DOINews: USFWS: Secretary Jewell's Positive Energy Saves Day on Tour of Florida Ranch

Last edited 09/05/2019

This story first appeared on the USFWS blog Open Spaces.

You know you're looking rough when at first-glance somebody says to you: “Bless your heart.”

Such was the case for me January 9 after finishing a rain-soaked afternoon photographing Interior Secretary Sally Jewell as she toured the Durando Ranch in Okeechobee County, Fla.

Secretary Jewell dries out as she chats with some cowboys about their culture and the land they love. Photo by Ken Warren, USFWS.

It was chilly, rainy and windy in the Everglades Headwaters region of South-Central Florida--a bad-hair day of epic proportions. However, Secretary Jewell's positive energy, coupled with the “Old Florida-Style Hospitality” of our hosts, more than made up for the wet clothes and messed up coifs.

The Secretary's tour was part of a visit to meet with local ranchers and members of Florida's conservation community to discuss next steps for the new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. A big part of that initiative involves the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchasing conservation easements on ranching and agricultural lands that will keep those lands in the hands of the owners into perpetuity, under specified conditions.

Our hosts were David “Lefty” Durando and his wife Jane. Lefty greeted Secretary Jewell by saying he appreciates the federal government's efforts, which ultimately will allow him and his wife will to continue their way of life and preserve the land.

An appreciative Secretary Jewell told him, “We're going to get this done.” And then we were off.

We traveled via swamp buggies--huge vehicles that are a cross between dune buggies and monster trucks. Charlie Stevens drove the buggy I was on. Charlie's a self-described lifelong family friend of the Durandos. He built his buggy himself from the chassis of a Chevy Blazer.

“There are way more critters out here than just cows. It's like a wildlife preserve,” Charlie said. Soon thereafter, he excitedly pointed out a big buck scampering across the prairie. “See that!” Charlie yelled proudly.

From my buggy I snapped pictures of the Secretary and her party as we bounced across the ranch on rough and muddy roads. With every bounce and raindrop, she seemed to exude more energy, thoroughly enjoying getting out among the people and checking out the landscape--even on a day when Mother Nature didn't cooperate.

After the 90-minute tour was over, the rain let up a bit and Secretary Jewell sat on a bale of hay with cowboys around a fire--drying out and chatting with them about their culture and the land they love. It was truly a classic moment that made me think: “This partnership thing is way cool.”

By the way, it was Jane Durando who greeted me saying: “Bless your heart.” But that's okay, it was time well spent, bad-hair day and all--even though with their hats on, you really couldn't tell if it was a bad hair day for the cowboys, too.

Ken Warren is a Public Affairs Officer in the South Florida Ecological Services Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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