May/June 2021
Director's Corner
Congratulations Class XX!
by Jonathan Dain, NRLI Director

“What’s said in NRLI stays in NRLI, but what’s learned in NRLI should be shared” - Penny Justin, FDEP

Congratulations NRLI Class XX!! You have graduated from the Florida Natural Resources Leadership and now join an impressive and influential group of natural resource professionals from around the state. The achievement is remarkable. You are part of a dedicated group that completed six highly successful in-person training sessions – three days each - between October 2020 and April 2021. That does not sound particularly extraordinary until we recognize that you did this in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that deeply impacted every person on our planet. In months when meeting in person was too risky, you were also a willing part of two fruitful online NRLI sessions, a hybrid approach that allowed us to keep the program going this year, to not lose momentum. It is no exaggeration to say that there has never been a class like Class XX and that there will never be another class like Class XX.

NRLI is a leadership program and our 20th year was successful because every single one of you took the disciplined precautions required to keep your cohort safe so the program could unfold as intended and designed. It was not always easy, it was not always convenient or comfortable, but you all made it work.
  • You embraced sessions that were 100% outdoors while remaining masked and physically distanced, even when temperatures were in the 90’s with high humidity and limited shade.
  • You recused yourself from sessions you wanted to attend because you felt there was a very slight chance that you might have been exposed to COVID.
  • You wore masks all the time and even double-masked when it was recommended by the CDC. 
  • You brought your own chairs to every session.
  • You did your best to remain 6’ or more apart
  • In giant plenary discussion circles
  • In small breakout groups
  • Taking turns at flipchart stands, each of you using your own individual marker to record thoughts before moving on to let the next person write
  • When eating meals
  • On field trips
  • You patiently waited for a microphone when you had a question or comment during discussions – and cleaned it with disinfectant wipes before and after use.
  • You drove yourselves, individually to fieldtrips despite the hassle
  • You worked to turn a group of individuals into a cohort though you were unsure of what the others even looked like behind the masks (back in November would you have recognized other members of the class if you had run across them unmasked in a Publix?). 
  • You were infinitely patient with the Project Team, helping us figure out what could work and what could not work as we attempted to make NRLI as “normal” and useful as possible while maintaining strict protocols.

I could continue but suffice it to say that with dedication and discipline you enabled us to remain safe while reaping most of the unparalleled benefits of meeting and learning in person. For a reminder, see Fellows Allyson Webb & Yilin Zhuang’s piece bellow (“Hiking into Negotiation”) describing both a field trip and a complex negotiation simulation that serve as prime examples of this willingness to have the best experience possible despite the constraints.

But this is not just about looking back at overcoming odds to hold in-person sessions, this is about graduating from a program that has trained you in collaborative leadership. It is about looking forward and using your newly-honed approaches and skills. It is a privilege to go through a program like NRLI and with that privilege comes responsibility, responsibility to our families, our communities our organizations/businesses and our state. You are now part of a network of close to 400 alumni from more than 140 different organizations. They are everywhere in the state and like you, understand how to listen to understand, advance the thinking, promote fairness and work across divides. Tap into your Class XX network. Then look outward and slowly tap into your broader NRLI network. 

As we noted at the graduation ceremony, you learned as much from each other as you did from the project team, that is the power of bringing together rising leaders to learn from each other’s accomplishments, experiences and mistakes. And you know one of the core NRLI rules, “what is said in NRLI stays on NRLI”.  Now that you have graduated, that rule still applies, however as colleague Penny Justin of FDEP remarked last month “What’s said in NRLI stays in NRLI, but what’s learned in NRLI should be shared”. So put yourself out there Class XX, use your training in small and large ways and help others learn about effective, inclusive joint problem-solving. Congratulations all of you, stay in touch and we look forward to following your achievements. 
The Newest NRLI Alumni - Congratulations Class XX!
8-Month Flagship Program | Session 7
Hiking into Negotiation
By Allyson Webb & Yilin Zhuang, NRLI Class XX Fellows

