical center. That's his baby if there ever was one.
J: So these few years after the war, the university acquired,
or at least began to acquire, a national reputation?
D: National stature. And they also built up the library. It's
right interesting, if you want to get comparisons. I came to
the University of Florida when I was at Davidson College as a
young professor, because I was a member of Phi Beta Kappa,
and they didn't have a Phi Beta Kappa chapter here. So
they said, "You're from Florida. Go there with this list of
books and see if they have an adequate library to have a chapter
of Phi Beta Kappa." They didn't. I walked into the library,
and nobody knew what I was doing. I looked at the card index
things and went around to the stacks. So many of the books were
missing that when I got back I just told the committee it was
an inadequate library. And it was. And it called itself
J: Let's talk a little bit, Dr. Davis, about some of your investigations
besides strictly from an academic standpoint. In the Everglades,
for instance--this was after the war.
J: Or was it before the war?
D: It began before I came to Florida permanently. As a young man
I went down to the Everglades, and this would have been about
1931 or '32, after I'd married Emma Adcock. I went down and
looked at them. I started looking at them more and more. I'd
get down there and I'd find some fellas who had a boat. I'd
get out and Indians would go with me, or I'd go by myself and
paddle out to one of the tree-islands. In the middle of the
tree-islands would be Seminole chickees, bananas and corn. So
I got to know the Indians. I got to know them very well. Later
on, I lived with them parts of a summer; I could speak some of
their words anyhow.
J: What area was this?
D: Well, the Tamiami Trail was only a part. The southern part was
the wildest part of the Everglades at that time. Then down to-
ward Cape Sable, because the road ran down from Homestead to
Cape Sable. I spent many summers during the time I was with the
Carnegie Institution of Washington in Homestead. I stayed at
the south end of the Everglades, towards the Everglades National
Park. Mr. Daniel Beard, the son of the Daniel Beard who estab-
lished the Boy Scouts was trying to find out if it was worth
having a park there. He and I went over a great deal of that
ground. I helped actually set the limits of the Everglades
National Park. I sat on the front row, because Dan considered
some of the things I did as very pertinent. He knew I was doing
ecology at the same time and telling what ecology was all about.
The Everglades, as many people know, was 3,500,000 acres in
those days, of which only about 500,000 acres could be called
in any way "invaded by man." The north end of it was agriculture
with sugar cane and so forth. The edges of it were used for wet
prairies and cattle and other things. Outside of Miami they have
some cattle ranches for dairies particularly. Down below
Homestead, they had some farming on the edge of it. The water
control was by the main canals, such as the North New River Canal,
and the other canals--the Miami Canal, which was never put through.
So I knew all that area since I studied the Everglades and kept
at it for five years.
The book I wrote, The Natural Features of Southern Florida,
describes the Everglades. It's a little bit of a shame more
people haven't read it, because they wouldn't be saying what they
do in the newspapers and making speeches about the Everglades.
They could at least learn from that publication what the Everglades
were like. I've had people like some of the professors at the
University of Miami say they've tried to find anything with more
description, and they never have yet. This is because I
covered it so well. Towards the end of the war I was flying
in military planes over it. The military took me up and flew me
over the Everglades, and so I saw it from the air.
J: What are some of the greatest dangers you see to the Everglades,
from the present day standpoint?
D: I wouldn't want to say exactly, but I can tell you what happened
then. The first and greatest danger was fire. Fire could burn not
only saw grass and other types of vegetation, it could burn some
of the peat or muck, or whatever you want to call the organic
deposits. Burn it deep enough so that if you have two or three
dry years in a row, your water table is below the surface two
or three feet, and the peat can burn deeply. Thus the elevation
of the Everglades got to lose elevation. So fire is the greatest
Overdrainage was another. That is the drainage of water off
the north end of the Everglades so that they could raise the
crops--winter vegetables and sugar cane. This did lower the water
table and oxidize the surface of peat amounting to about an inch
a year. Some places up there lost three or four feet in mean
elevation of the land surface. That was an insidious type of thing.
It continued, and probably still continues to a certain extent.
It almost had to be done, because it was a bread basket.
During the war we had a conference on sugar cane, and I can
remember it very well. We couldn't get sugar from Cuba, and
the Philippines were cut off. The boats got sunk. And there were
other things which made it a little hard to get what you want
from foreign countries.
So they wanted to increase the acreage for sugar cane in the
Everglades. All the money that was necessary to do it was dumped
in by the Department of Agriculture. They had sources of
money, and they expanded rapidly. You'd expect that to happen.
As far as I was concerned, one of the main things was the estab-
lishment of different kinds of vegetation which are eco-systems.
The saw grass marsh is the most extensive type. There are islands
of trees. Some people call them "hammocks," but that's a poor
word because the word isn't known all around the world. But a
tree-island is--an island of trees is known; it's a descriptive
word. "Hammock" is not descriptive at all; it's a poor word
to use. Those tree islands are very interesting, and the use
of those by the Indians as campsites and agriculture sites. And
then the sloughs that are open water parts.
I watched the airboat develop, some of the earliest ones.
