As part of their tenure in NRLI, Class XVII Fellows were required to complete a practicum project. The practicum generally addresses some aspect of a natural resource issue in Florida and involves convening people in some fashion. Fellows applied NRLI skills and techniques for facilitating collaborative decision-making, providing educational experiences (including deliberation), championing a cause, or collecting and disseminating information in some form.
Below are the Class XVII practicum abstracts.
Amy Fenwick Reaume, Conservation Manager, Brevard Zoo
Rachael Santana, Attorney, Lewis Longman & Walker, P.A.
Brevard County Sustainability Working Group
Like the rest of Florida, Brevard County's population is projected to see continued rapid growth. Many of Florida's counties have begun planning for sustainable growth and utilization of natural resources -Brevard County is no exception. Brevard County has dozens of non-profits, local governments, companies within the private sector, and members of academia who are contributing to a multitude of sustainability initiatives around the County.
Several of the key sustainability stakeholders in Brevard County have been organically discussing the idea of forming a Sustainability Working Group (SWG) to bring together stakeholders working in all aspects of sustainability. NRLI Class XVII Fellow Amy Reaume is a member of this sustainability community and decided to utilize the NRLI practicum to provide a facilitated process in the hopes of establishing a SWG. Together with Fellow Rachael Santana, and with the assistance of Class XI alumna, Holly Abeels, the NRLI team facilitated an initial meeting of potential SWG stakeholders to provide a procedural vehicle to organize passionate organizations to create a strong, collective force for change in the community through collaborative priority-setting and the determining of collective objectives. The goal of this facilitated meeting was the creation of a motivated and organized SWG in Brevard County. The objectives and procedural aspects of the SWG will be decided by the group at future meetings. Our vision was to harness the momentum already created by the stakeholders and to provide organization and structure to the process, resulting in the creation of a self-sustaining working group. Additional benefits of the SWG will be to streamline communication between organizations, allowing ideas to be shared, opportunities for partnership, and creating a resource for sustainability information within the community.
Brent Bachelder, Aquatic Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Project Manager, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Dipping a Toe in the Big Water - Chronicling Recent Water Level Impacts on Lake Okeechobee Ecological Conditions
Lake stages are directly correlated to ecological conditions within Lake Okeechobee. Documenting and sharing recent lake conditions - resulting from high lake stages - will be an important priority for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and stakeholders in the future, especially during Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule Revision; currently revision is scheduled to occur between the years 2022-2024. To produce a comprehensive synthesis of documented high lake stage impacts, a wide range of internal, Federal, State, Local agency - as well as University, non-governmental organization, and public resource user - stakeholders were identified as potential collaborators.
Given the impact managing Lake Okeechobee's stage has on areas both up and downstream, including environmentally sensitive estuary areas and the Everglades, lake stages are a highly contentious issue; to be approached with sensitivity. Several NRLI skills were used to begin developing a synthesis of recent high lake stages on Lake Okeechobee ecological conditions. Individual interviews were conducted with FWC leadership. Additionally, a focus group - consisting of FWC subject matter experts - met to establish a potential path forward. This focus group came to a few important conclusions. First, additional coordination within various Divisions, Sections, and Offices of FWC is necessary before participating in collaborative efforts with external stakeholders. The focus group also identified a 'Manager's Model' exercise as a potentially valuable tool for determining how the FWC could best engage with collaborative stakeholders. Finally, it was established that providing interim briefings to FWC's senior leadership, while working towards completing a synthesis document, will be highly beneficial.
Paloma Carton de Grammont, ProForest Coordinator, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida
ProForest Strategic Planning: Developing a Logic Model
ProForest is a multi-institutional initiative that brings together specialists from diverse fields to promote forest health and resilience through collaborative research, extension and education. Its governance relies on an Advisory Board (AB) conformed by 26 specialists from eight institutions and programs. Members have their own projects and professional goals and, therefore diverse motivations to be part of ProForest and diverse perspectives on what should be ProForest strategy to reach its mission. Thus, ProForest commenced a strategic planning process using the development of a logic model as a tool to build a shared vision for the initiative that will allow us to also measure impacts. For this process to be useful, it is key that we develop the logic model using a collaborative approach where the outcomes reflect the positions and interest of ProForest members in a way that they can take ownership of the initiative. The process also needs to account for the historical relationships among members and structural problems such as lack of funding. Accordingly, we designed a two-step process that includes 1) individual open-ended interviews to understand member's positions and interests and identify elements for the logic model that are important to them, and 2) a workshop to collaboratively build a model based on the results of the interviews. The final model will be approved in a Quarterly Advisory Board Meeting using consensus.
