Manipulating Florida’s environmental agenda: The Everglades Foundation and Everglades Trust

by Chris Leggatt

Think that there are dozens of independent environmental groups operating in South Florida, working their own individual issues, fighting to preserve Florida’s unique environment? Think again.

It is a deception worthy of a Hollywood script – A shadowy organization forming advocacy groups to work on their behalf, manipulating citizens and governments, toppling the will of the people for their own twisted agenda– under the banner of environmental good.If it were in the movies, it might be exciting, but in real life, it would be unscrupulous and unacceptable. Even worse, it’s already happening.

Since 2009, the Everglades Foundation has contributed over $6 million to other organizations that promote a Stepford-like “anti-sugar” agenda, use the same language and generally advocate the exact same policy outcomes on issues. Groups such as the Clean Water Fund of Florida, Florida Wildlife Federation, Sanibel-Captiva Conservations Fund, Tropical Audubon Society, and other advocacy organizations have received a large portion of their annual budget from the Everglades Foundation. As for Audubon of Florida and the much-vaunted Everglades Law Center, they appear to be nearly wholly owned subsidiaries of the Foundation with almost 75% of their operating budgets consisting of Everglades Foundation contributions. In 2009 alone, Audubon of Florida received 98% of its total revenue from the Everglades Foundation.

Like a pair of octopi, The Everglades Foundation and the Everglades Trust use their “arms” (organizations that receive funds) to advocate for various issues, manipulating the media by offering up quotes and outrage from numerous “organizations” as “sources”.

Everglades Foundation octopus
Photo credit: DailyBroward.com

One in the Same – Two Organizations, One Controlling Board

On paper, the Everglades Foundation and the Everglades Trust seem to appear as two separate organizations, but a more in-depth look rips away that deception – Erik Eikenberg is the current CEO of the Everglades Foundation, but also serves as Board Member for the Everglades Trust. Kirk Fordham is the FORMER CEO of the Everglades Foundation, and serves as a Board Member for the Everglades Trust. Mary Barley, whose husband George Barley founded the Everglades Foundation, served as both Chairman and Vice-Chair of the Everglades Foundation, and now serves as President and Treasurer of the Everglades Trust.

Is anyone else sensing a pattern here?

It’s a Grudge, not the Environment

The primary target of attacks by these two environmental juggernauts appears to be the U.S. Sugar Corp. In the last few months, the Everglades Trust and Everglades Foundation, with the help of various environmental groups they finance, attempted to strong-arm the Florida Legislature into a costly and ineffective purchase of lands owned by the US Sugar Corp. One of these groups went so far as to launch a smearing mail campaign against a number of sitting Florida Representatives. The efforts to coerce the Legislature failed. Now, these same groups are attempting to attack US Sugar Corporation and other sugar farmers for using state approved harvesting methods, by attempting to scare Florida residents with pronouncements of doom, pollution, and toxic gases, combined with images of fire, smoke and machinery. All with the intent of shutting down one specific agricultural business that is complying with every state and federal environmental regulation. Ironically, Palm Beach County, where the majority of the sugarcane fields are located, has some of the highest air quality in the state.

Reprinted with permission from The Daily Broward.

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