Some people got killed because they didn't protect the prop. If
they leaned back, the prop would hit them in the head and kill
them. They'd use any engine they could. Like out of a Model
T Ford, or anything else just to fix 'em an engine. Later they
got the "Glades buggy." They got the big wheels. Some of
the big tires came from military airplanes. This kind of tire you
can put on any kind of an automobile rig or truck rig, and put 'em
out there in the Glades. We used to get stuck and walk back. I
remember one time I had to walk back eleven miles in the middle of
the night, and the only person who made it with me was a young boy
about twelve years old. The men that tried it couldn't make it.
They gave out because they sank in sometimes. We made it. We
tried to get some help. We had to get a great big tractor with
lugs on it, extension lugs, to go back out there to pull the
tractor out to the hole. We went over twenty miles for the tractors.
All this surveying was done by the Geological Survey and the
Soil Conservation Service. Two or three government agencies
were interested in it. My base at that time was Fort Lauderdale.
I worked out of Fort Lauderdale with the Geological Survey. Before
that I'd been to many of the isolated parts of the Everglades.
I went one time to find a cannonball. We call it Cannonball
Tree Island. I figured out from reading Lieutenant Ives's book
that that's where he probably went, because he went from Shark
River to Fort Dallas, which was on the Miami River that was the
beginning of the city of Miami. It was an old Fort known as
Dallas. I think I knew that route very well. How he went, he
and his men. And I found out where Brown's Store was; Brown's
Store was in the Big Cypress Indian Reservation. I think I found
the exact spot of that. Then I found some isolated old places
like Tony's Mound. I don't know if it's still in existence now,
but it was an old Indian mound that had boat slips and that was
up towards the northern part of the Everglades. I think I could
still travel to the Everglades and still name you quite a few
of those old places.
J: What mound was this?
D: Tony's. It's not an Indian name. It was by white men. They
made place names to suit whatever name they wanted to call them.
J: It was a burial mound?
D: No, it was a boat mound; habitation mound.
J: Boat mound, I see.
D: We didn't find any skeletons. I've been to quite a few mounds
where they found skeletons in different parts of the state.
J: The last time you were in the Everglades, did you notice many
D: The changes have been partly insidious. The main error that's
made about the Everglades is that people say it's as dry as
it's ever been. That's not true. I don't know--I can't remember
the years, but I've made talks about the Everglades quite a few
places. One of the greatest hardships I found in the Everglades
was doing without water. The main trouble was the radiator
was boiling; we were running out of water for the radiator. When
we finally dug a hold deep enough to find some-water at the
bottom of the hole, we didn't put the water in our stomachs, we
put it in the radiator, because we had to get back with that
Glades buggy. And so we went without coffee water. I think we
went a little over forty hours, about fifty-some hours without
any water at all--coffee or nothing. And that's a real hardship
at any temperature with nothing to drink. That's the greatest
hardship I ever faced in the Everglades.
J: How did this happen? You were just out longer than you planned
D: No, we'd been in that area before. The men with me were not ex-
actly guides. I knew where I was all the time. I had these
beautiful air photos--these maps. We would go south of the Tamiami
Trail all the way down to the Everglades National Park, and go
all the way through. And we would get in certain sloughs where
we'd expect water to be, and there wasn't any. Sloughs that have
not been that dry since.
J: From this Everglades investigation, where did you go?
D: The Everglades investigation extended during the war. It didn't
quit-when I came to the University of Florida. I always took
classes down there, and I always helped the National Park. The
Everglades National Park was established by that time. I've
gone back for geological reasons and to check on somebody. It
was usually that somebody had written something that had quite
a few errors in it, but I didn't have any trouble finding the
errors. All I had to go was go back and see that I was right.
Among the many places I went, of course, was the lakes of
Florida. I suppose I know 150 lakes real well. I'm just fin-
ishing for the Water Resources Research Center of the University
of Florida, Environment Engineering. It's a federal and state
thing. I'm studying the lake levels of Florida back to 1845. I've
got the manuscript ready now. I've been to so many Florida lakes
I don't remember all; and to some rivers. I couldn't name
them all unless I sat down and tried to think of them. All those
are very interesting. In other words, they're water ecology.
The coast swamp of mangroves, and the more inland water
ecology have been my main interest...and the Everglades and the
wetlands. There's a distinct difference that ought to be made.
The wetlands are seasonally flooded. They vary from five to
ten years as wet, and three or four years as dry, and again five
to ten years as wet. That's typical of the Everglades, and that's
wetland habitat. For instance, the marshes along the Kissimmee
By the way, I made a mistake when I advocated straightening
it out. Yes, that was one of my bad ecological mistakes. I
made some more. I was consultant to the U.S. Corps of Engineers
for about ten years. They're not so bad as some people think
they are; they just make mistakes,,like all human beings do. That
was one of the bad mistakes, straightening out the Kissimmee
J: How is this now? From what standpoint?
D: Well, the main thing is it drains the water off the agricultural
lands fast, and it takes the residual fertilizer to Lake Okeechobee.
They just changed the water quality of Lake Okeechobee, because it
drains this water off the agricultural lands into Lake Okeechobee.
