Monday, June 19, 2017

Everglades History: Recognition to Johnny Jones. By Geniusofdespair

A bit of Everglades History:

Johnny Jones 1985. - 1932-2010
From the Palm Beach Post via
The names Johnny Jones recalls are all writ in sky-mirroring water, across hundreds of miles of sawgrass, under pearl-gray rainclouds in the wide, wind-ruffled Everglades.

As is his own.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Art Marshall, Bob Graham - they all recognized how extraordinary, how unique the Everglades were. They all fought to save them. They may have succeeded; they may yet have fought in vain. The Everglades may yet be lost, despite a federal plan to rescue the remnants, which amount to less than 50 percent of the original extent of the place.

But if the Everglades are saved, even partway, it will be in considerable part due to the unremitting efforts of an ornery man who never finished high school, a plumber by trade, a hunter by obsession, a man who badgered politicians so relentlessly they finally threw up their arms and surrendered.

"Johnny had a leadership style that combined intimidation with personal pain. He'd let you know with no misunderstanding how he felt about things," said Graham, former Florida governor and U.S. senator. "The most original thing about him was his tenacity. He was like a pit bull. He wouldn't let loose until he had chewed you up.

"He came along at a period when everything in Florida was up for sale, and he believed Florida was not a commodity to be consumed. In the '60s, '70s and '80s, he convinced a lot of people that Florida was a thing of value, to be conserved. He was in the leadership of that transition. He was active in a series of financing proposals that made it possible for environmentally vulnerable land to be saved - they all had Johnny Jones' fingerprints all over them."

Jones was the driving force behind the 1981 Save Our Rivers Act, which looped the Kissimmee River back up again after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had made it a shotgun-barrel-straight ditch that canalized its waters straight into Lake Okeechobee, drying out tens of thousands of acres of wetlands and ruining the hydrography of south central Florida. Jones fought successfully to replumb it, get it back the way it used to be.

Jones spearheaded the legislation that created the Conservation and Recreational Lands of Florida Act of 1979 (CARL), which gave birth to the "Florida Forever" and "Preservation 2000" programs that aim to acquire and preserve as much of the state as possible for public use and visitation, while leaving it pristine and undeveloped.

"I wrote CARL in my back bedroom on a yellow legal pad," Jones boasts offhandedly.

"It's true," his wife, Mariana, affirmed. "He woke up one morning at 2 a.m. and went back into his study and wrote the whole concept out. CARL, at least the idea behind CARL, was done right here in that back bedroom."

"Johnny Jones was instrumental in acquiring the Big Cypress Preserve for the state," said Manley Fuller, who succeeded Jones after his 16-year tenure as president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. "He was intimately involved in the establishment of the 765,000-acre Big Cypress National Preserve, both to protect the land from development schemes and to allow a great place for quality outdoor recreation, especially hunting, and a place for the Florida panther to roam."

"He used to drive me crazy," laughed Juanita Greene, formerly environmental writer for The Miami Herald and now head of Friends of the Everglades, a group founded in 1969 by Marjory Stoneman Douglas. "When I was back writing for the paper, he would call me up all the time and yell, 'Hello, babe!'

"He would never let go. He would just wear you down. But in the end, his causes were so good you had to like him. We clashed a lot about hunting, because he is such an avid hunter. I don't like to shoot birds and he does. So I thought he was a gun-toting fascist at first, but he went back to the days when these wetlands were covered with ducks, and it was a hunter's paradise. He realized that wildlife needs habitat, and habitat has to be preserved. That's how he became a conservationist, by being a hunter," Greene said.

Today, Jones greets you sitting, wearing suspenders, sitting in a chair in a house he built and roofed himself on what used to be a narrow pineclad street. Now it is Haverhill Road, and a flume of steely traffic travels it all day long, north and south, into the noisy night.

"We bought this house in 1953, 5 acres. He cut the cypress logs for the ceilings and walls and let them dry for a year under the house," Mariana says.

"It's amazing how much Palm Beach County has changed in our lifetime. In 1938, we lived on Garden Avenue at the corner of Military and Southern; there were just seven houses and two dairies. Now look at it."

Jones is not in the best of health, having suffered a heart attack and a minor stroke some time back. But he still spits like a downed power line that remains dangerous, a force to be respected and reckoned with. He still has embers of his old truculence when it comes to Florida, which for him is a mind-kingdom of inexpressible wealth and memory. He alternates between quiet, thoughtful reflection and sudden blazes of expression.

Is he optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the place?

"Pessimistic," Jones declares. "I used to be optimistic, but now, because of the growth . . . " he trails off into sudden silence. Then he sparks back: "We haven't learned anything from these hurricanes. We've got so many housing developments built in wetlands. The Army Corps of Engineers is not infallible!"

"Here," says Jones. "Come on back here. Here is where I wrote most of my legislation."

He leads the way into his back bedroom, brightly lit by the noonday sun, which casts a huge map of the Everglades into sharp relief, with arrows pointing where the water ought to flow and doesn't anymore, and would, if only the restoration plan were implemented!

"If they would just . . . " and he begins a complicated exposition of the 2,358-square mile ecosystem that underpins the whole southern peninsula. For him, it is still a cause not quite lost and well worth saving.

'The state shall seek . . . '

"I remember writing CARL up here in this room," he repeats. "It was going to be funded with a half-cent sales tax. It was going through the legislature like gangbusters.

"Then Phil Lewis (who served as Florida Senate President from 1978-80) said: 'We can't earmark the sales tax. Maybe we can use the severance tax from minerals, phosphate and oil.' So the money was found."

How do you write a bill?

"First it comes to you, one thing, the idea," Jones answers. "Then it comes together. The state shall do this, the state shall do that. I later found out that it is better to write 'the state shall seek to' instead of just 'shall.' The legislature doesn't like specific money rules, but they'll come up with it if you give them some leeway."

"Then I wrote 'Save Our Rivers,' " Jones says. "I wrote the bill. Then I had a heart attack. They wanted me to take it easy, but I wanted to call Bob Graham. I said, 'If you don't bring me a phone, I'll have another heart attack.' So they brought me a phone."

"Save Our Rivers" passed the legislature. On Aug. 1, 1984, it was Jones who tossed the first spadeful of dirt into the hated Kissimmee River Canal. He was waiting for Bob Graham to show up, but Graham was late and Jones couldn't wait to start filling in a ditch he detested.


Michelle Jones Conner said...

Thank you for keeping his name around in the Everglades fight. He deserves to be recognized with the great names we always hear with Everglades restoration. He was there and instrumental in getting the movement going. Next month he will be gone from us for 7 years. How I wish I had sometime with him in the last few years to get his advice on how to handle the battle of politics and Everglades restoration. It wears me out. He was a smart, honest and tough man who gave all he had to his family and fighting for Florida's environment.

Geniusofdespair said...

Michelle - there is a special place in heaven for people like your grandfather who have made the earth better and the sweetest reward is the legacy he left us in you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing the video clip from 2010 that I recently posted on the website Commons Everglades.

I posted that video in rememberence of Jim Harvey who recently passed. (Please read the description of that video.)

YES, John Clark Jones (1932-2010) and Mariana Beebe Jones (1934-2015), his wife, did great things for Florida and elsewhere in our country. They have to be mentioned together because Mariana was more than half of the team.

Also deserving great recognition is their daughter Diane Jones Geans (1952- ) who worked closely with them as the Perations Manager for the Florida Wildlife Federation which was headquartered at time time out of the five-acre Jones homestead in West Palm Beach. (Their milkman stopped delivering when he a panther in front of their house in 1967.)