July 09, 2008

Florida Expedition Planning Update

Planning for September's North Florida field work has moved forward in the past couple of days. The most important development has been the securing of permission for the first field site, Eleanor Klapp-Phipps Park. I had the good fortune of connecting by phone with Chuck Goodheart, City of Tallahassee Parks and Recreation Manager, in order to discuss what we'll be doing. Chuck was enthusiastically supportive and the outcome of our conversation was that we've got permission to collect in the park and will, in turn, provide Parks and Recreation with a list of all of the fungi and Coleoptera that we identify to add to the department's knowledge of what lives on their land. As I mentioned to Chuck, it's the same arrangement I have with Massachusetts DCR. I'm more than happy to provide useful information to the people tasked with caring for natural areas. That's a big part of why I've chosen my career path in the first place.

Just across Meridian Road is Overstreet Park, part of Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park. I'm also trying to get a permit to collect specimens on that property, and that's turning out to be a bit more involved. I called the state DEP Division of Parks and Recreation to find out what I needed to do and the person I got on the phone told me that I should call the park managers and gave me a couple of phone numbers for Maclay and Torreya. I first called the number at Torreya and got voicemail, so I left a message.

Then I dialed the number for Maclay and got a human being. Thinking that I'd been given a phone number for someone who was responsible for making decisions about park usage, I informed that person about what our field work would entail. I received a flat rejection, "You can't bring anything into or take anything out of the park." I was surprised that this sort of rule would be applied to legitimate research, particularly after having been told something else by the state office, and said so. The person on the other end of the line, an older gentleman by the sound of it, simply repeated his previous reply word for word. It occurred to me at this point that I had probably been given the phone number for general inquiries rather than that for a park manager, and so I asked if I could speak to someone who made decisions about the park. The fellow I was speaking to told me that I could write a letter "if I wanted to" to manager Beth Weidner, and he gave me the address at the park office. Does anyone still write letters for this sort of thing? I asked him if Ms. Weidner had a phone number and email address at which I could contact her, but he said that he couldn't give me those. I'd just have to write a letter. Ummmm, OK... end of conversation, then.

I searched online and found an email address for Weidner in a state DEP domain, so I sent an email to that address. It bounced. Bad luck, that.

I was just about to try a phone number I'd found when my phone rang. It was the park manager at Torreya returning my call. He was more than happy to help me out and said it would be "no problem" to collect fungi and beetles for research purposes, but that he wasn't the one to issue a permit. That's the job of the District Biological Team Manager, John Bente. He gave phone numbers and email addresses for both Bente and his second-in-command. I've left a voicemail for Bente — he was out in the field at the time I called — and I hope to speak with him today. Assuming that Overstreet and Torreya are part of the same district, then, it would appear that Beth Weidner wasn't the right person to contact regarding our permit, anyhow. I'll take up Overstreet with Dr. Bente when we talk about Torreya.

Today, I'll dash off an email to my undergraduate research advisor at Florida State to ask about the use of lab space while we're down there. We're going to ship our gear to and from Florida rather than trying to check it in on the plane. While it's not hazardous material, I have no idea how a combination of dried fungi and solutions of phloxine B and 10% ammonia might interact with airport security. I'd rather not have someone contracted by Homeland Security going through my collections and such and asking lots of questions about the stuff. UPS will be our friend in this.

If all goes well, we should have everything lined up for the trip before the end of the month. Then it's off to the land of sweat and pygmy rattlers and incredible biodiversity. I can't wait to see what sorts of polypores prefer gopherwood and whether there are any endemic fungal or Coleopteran taxa in those unique little ravine ecosystems.

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