Kevin Morris, Manager of Engineering & Projects, Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority
Facilitating Interdepartmental Meetings within the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority
The Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority (Authority) is comprised of four counties in Southwest Florida where it serves as a wholesale water provider. Like most organizations, the utility is comprised of seven (7) distinct functional groups which each have their own management hierarchies and reporting structures. These Departments include: Accounting, Operations, Maintenance, Water Resources, Land Management, Engineering and Construction. Each department is staffed by competent professionals sincerely dedicated to their home department's mission. However, like many organizations, poor information flow generates uncertainty, clouds focus and feeds personal insecurities so that, as a result, the various departments at times find themselves at odds with one another. There is no exercise that better highlights these vertical silos and divisions than the annual budget preparation exercise. Each department has its own unique view on the important initiatives and priorities to undertake as an organization but rather than work together cohesively, more often than not there has been a sense of rivalry and competition.
The cohort, Kevin Morris, using NRLI tools and skills, brought significant change to how this budget process transpires. Rather than competing departments working independently of one another leading to infighting, this process has been transformed into an interdepartmental brainstorming/prioritization session out of which comes a unified budget reflective of broad input derived through a fair process where each Department had the opportunity to speak and be heard. This exercise has been transformed from a divisive and sometimes contentious process many dreaded to a teambuilding exercise folks look forward to. This demonstrates successful application of NRLI approaches and skills to internal organizational stakeholders to yield improved outcomes.
Nia Morales, Human Dimensions Specialist, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Ed Camp, Assistant Professor, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida
Michael Lusk, Refuge Manager, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Andrew G Gude, Refuge Manager, Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Understanding the Cedar Key/Suwannee Sound Wild Oyster Fishery
We sought to understand the local oyster fishermen's perspectives on the Cedar Key/Suwannee Sound wild oyster fishery. We conducted interviews with three stakeholders involved in the local oyster fishery to understand the history, current status, and potential future of the fishery. We used the funnel technique to organize our questions for the interviews. We also visited an active oyster fishery with one of the stakeholders. The interviews elicited issues of trust among members of their own community, between their community, law enforcement, and management agencies; and their community and outsiders. Stakeholders described how they felt their perspectives were not being heard by natural resource managers and that they lacked control in the way the resource was being managed. They also discussed potential challenges and benefits of switching to aquacultured oysters or clams and the underlying issue of being able to maintain their livelihood and lifestyle regardless of how the shellfish were harvested. Stakeholders also expressed concerns over the decline of the oyster fishery due to overharvest, poor harvesting techniques by non-local fishermen, and changes in local coastal watershed land use that may be affecting the hydrology and water flows to the oyster beds and the dramatic declines in oyster bed acreage over the last 20-30 years. Information gathered through the helped us develop the Triangle of Needs and Interests for this group, to give a clearer picture of stakeholder perspectives on the issue. NRLI fellows plan to use this foundational knowledge to pursue a collaborative approach to managing this oyster fishery in the future.
Elizabeth Ramirez, Wildlife Biologist, United States Forest Service
Graham Williams, Land Manager, St. Johns River Water Management District
John Dooner, Forester, Southern Forestry Consultants, Inc.
Implementing Firewise Principles: A Need for Firewise Ambassadors?
Considering Florida's population boom, urban sprawl has increased the chances that homeowners living at the convergence of urban and rural areas, known as the wildland-urban interface (WUI), may encounter a wildfire event. In the years following the destructive 1985 Florida wildfire season, the Wedgefield community decided it was time to come together to try to plan for and combat future wildfire events by developing a Firewise group focused on education and safe zones around homes. Since then, Wedgefield has been known as one of the more successful Firewise groups in the nation, but momentum has dwindled in recent years. We felt that Firewise ambassadors may be a useful tool to rebuild participation, but initially we needed to better understand the challenges facing the group.
The approach was two-fold beginning with a facilitated open discussion that allowed attendees an opportunity to suggest challenges and then together identify the most important of those challenges. Next, the group was divided into breakout groups, where they brainstormed potential solutions to the challenges. To wrap up, we held a final discussion where we consolidated comparable responses and discussed taking action.
We found that many members of the group had personally considered and identified similar challenges and solutions, but the group had never displayed these items openly and in a structured method. By doing so, we felt the group moved closer to identifying actions to address some of these challenges, and it was even suggested by the group that something akin to a group ambassador would be helpful.