That will build up the pollution in Lake Okeechobee eventually,
if it hasn't done it now. Even though it's a big lake, if you
keep draining fertilizer residues off the land, you'll do that.
You'll pollute something.
J: Dr. Davis, let's talk a little bit about your students and
yourself, and some of the work you've conducted in Florida
ecology, botany and so forth over this period of years that you
were connected with the university and perhaps prior to that.
D: I was here as a teaching professor for twenty-three years, with
two years in Burma for the Ford Foundation, one year in New
Zealand, and another year in Formosa. I was absent four years
off on these assignments that gave me a good idea of the world
scope of ecology, so that I could compare Florida with other
places, which is very important to get the scale of ecology on
a world scale. During those twenty-three years the students were
very much interested in two aspects of ecology. One was wildlife
management, and the other one was what we call the ecosystems,
the theoretical or descriptive with some experimental features
of the ecology.
The main interest was on the ecology of Florida as a whole.
One aspect of that I completed was the total vegetation of the
whole state of Florida. I taught a course that was called
"Vegetation of Florida." I accumulated information about every
county in Florida except about ten. I got fifty-seven counties,
I think,with maps drawn of details about the vegetation and other
things. I finally published a map on the Natural Vegetation of
Florida. It's too small a scale to show the detail, but I still
have maps of may different counties of the state of Florida
done in enough detail so that you can find out--for instance, an
area like this county, such as the San Felasco--find out the
details of that. This county is very well done. And most of the
counties in this section.
Some students did master's degrees on some of the aspects of
ecology, and three or four did Ph.Ds on different parts. One of
them, for instance, I think he was Joe Edmonson, worked on what
we call the flatwoods, the pine woodlands of the state of Florida.
He worked on that particularly with special emphasis on the cypress
swamps of stands of cypress, and domes that occur in the flatwoods
in different areas of Florida.
I would say the best way to summarize this is I became fam-
iliar with two-thirds of the details of the vegetation of the
state of Florida from the efforts of the students and myself.
We would take trips to many of these places,and then the students
would plan so that they would go back to those counties. If they
lived in a certain county, like Polk County, they could do half of
Polk County, and did more work during the Christmas holidays and
summer vacation. Most of the time there was nothing but just a
class report, because they didn't get credit for the course until
they finished their maps and made a description. Sometimes it took
two years to finish their maps and make the descriptions, so
when they asked me how much credit was due in the course, I'd say,
"I haven't got the least idea, probably six or eight hours." And
I'd give them four hours credit, having done enough work for that.
J: Wildlife management was perhaps the most interesting or the most
popular, I should say.
D: That was due to the fact that Forestry was teaching wildlife
management. They were taking the ecological approach to some
aspects of wildlife management. Most of the time during the
early days of the development of the subject under Forestry,
the students were required to take my courses in ecology. One
was a general ecology course, and one on the vegetation of Florida.
Also, I had another course which was very interesting to many--
aquatic ecology in the state of Florida, water ecology.
J: The trips you made to the Everglades, were these mainly for
the wildlife management area?
D: No, they were aimed toward basic ecology. I did not teach
wildlife management as such, because they can learn that another
place. I gave them an idea of what the four different types of
vegetation are in the Everglades, where they were, how to
read the maps, and how to read their air photos. When they went
there, they'd know most of the plants. They also saw quite a few
animals.. For instance, one of the main places we went to was what
you call the Fahkahatchee Swamp. The road was cut in there when
they lumbered out the cypress. We could go in there and come to
a stand. In just a few minutes, a deer would cross the road, or we
would see a raccoon or something like that. And there they could
find out that the royal palm is a native of Florida, because a
grove of royal palms is left there. You could see the changes in
vegetation after a fire and the way some of the vegetation is
being restored after lumbering and fire. In some places, they
could see the effects of dry seasons as compared to wet seasons,
and what man had done in the way of roadways and other things.
The main thing is that the entire scope of the course would be
for about twenty distinct ecosystems in the state of Florida,
all of which we studied in some detail. One,of course, happened
to be the Oklawaha River, which I'll discuss later. We went to
so many different rivers. However, that was one of the main
ones we studied.
J: What other research in lakes and rivers and so forth was going
on at this time.
D: Almost no other ecological work by others. There was some done
at the University of Miami in the Everglades National Park area,
and some other parts, but they haven't had a consistent graduate
program that took in much ecology. They've had some people
that dabbled in it, as I call it. They knew the south end of
the Everglades fairly well. Some people who've moved down
there were good scientists that-studied, but they got interested
in such things as orchids and nothing else. That isn't ecology.
That's an interesting subject, but it's just too narrow a scope
to be called ecology.
J: You retired in 1969, but it's still recent enough to have seen
the more recent changes in organizations as far as ecology around
the state. I'm sure you're one of our so-called pioneers of
getting a lot of this started around here. Have some of your
students moved into ecology or taken over any prominent state
D: One of the men here who's teaching ecology in the Department
of Botany, Jack Ewel, is one of my students. He took a Ph.D.
degree at the University of North Carolina, but got his master's
degree here. Another one is at the University of West Florida--
Joe Edmisten. Then another former student of ours, I've taught
him quite a bit, is Earl Frye. He is in charge of the Game and
Fresh Water Fish Commission. At least he had some of his basic
ecology with me. I taught him some and some of the others on
his staff that have management of the whole wildlife situation.