In early April, NRLI Class XX Fellows gathered eagerly together for our last content session in Keystone Heights. Majestic oaks towered throughout the campus. A breeze filtered through our outdoor meeting space which included distracting views of horses grazing and a ropes course (that we all itched to try). And this, our last session, ended on a high note. It highlighted how multiple stakeholders could navigate a path that leads to common ground, mutual respect, and productive partnerships.
As we hiked through sandhills, sunlight filtered through stately longleaf pine and spilled across myriad species of grasses, turkey oaks, and other hardwood species. Burn scars crept up the sides of the trees of this fire-dependent habitat type. As birds flitted around us, we listened as a variety of stakeholders shared experiences with their partners and gave insights into how these positive relationships were built and subsequently maintained as the river of time marched along. Witnessing this camaraderie and hearing that groups, that maybe initially were foes, came together is exciting and gave us all hope that we can achieve some of the goals we are striving towards. Even in the darkest of moments, one can find a beacon of light, of hope. This anchored us as we learned about integrative negotiation and prepared for an activity that brings home concepts learned over the previous six sessions. 
What is negotiation? Negotiation is a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement. When one thinks of negotiation, one often assumes a battle. If you are not my friend at this battle, you are my enemy. There is no agreement. It is all about winning or losing, a battle with a losing side and a winning side. Just like Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones said, “This negotiation will be difficult. We are sitting down with people who want to see us both headless.” Many of us perceived negotiation as both intimidating and painful. When we heard we would role play and exercise our newly found negotiation techniques, many of us felt nervous. Nobody wanted to be “headless”.
To bring you back to what happened in this role play activity, we represented different stakeholders, including solid waste program directors, park managers, environmental groups, public officials, and homeowners. We had different positions and interests regarding siting a new solid waste disposal facility. On one side, Option A; on the other, Option B. How would we reach an agreement? Where was the middle ground? Who would give, and who would take? Many anticipated facing an uphill, difficult battle. As we slipped into our roles as negotiators, we realized there wouldn’t necessarily be this battle. We were placed into small groups to explore what the best, worst, and business as usual scenarios of this situation would be in ten years. This NRLI “Blue World, Yellow World, and Green World” that we learned about and utilized several sessions ago took off the real world tension and helped build bridges between opposing views that merged into agreement. Meanwhile, many found out their worries were totally unnecessary. Negotiation is not about winning or losing. It is a process that maximizes both of their respective interests. There is always an Option C, finding creative solutions for mutual gain. To achieve the maximized interest for each party, all we need to do is to focus on the interest rather than the position. We also need to understand each party’s values. They are not enemies. While we may have different interests, somewhere along the road these interests will intersect. We merely need to stay the path in order to find them and be wise enough to recognize them. 
Engaging DEP Stakeholders
Congratulations to the 2021 DEP Class on Your Graduation!

Fittingly, the 4th cohort of the DEP-NRLI "Effectively Engaging DEP Stakeholders" graduated on Earth Day - April 22. Despite meeting exclusively online this year, the class was successful in not only learning from each other and from the project team, but also getting to know each other through all of the challenges and obstacles they faced. In fact, they have already organized a monthly virtual lunch-and-learn for their cohort. It was truly a privilege for the project team to work with this group and we look forward to hopefully meeting everyone in person some day!
Getting to Know Class XX Fellows
Mysha Clarke
Assistant Professor for the Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, School of Forest, Fisheries and Geomatics Sciences, University of Florida

