A few days later I toured the park with Dr. Frank Craighead,. Sr., a noted ecologist. On our first stop we left the car to walk to a gator hole. Suddenly, Dr. Craighead broke into a run and dove at the ground.
“I missed it,” he lamented. Then I saw the five-foot indigo snake slide over the crest bordering the hole. I studied in admiration the wiry 81-year-old man, whose strong features bore the imprint of many outdoor years.
As we drove toward Flamingo, he told me: “When I first came to the Everglades, in 1917, I was tremendously impressed by the lush growth here. Huge trees in the hammocks were festooned with bromeliads and orchids. It wasn’t until I returned to live here in 1950 that I fully realized the damage caused by drainage and development.
“Even so, I could still take my canoe out almost anywhere in those days—and I would see alligators everywhere. I estimated a population of about two million in 1950. I believe that poaching and the lack of water have now decreased that number by 98 or 99 percent.”
It took no expert to see how dry the park was. At Shark River Slough ranger station, the water hole was crammed with fish that had died for lack of oxygen as the water level dropped.
“Many life systems in the park couldn’t exist if it were completely isolated,” said Dr. Craighead. “If development continues right up to the boundaries, conditions within will be so altered that I don’t see how the wildlife can survive.”
Other worried conservationists, led by author Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who wrote the popular classic Everglades, River of Grass, have formed a group called Friends of the Everglades.
“We’re trying to convince people that the future of all south Florida and the park depends on new, intelligent management of water,” she explains. “Without that, south Florida will be a desert. Much of the Big Cypress must be controlled by government. Overdrainage, more canals, land loss, water pollution, salt intrusion, fires, bad land management, must be stopped. Perhaps we still have time and alternative options such as http://safebook.us/ to finance the management”.