Caroline Gorga, Species and Habitat Monitoring Coordinator, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
At-Risk Species Conservation - Formalizing Species Assessment Efforts in Florida
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is charged with protecting and managing Florida's fish and wildlife, and balancing the species' needs with the needs of nearly 19 million residents and millions of visitors. Tracking the conservation status of these fish and wildlife, especially in response to conservation action, is a central component of the FWC's approach to species management. In Florida, there are three entities that conduct species status assessments (measurement of species vulnerability), and each uses a different assessment tool: the FWC Species Ranking System (Millsap et. al 1990), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Status Assessment framework (SSA), and Florida Natural Areas Inventory NatureServe global and state species ranks. This practicum focuses on the initial steps to formalize a process to maintain the FWC Species Ranking System (SRS), and includes identifying opportunities to collaborate with USFWS and FNAI. A kick-off meeting was held with FWC's species experts to gather their input and support for the SRS maintenance project. Based on feedback received during the kick-off meeting, focus groups were convened to ensure the SRS project deliverable will fit the varying needs of each taxa group. Lastly, through a one-on-one interview, FWC and FNAI have initiated discussions around how to increase coordination of future status assessments. By applying the NRLI tools and techniques, the stakeholders are now aware of the FWC's efforts to formalize the maintenance of the SRS; they support a collaborative approach to conducting species assessments in Florida; and they are eager to continue the conversations initiated during this practicum.
Charles Barrett, Water Resources Regional Specialized Agent, Northeast District, University of Florida/IFAS Extension
Katie Britt, Environmental Consultant, Water Quality Restoration Section, FL Department of Environmental Protection
Barton Wilder, Environmental Specialist III, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Office of Agricultural Water Policy
Suwannee River Partnership Stakeholder Engagement
The Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) and FDACS are in the process of resurrecting the Suwannee River Partnership (SRP) for the purpose of bringing stakeholder groups together to discuss opportunities for collaboration and creating space for open dialogue between groups. The objective of this practicum was to aid in the implementation of maintenance functions for the SRP. The goal of this objective is to increase SRP stakeholder engagement by building trust and encouraging all members to participate. To accomplish this goal, a Blue World/Green World scenario planning exercise was facilitated with a group of 6 SRP stakeholders and 4 other interested participants. Eight of the ten participants are involved in agriculture, representing FDACS, Farm Bureau, and Extension. One of the stakeholders represented the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The facilitators started the session with an icebreaker that engaged everyone by going around the circle and describing a smell that is reminiscent of childhood. The icebreaker was successful in that it opened channels for dialogue between the stakeholders. A feedback survey was conducted at the end of the workshop. The feedback survey identified that 100% of the participants thought the exercise as useful to their organization, the exercise was fun, they learned more about each other, and felt it was a productive use of time. There was great interest from this group to see this exercise conducted with the environmental stakeholders as well. This exercise was a success because it strengthened the relationships of the participants by giving them a space to openly interact and learn about each other.
Tara Wade, Assistant Professor, Agricultural and Natural Resources Economics, Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, University of Florida/IFAS
Rachael Smith, Communications Manager, Florida Farm Bureau Federation
Rebecca Elliott, Environmental Manager, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Office of Agricultural Water Policy
A Look into Crop Budgets
Agricultural best management practices (BMPs) are essential to mitigate agriculture's potentially negative effect on the environment and improve water quality. Growers provide a public service by absorbing the costs of implementing BMPs. Public benefits include sustained or improved water quality due to reduced nutrient losses, reduced soil erosion, increased water conservation and wildlife habitat. Private benefits often include improved productivity or efficiency; due to improved soil health and reduced input costs. Agricultural agencies, producers and other stakeholders have great interest in financial information related to the costs of production and how they are impacted by BMP implementation. Despite this, financial information in BMP decision-making and published scientifically sound cost assessments are rare.
We facilitated a session on crop budgets during an agricultural BMP stakeholder meeting that defined the priorities and challenges in incorporating BMP costs into enterprise budgets. The goal was to advance the understanding of crop budgets, generate ideas on how they can be used to assess BMP costs, and identify areas of mutual interest. Participants identified the group activity, content presentation, and open discussion as significantly advancing their thoughts on the crop budgets incorporating BMPs and 73% gave a rating of good or excellent on the effectiveness of the meeting structure.
Lisa Aley, Environmental Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District
Identifying a More Productive Communication Strategy for the Army Corps of Engineers Regarding the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project
The purpose of this practicum is to apply NRLI lessons learned to a previously combative engagement between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Seminole Tribe of Florida (STOF). Local communities, including the STOF, have expressed concerns regarding the siting of project features near their lands for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project. The Corps has hosted several workshops with communities and government to government consultations with the STOF to discuss the project and obtain feedback. This practicum essentially proposes a "re-do" of a contentious meeting between the Corps and the STOF community and suggestions for the next meeting using NRLI principals. The goal is to work with the STOF to allow the Tribal community the opportunity to voice their input, concerns and needs with regards to the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project in a manner that encourages more open and honest dialogue.