Dr. Clarke is an Assistant Professor for the Human Dimensions of Natural Resources in the School of Forest, Fisheries and Geomatics Sciences (FFGS) at the University of Florida.  As a natural resource social scientist, her research studies people’s environmental decision-making, and to determine avenues through which to connect people with natural resource conservation and management. She uses a mixed method approach incorporating qualitative and quantitative methods to better understand the human dimensions of forest management. Her collaborative and interdisciplinary research projects include invasive plant management on private non-industrial family forestlands, communication of invasive insects in the media, urban garden’s connectivity and urban forest change over time. Prior to joining the FFGS, Dr. Clarke was a Teaching Postdoctoral Fellow at Villanova University in the Department of Geography and the Environment. She grew up in Jamaica and received her PhD from Purdue University. 
Sandra (Sandy) Oxenrider
Land Resource Specialist, St. Johns River Water Management District

Sandy Oxenrider is a Florida native, and earned her B.S. degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida. After graduation, Sandy completed a one-year internship with the Student Conservation Association program where she worked with Natural Resource staff at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. She then joined the Integrated Training Area Management team at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center - a 73,000-acre Florida Army National Guard installation - where she spent over fifteen years working with military trainers to maintain training lands and support mission readiness. Sandy’s time at Camp Blanding provided her with an understanding of the importance of facilitating military training while complying with environmental laws and regulations and protecting natural and cultural resources.

In 2019, Sandy joined the St. Johns River Water Management District, where she is responsible for developing and revising Land Management Plans, which establish the philosophy and direction for management and use of District lands. She also facilitates Recreational Public Meetings and Land Management Review team tours, which involves participation and input from multiple stakeholders. In her spare time, Sandy keeps herself busy enjoying time outdoors with her husband Matt, and three boys, Cameron (age 9), Gavin (age 6), and Ethan (age 3).

Michael Simmons
Biologist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Michael Simmons is a biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville, FL. He currently is the Adaptive Management Lead for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan’s (CERP) REstoration COordination and VERification (RECOVER) program and for CERP restoration projects. He serves as a regional coordinator for the Southern Coastal Systems Module within the CERP RECOVER program.

Relocating to Florida from the Hoosier State in 2004 to pursue a career in coastal biology, Mr. Simmons has focused on coastal species management including work on sea turtles, diamondback terrapins, gopher tortoises, and shorebirds. Since arriving in Florida, Mr. Simmons has dedicated his time as a coastal biologist working at Federal, State, and County levels of government to study, restore, and protect Florida coastal species and coastal upland habitats. Mr. Simmons helped establish the Timucaun Shorebird Working Group and has participated in Florida Bat Working Group, Wood Stork Working Group, Diamondback Terrapin Working Group, Gopher Tortoise Working Group, and the Florida Shorebird Alliance. He regularly presents at biannual Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Conference and the biannual National Conference on Ecosystem Restoration.

In his free time, Mr. Simmons enjoys backyard birding, butterfly gardening, kayak fishing, hiking, and yelling at the TV during sporting events. He is eager to get back to traveling and completing his hobby of visiting each U.S. National Park.
Class XX Fellows
Alicia Betancourt Monroe County Extension Director, UF/IFAS Extension
Buck Carpenter Owner/Operator, Southern Pioneer Farms, LLC
Nicole Casuso Biological Scientist IV, Division of Plant Industry, FDACS
Mysha Clarke Assistant Professor of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, UF
Jason Davison Director of Field Services, Florida Farm Bureau Federation
Jorge Guevara Forest Hydrologist, U.S. Forest Service
Madeline Hart Environmental Consultant, FDACS
Susana Hervas Postdoctoral Research Associate, UF
Sandra Oxenrider Land Resource Specialist, St Johns River Water Management District
Dawn Ritter Natural Resource Manager, Highlands County Board of County Commissioners
Michael Simmons Natural Resource Specialist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Brandon Smith Environmental Specialist, Brevard County Natural Resources Mgmt Dept
Darlene Velez Water Resources Chief, Suwannee River Water Management District
Vincent Vitale Conservation Education Specialist, White Oak Conservation Foundation
Allyson Webb Senior Resource Manager, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Florida Audubon
Yilin Zhuang Regional Specialized Agent, Water Resources, UF/IFAS Extension