They took work with me, and other people--zoology and some in
wildlife management. There are quite a few others besides those
who have gotten good degrees taking ecology. Sam Snedaker,
who is with this museum, was one of our students. He did his
research work in Central America, but he knows his basic Florida
ecology very well. So we'd say that quite a number of the younger
men did know some Florida ecology, and as we say, they are getting
Ecologists change interests over to what we call "systems"
ecology, ecosystems I mentioned before, and the balancing nature,
as we call it, the food chain and other aspects like that. This
is the second stage of almost any ecological science. You have
to know what's there, and then you start studying the ecosystem,
for the details of it. I found out what was there, the ecosystems.
For instance, in mangrove swamps, on the mangrove physiology
and ecology or the mangrove ecosystem, to find out what amount
of salt and fresh water, what the animals are, what the different
effects of even sunlight and its amount of radiation, and the
amount of respiration, as compared to photosynthesis and other
things like that.
J: Around the state, what directions do you see ecology taking in
the next few years? For instance, the relationship between
commercial interests and ecology. Florida's a rather unique
D: So much has happened since the explosion of ecology that there
has developed an eco-lunatic fringe, you might say. The "ecofreaks"
as I call them, started this. That's a person that's had no
ecology, but knew all about it in about ten minutes or ten:
days or ten months. His idea has been the protection of the
resources as they saw it within a system of pressure groups.
He has polarized the subject matter so that you took sides.
You fought against something that has happened without examining
the subject matter itself to see whether it needed to be fought
against. Wildlife conservation and energy conservation and some
of these other things have been almost completely exaggerated.
They don't know the answer, but they give you the answer with-
out knowing, because that gets their name in the paper. That
group of sentimental ecologists or aesthetic ecologists have
done a great deal of good to make people aware of the subject
of the balances of nature. They have continued to be important
in the political setup and the government agencies like anti-
pollution agencies and the attainment of lands for both re-
creation and the preservation of nature. The money is being
spent on it, and some of it's being spent very well, but some
of it's been necessarily spent, because there's quite a bit
of wild land in Florida already, and to spend a half million
dollars or even a million dollars on some acreage that you don't
even need is misspending taxpayers money, to my mind. For in-
stance, this Big Cypress is one of their ideas; I think we're
throwing money away down there.
D: Because it can't be developed very well anyhow. And it is not
affecting the water management systems very much. Not as much
as they think it is.
J: Is the water system probably the most ::critical area from an
ecological standpoint that we have to be concerned with here
D: No. There's three or four aspects of ecology as a whole. Water
management's probably number one. Surface water; but ground
water's even more important. Water management of part of Florida
is run by one of my friends. They have to worry about the ground
water and the water preserves for Pinellas and Hillsborough
County. They're doing a good job there. One reason that they're
concerned is because they had about eight or ten years of de-
ficient rainfall. That may be replaced by an overabundance of
rainfall the next eight or ten years. This problem may solve
itself. In the meantime, you have to watch both the water amount
and the water quality. I think that the ecology of water
habitats is probably the most important right now. And mana-
gement of water as such.
The biggest management of water is the Southern and Central
Florida Flood Control District. That extends all the way up
the Kissimmee River Valley nearly to Orlando and all the way
down through the Everglades. Some of your great construction
work has been done in this large region. Some of it has been
done wrong; for instance the straightening out of the Kissimmee
River. It was ecologically bad.
J: How bad has it been?
D: It isn't good. So you can say it's a deficit instead of an
The land development of Florida has varied greatly in the
last eight or ten years, with almost the effect of an explosion,
so that undoubtedly they have been making certain mistakes. Some
of them are engineering mistakes, and some of them are ecological
mistakes. It's a little hard to prove if it's actually a mis-
take, or whether it's a temporary deficit to the whole ecological
balance of that particular area.
In general two or three rather bad things have been done.
One was the finger-type of canals, like they've done at Cape
Coral near Fort Myers, and some of the other developments down
around southwest, and other places like that where mainly the
tide flows have been so bad that the tidal flushing has not been
good enough to keep those canals open. There's been a deterior-
ation in the water quality of the canals. That's been ecologically
bad. Some of the filling, especially of mangrove swamps, has
been very bad because it has filled in areas that were good for
wildlife production, a primary source of the food chain organism
for marine animals. Some of that has been overdone.
Then there's the argument with the state about where the mean
high water line is. That brings up the subject of whether
ecology can tell where the high water line is. I'm sure you could
do it, because I can do it. So far I think I've been on four or
five lawsuits, and every one of them has gone by my decision of
where the high water line is. This is because you can tell by
the vegetation and the geological and botanical aspects where the
high water line is, or the high water line occurs. That is
what I'm doing with the lakes of Florida.
All the development is not bad. Some of it's based on this
particular thing: man needs a place to live. And if man needs
a place to live, let him live there, but let's let him do the least
possible harm. So changing the landscape, or changing the water-
scape, or changing the water assets or resources, or changing
the land, is something that should require preliminary studies
so that you know what the impact is.
