Florida's Unsung Wilderness: The Swamps
Text Copyright Peter K. Burian
Florida's Unsung Wilderness: The Swamps, by Connie Bransilver and Larry W. Richardson; Foreword by Jane Goodall, Ph.D. Laminated softcover; 96 pages, 120 photographs. Westcliffe Publishers; cover price $24.95.
When most people think of Florida, it's not a swamp that comes to mind. These days, theme parks and crowded beaches seem to characterize the state. Mickey Mouse has replaced the Florida panther as the poster child of the state and this cat is now an endangered species. Much of its habitat - especially the Big Cypress Basin - neighbors on the fastest growing urban complex in the US. These swamplands of Southwest Florida house other species in peril too and this fragile wilderness is changing and shrinking.
Just as photographers have helped to preserve other vital areas for over a hundred years, Connie Bransilver and Larry Richardson have turned their attention to the swamps of Florida. Since much change is inflicted by ignorance, according to Dr. Jane Goodall, the authors are telling its story through pictures and words, revealing the swamp in order to inspire as well as inform.
Bransilver, the President Elect of the North American Nature Photography Association and Richardson, a past president of NANPA, reside in Florida and are active in environmental issues. Richardson works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a biologist, but both speak from extensive experience; seduced by the lure of the beauty of the swampland they are dedicated to its preservation.
In Florida's Unsung Wilderness: The Swamps, they reveal to us a secret splendor that few people will ever see. Organized into chapters highlighting the ecosystem's diverse flora and fauna, the book includes 120 photographs uncovering its wilderness. From the elusive Florida panther to the rare bee-swarm orchids, the images emphasize the importance of a region at risk due to misappropriation of water. Documentary for the most part, the images record the flora and fauna of the swamp; however, some are more interpretive, capturing the emotional experience of being there.
Congress has approved a $7 billion program to return water to the nearby Everglades, a step in the right direction for the natural resources of Florida. The rare bipartisan support for this measure was a pleasant surprise, since wetlands do not offer the splendor of majestic western mountains. By comparison, the Big Cypress Basin seems even less visually appealing but the Everglades is not the only area worthy of government attention. As Larry Richardson says, "I hope this book removes the stigma of the swamps which are what wilderness is all about in Florida ... We know how to preserve this environment and want to educate others." Bransilver reminds us that the Southwest Florida swamps are more heavily wooded than the Everglades and have suffered less - so far, at least. This is the good news brought to us by this book. It's not a death knell, although some 50% of Florida's local wetlands have already disappeared. Instead, the book is a celebration of what still exists in the Cypress Basin, a misunderstood ecosystem. For this reason, the photographs do not to include signs of the "human siege" that is already underway. Although the hostile environment kept people at bay for generations, this wilderness treasure is now facing imminent challenges. The book's text explains the situation, in an attempt to prevent further damage from any additional human mistakes.
As nature photographers, we tend to harbor a deeper awareness of the value of ecosystems than the general public. As Dr. Jane Goodall urges in her Foreword to the book, we should certainly investigate, and ultimately help to preserve the Cypress Basin. Says Goodall, "I hope the book will provide a greater understanding of Southwest Florida's swamps and the important role they play in both the physical health of the region and the spiritual health of everyone who lives here or visits."
But the final word on the importance of Florida's Unsung Wilderness: The Swamps belongs to Lea Borkenhagen, with an excerpt from her highly articulate amazon.com Review. Says Borkenhagen, "While it is not a prescription book for saving the threatened swamps, it is a springboard from which the reader can try to do something to help save them. Their message: it is only when you know something that you can love it, and only if you love it will you save it. You can almost feel the water slowly trickling by as you pass your eyes over the images, and hear the owls calling to each other. Truly splendid."
Editor's Note - You can buy Florida's Unsung Wilderness: The Swamps by Connie Bransilver and Larry W. Richardson at Amazon.com.