One of the main features that ecologists have developed
very well is these impact studies, so that these different
federal agencies and the different state agencies know what the
impact is. I could give you a good example of that, because I
helped on the establishment of the final permission the Atomic
Energy Commission gave to start up the big atomic power plants
of Turkey Point south of Miami for the Florida Power and Light.
During about a few years period, they kept those big atomic
power plants idle, and the power plants could have kept Miami
with more electricity if they had been running. If so, there
wouldn't have been as many brownouts and blackouts. But they
were worried about thermal pollution.
I should say in a sideline here that the ecology of thermal
pollution is hot known. We know the lower threshold in the cold
water and the cold air, but we don't know what hot water does.
So the assumption that it's going to do harm--you don't know
whether it will do harm. It might help oysters, it might help
redfish, to have hot water. Some of these poeple say it'll kill
everything or hurt everything. And they haven't run any experi-
ments to see. So, you see, you have these assumptions made by
these so-called conservationists, and they have no ecological
basis at all. To make a long story short, they decided it
would be harmful to put all this hot water out in Biscayne
Bay. They decided to dig canals and pool the water in the canals
to cool it. They asked two different groups of scientists to
make an impact statement. Both. of them made them, and none of
them passed the Atomic Energy Commission. They asked me, and I
did it in seven days. It passed, because we did a good eco-
logical job. I got some of my former students, and we went on
the job and we did it. We made the report, and it passed. Those
impact statements are very important because they tell the story
of what might happen, not could happen, or would happen, but
what might happen. You can use your own judgement as to whether
you're on the right track as to getting the prognosis. You have
to interpolate into the future. You've got to interpolate
those things into the future so you can see where the food chain
is going to become bogged, or whether some other aspects of
ecology are jeopardized and restoration will become impossible.
J: Are these impact studies a regular tool used nowadays by most
state agencies and federal agencies?
D: Almost altogether. For instance, they make an impact study
as to whether there's going to be pollution, and how much.
To complete this particular thing, how much pollution will
there be? How much harm will you do? It has to be done be-
fore the fact. You always have to anticipate something. That
is one of the aspects of ecology that's very good--to get those
impact studies made. But the impact statements are no better
than the scientists that make them.
J: In other words, if I was going to go into some area of Florida to
build 20,000 homes, like Mackle Brothers, there would be a study
made of the impact on the natural area?
D: Right, you wouldn't get your permit to do some of the things
unless you had that impact study. If I reported to a certain
commission, say the county commission, I'd report it to show them
that what was happening was a good thing or a bad thing. If
it was a bad thing, I would stop it if I could. In one particular
instance, fill was a good thing, because lead paint off the
boats was drifting into a marsh area. Lead's a poison to
people. The eco-freaks wanted to keep the marsh area there.
People were getting crabs and fish out of there and they were
poisoning themselves. I said the quicker you cover up the area,
the less chance of poisoning people. So they gave their per-
mission. Now the so-called conservationists thought fill would
ruin the marsh area. I said, "Yes, but the commissioners are
stopping the lead poisoning."
People will actually look at a tidal area at high tide, when
the water covers that area. You've got to look at it at low tide.
And you've got to look at it below the tide, see what it's doing
to the soil and everything about it.
Another example of ecology consulting was when they had in
1970 a big oil spill in Tampa Bay. Everybody there threw up
their hands in holy horror. The spill did kill some birds.
But I went in there nine months later for the Florida Power
Company, and we found no harm to oysters, barnacles, mangroves,
or anything else. So when the suit got to Tallahassee to get
payment for damages, they thought the amount would be millions
of dollars. It ended up with about $20,000 to $100,000. The
other two scientists were from England. I asked them why did
they have these British scientists here. They said, "Because
they'd-seen oil spills." American scientists commit more mistakes!
We found no residual part of Bunker C oil whatsoever. It had all
evaporated or gone somewhere else.
Some of these things you read in papers are very much
exaggerated. A simple statement would be that nature can
heal its scars. Nature can heal its wounds and leave a scar.
The only thing you ought to a.k is: Is the scar bad or is it
healing? It is going to hurt. Anything you do to nature
is going to hurt. But the scar can sometimes be better tissue
than the original tissue was, such as more strength to it.
J: That's a fresh approach. I have never thought of it like that.
I don't think these "ecological freaks," as you say, don't al-
ways see the one side of an idsue.
D: They're what I call "Calamity Janes."
J: At least they brought the public attention.
D: Oh, that's good. The awareness of it is a good thing, and I
hope it continues.
J: What else in this area?
D: I think that's enough about it, except to say that my experience
is very wide because I probably helped fifteen or twenty differ-
ent developers in the state of Florida. Some on a big scale and
some very critical impact studies had to be reported. Never
do I know what they're going to spend on it, because I think that's
none of my business. Some people say, "Well, how much does it
pay you?" I said if they didn't pay me, they would not listen.
My fee is related to how I want the persons of the corporation
to listen. If he's not paying me, he is not going to listen. If
he's paying a good fee, he'll listen. So I'm not doing it for
that reason, I'm doing it because I want the person to listen and
understand the approach of an ecologist to a problem. I've found
that many of these big organization men and the industrial and
development people are better listeners than most academic people
I talk to. Some of them have read more about ecology and environ-
J: When it comes to money, you're spending the company's money,
I imagine they are interested in it.
D: They've got to solve their problems. They can't just sit around
and talk about it. They've got to solve their problems.
J: Well, we're just about at the point, sir, I think we can talk
about the Cross-Florida Barge Canal. I believe you mentioned
your involvement goes back to the thirties?
D: Well, the concept of the canal began in the thirties, but of
course it began in the nineteenth century when people were
interested in some way of getting across Florida without having
to go around through the Florida Strait, and the dangerous
storms and wreckage and other things like that; the longer
distance involved in water transportation to take boats around.
So it's a very old story. The idea that the canal across
Florida could relieve some of the traffic by barges for some of
the heavy freight is very old. But when President Roosevelt
began during the 1930s, the first idea was a sea-level canal.
The sea-level canal was proposed, and some plans were made for it;
in fact, quite a detailed plan. So the route was chosen, and
I've seen all the written diagrams of things that were turned
out on the drawing board.
J: What route was this now?
D: About the same one they have now.
J: Which is around what area?
D: Well, I won't go into that, because it's all written down in
maps and so it's no use. Everybody knows the upland part
comes to the Oklawaha River and down it to the St. Johns River.
So that part of it, the upper part is over south of Ocala. It
has a western entrance and an eastern entrance, but there are
About forty miles would be practically sea level. But the
sea level idea had been advanced by quite a number of people
because they wanted to take rather heavy freight through, bigger
than barges. Not quite as big as the Panama Canal, but something
in that order, so that some freight could come through on ocean-
going ships. It didn't have to be barges or inland or entry from
What happened was that the first person asked "What will
the sea level do to the ground water conditions, and how will
the problem of the salt water penetration into the Florida
aquifer [be dealt with?]" That became a very important issue
for the Florida Geological Survey, because Dr. Herman Gunter
was very much against doing it until enough research and in-
spection had been done to know that a canal could be built without
harm to the ground water conditions of Florida. The charter
of the Florida.Geological Survey very definitely said it was his
obligation to protect the water supply of the state of Florida, so
he was committed to that. The general--whoever was in charge of
the Jacksonville branch for the U.S. Corps of Engineers--and others
tried to talk him into it. The governor of Florida stood behind
him and said, "No, you can't do it without the geologists signing
this permit." They never got a signature, and so they dropped it.
It was interesting because the Ecological Society of America
asked me to come down and take a look at it. Many years before many
others were aware of the canal route, I was aware of it. I
came down knowing Florida well enough, and went around the whole
route. Two of my friends, one of whom was a classmate of mine,
were engineers on the job. They started digging the canal; it
was Roosevelt's idea. They were having a soil-moving project
right near Ocala on the upland part of it at the time I looked
at it. I got the maps and charts and all kinds of the route and
tried to make my own estimate. I'd had no idea at that time
I'd ever be a member of the Florida Geological Survey, or have
anything to do with the U.S. Engineers. And a few years later
there I was with the Florida Geological Survey, I have had many
contacts with the U.S. Coastal Survey, and I have had many
contacts with the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
That particular sea level condition would probably have
been damaging, because the draft of the boats had to be about
twenty feet. They would have to cut twenty feet below sea level
without locking it, and thus taking salt water all across the
state. It would almost have to be some harm to Silver Springs
and other types of water flow from the uplands, from the Florida
aquifer. That possibility still hangs on people's appraisal
of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal. Of course, quite a few people
who are past fifty years old think of it as being a sea level
canal. So when they read about it in Miami, or some other place,
they think about the harm it can do, such as divide Florida into
two parts, make an island out of south Florida. That notion
was put in the newspapers and exaggerated beyond repair.
J: What do you think of the concept as such, not only from an
D: I can take it from both an ecological and an economic point of
view. Let's say before we do that it will be a lockage system.
So we have three locks on one side and two on the other, as
opposed to sea level, and no locks. And you have to keep in mind
that ecology is interested in the big aspects of things, not
just the small localized bits of things. So from the point of
view of transportation here are the ecological reasons. These
are the reasons I am very willing to help get a canal constructed.
Because man has to have transportation--transportation is a nec-
essity, not an option. An absolute necessity. If you raise
something, you have to transport it where you can eat it. If
you manufacture goods, you have to take them where they can be
used. We have to have transportation to keep civilization
going. Nearly all the ancient civilizations had canals, such
as Burma, China, and other places all over the world. I have
seen many of them even in the Low Countries such as Holland.
I'm very familiar with canals.
There are three methods of transportation; one is surface
railroads and roads, and another is waterways, which is the open
canals, and intercoastal waterways canals. Literally that's
what it is, and it:';s already built, except about a hundred miles.
So we've already committed outselves to water transportation as
much as we can along the coast. The third one is air transportation.
A few years ago, one dollar could take one ton 330 miles by
water, only seventeen miles by rail, only fifteen miles by
truck, and only five miles by air. So the savings of money and
energy were and are terrific.
The ecological impact of waterways is less, as for example
the following. The highways destroy landscapes, convert the
landscape which changes even the waterflow on the surface of the
land. Highways do a great number of things. An animal can
hardly cross a road without getting killed. So the ecosystem
of that area is completely altered by highways. Just as an
aside, the so-called environmental-people are very seldom protesting
about building highways, because they have conditioned reflex to
want to ride an automobile, so they don't protest. I do,- but
they don't protest the continuous building of unnecessary highways
when you could unload the highways of heavy freight and put it on
waterways. So the ecological liability of highways is very great.
They are not an asset at all.
Now as to a canal or waterway, there can be an ecological
asset. They retain part of the environment, which is water.
Water is a good habitat for many animals and plants. Waterways
are self-sustaining, and part of the ecological system. When
you alter a surface and make a canal there is water retained.
So your waterways are and can be more an ecological asset than
they are a liability. All those other countries where they have
great canals, as for instance in Burma, one third of the total
protein food supply of the country comes from the canals. They
just couldn't have those immense populations without the canals.
So there you are with the ecological aspect of waterways being
much better than the ecological aspects of highways or railways.
Now airways we don't know as much about, although I'm on the
governor's committee for aviation. I'm learning something about
the ecology of airways, which so far doesn't seem to be damaging
hardly anything. The airports have a little bit of damage, but
On balance, then, the waterways are very much more of an
asset than they are a liability, if well-constructed and rightly
constructed. Now they began thinking about the locking system
making the Cross-Florida Barge Canal have a different elevation.
It crossed the highest part of Florida, about forty-two feet, and
so they have to lift barges about twenty to forty feet with
these locks and they have to have water to do it. At least
they thought they did. So they routed it on the eastern side so
it would join up with the Oklawaha drainage system just a little
bit north of Ocala, in the neighborhood of Silver Springs. They
took it down the river, and carried it to the St. Johns. They
could have done it otherwise. They could have used the river
valley without destroying the river, but they didn't. At least
for the first thirty-two miles. They decided that they'd use
the river valley itself--put the canal where there was river water.
In doing so they destroyed a lowland bottom land forest in part.
About one-third of this forest is now completely gone. Another
one-third is partly gone. About a third of it still remains about
as good as it ever was. Then they spent the rest of the time
arguing about whether to raise or lower the water level. But
it's a fait accompli.
They changed from a dense forest habitat to an open water
habitat. Every time you change from a dense forest to an open
water, you increase the biomass productivity, ecological produc-
tivity, enormously. This is because a forest is one of the least
productive of the ecological habitats, ecosystems, although there
are some rather unusual animals and some rather unusual inter-
relationships. The open water or lake has about seven to eight
to nine thousand acres, depending on what the water level is,
and such things as the recreation and the fishing and other forms
of life--so many more different birds than there ever were before,
and so much more fish than there ever were before, and so much
more recreation than there ever was before.
From all the data and information and statistics, the Rodman
Lake has been a tremendous ecological asset when they impounded
the pool back of the Rodman dam. The protests came from all kinds
of directions. They wanted to do away with it and to start all
over again. It would take 150 to 200 years to restore that forest
any way you did it.
The present canal stops at Eureka, where the lock is. From
Eureka to just about Silver Springs the canal route has been
proposed. It could be done on the western shore so that it would
not destroy the hardwood swamps forest of hardwood and cypress
trees of the bottomland area upstream from Eureka to Silver Springs
run. If they had done it that way they could have retained about
a million or 800,000 acres of whatever the area is--bottomland
forest. It could now be constructed so that the canal would be
from a narrow area with good levees and good shoulders built up
so that the water would be coming from upstream flowing
into the canal and then into Rodman-Eureka area. The barges could
use that as a canal instead of as a river. This western shoulder
canal route has less ecological impact than the way they've
done it so far.
Now the part of the canal that would be from near Silver
Springs over toward the Dunnellon area--over toward the west side--
would be an elevation of about forty to forty-five feet. They
hadn't determined it exactly. It would have some impact or pos-
sible influence on ground water.
One of the things people worried about is spillage from the
barge, as for instance from a petroleum barge, or from a fertilizer
barge. One of the times I was testifying in court, some of them
said, "Suppose a barge full of fertilizer dumps in the canal, it
might affect Silver Springs." I made the point that they've been
using fertilizer in Marion County for a hundred and fifty years.
They've gotten fertilizer all over the landscape, and it hadn't
gotten to Silver Springs yet. Why would you think that one
spillage would get into Silver Springs when the use of fertilizer
in amounts of hundreds of thousands of tons had been in that
county, and it hadn't gotten in there yet. Would you think that
something unusual had happened. That is just an example of how
some of these "Calamity Janes" have failed to see the history of
the development of an area, what's happened in the past.
It could be done. Then the ability to do it depends on the
engineering plans and how many impact studies the Corps of
Engineers does. So far the impact studies haven't been adequate.
They could be much more adequate with consultants such as I am,
who haven't any particular reason to want to take sides. I can't
see any reason. I don't care whether they build a canal, because
I'll probably be dead and gone when they use the canal. But
ecologically it makes sense.
J: Is it still feasible from an economic standpoint, do you think?
D: Oh, very much so.
J: Is there very much water transportation around the Straits of
Florida? It seems merchant shipping seems to be slacking off.
D: Well, to anticipate the future is very difficult. And construction
of a canal is permanent. So that you say what happens fifty
years from now may be better than now or may be worse. There's
no such thing as building a canal like the Panama Canal without
protest. People said that it couldn't pay off. Many people, in-
cluding my father, were very much against it, because they said
it never paid for the cost! However, we paid for it one-tenth the
time they thought they could pay for it. The reason the Erie
Canal went out of business was because of some railroad builders
were building something. One was the New York Central going
up through there and took the traffic away from the Erie Canal.
That was purely economic, but it worked fine for quite a while.
The St. Lawrence Canal is working fine. In fact, looking over
the history on a world scale, you find almost none that have
gone broke. One good one is the Suez. The French had sense
enough to invest money in the Suez. So canals are economically
sound. You can't anticipate all the freight. It's impossible
because as soon as you put freight in there, you develop industry
and make more freight. That's been done in the Tennessee Valley
Authority, which has canals all over the place, and waterways down
the Tennessee River. The whole economic asset of the Tennessee
Valley water transportation is probably about as great as the
J: What's the status of the canal now?
D: Well, the judgement by Judge Johnson hasn't been made yet. It's
purely a legal technicality. It hasn't much ecological significance
as of now, although the testimony the July 1973 trial gave a great
deal about wildlife and geology and other ecology. As you said,
the cahal authority did round up some very fine scientists. For
instance from the University of Michigan; Duke University; I was
there and some of the others. We just testified what we knew
about it, not whether the plans were good or bad. We just said
the plans are made this way, they could be less damaging. But
the key estimate was whether or not the president had a right to
stop the canal. If he said the president had no right to stop it,
Congress authorized it to continue. If he does rule they
can continue, there will no doubt be more injunctions to stop
it, and then there'd be appeals, so that we won't know yet.
I think it'll take a couple more years of litigation to
find out what's going on. But if people would understand that
the ecological impact of waterways is less than highways, they
could say that if you provide the transportation facility for
heavier freights you're using, it's much less costly, there's much
less energy used, you save fuel.
J: It's curious you point this out. Of course, you never hear of
any real adversity as far as new highways and so forth, no
matter where they go, and yet you always immediately hear about
the Cross-Florida Barge Canal controversy.
D: You've got to remember that human beings are like other animals.
They have conditioned reflexes, and they have prejudice. The
prejudice is based on their means to survive--your luxuries of
life. One of your great luxuries of life is a private automobile.
So most people are against anything except use of that private
automobile. Pollution's the same way. They don't want to keep
it from having a big cylinder or a big heavy car or powerful
engine, because they want to get there in comfort. So they're
doing that. They are always taking sides for surface transportation
and very seldom for water transportation. They should think about
water transportation as a thrust toward the future. If Florida
gains up to ten million people or fifteen million people, it's
going to have canals to move it's freight, so they might as
well get started building canals.
J: What is the direction of ecology, not necessarily just in Florida
but around the nation, in the next fifty years or so? What's
going to have to be done, and what are the public and the
politicians going to have to do to keep America on an even
keel as far as ecosystem?
D: It's a combination of retaining the natural and using the natural.
Using as little of the natural as you can, and at the same time
taking care of the necessities of man as an animal and as a
human being as the civilization grows in its complexities and
its needs. You have to say that there is always a give-and-take
in the natural resources and man's needs. The ecology could help
and will help in the management of these. It's a management
science, after you make an appraisal of your assets and your
liabilities. You have to make an appraisal on the basis of real
evidence, because it's very hard to anticipate what's going to
happen after you start a constructional development--change a
waterway or something like that. That can be 90 percent guess
and 10 percent facts. I think that ecology will advance enough
to know that it's doing the right thing in the right place
at the right time.
Of the aspects of the future, pollution is probably the worst.
That can be measured. The quality of the air and the quality
of the water and the quality of the ground water and other things
like that. They'll have to monitor and ride herd on that to see
that it doesn't deteriorate and continue to deteriorate. Just
an example: if you ever get some pollution into your ground
water system it's very bad, because then you've got wells and
everything else affected, and your water supplies and surface
water system need to be cleaned up a bit. Your whole water
conditions could be managed; water can be managed; water con-
ditions can be managed, air can't be managed as well because air
is very fast moving, and it changes from one area to another. In
general you just don't clean up air; you clean up the water.
Say, about seventy billion dollars to take care of fixing all
the water in the United States for a while. Then it would get
bad again because there'd be an upset of the management.
Whether or not we want to put that on the tax program is part of
Management's local area. The primary thing is to please
people. As it is now. But things shouldn't be just to please
other animals and other plants. We're not a plant but an
animal. Also plan so that they have a decent right to live.
A highway, for instance, divides up the territoriality of an
animal so it doesn't know where to go next. Some animals used
to have ten thousand acres and now they can't cross the high-
way. They have lost territoriality. There are great numbers
of these parks and national forests and so forth that are very
good ecological entities for use, and can be managed very well,
and probably will be. And there are some things that are more
necessary for man than they are for other animals.