Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pelican Island Wildlife Festival is a very special time for us as a family. When I left a twenty-five year career in public policy behind in my native Illinois, and TR Joe and the Teddy Roosevelt Tour first became a reality, it was mid-February 2008. During the second week of March, my wife Jenny was playing golf in the Florida Women’s Open Tournament. I was her caddy and Sam her loyal fan.

We were rv camping somewhere nearby Tampa in a nice state park. The barred owls and
sandhill cranes abounded, as did the ibis, the egret and the heron along the way. And the pelican.

My research all pointed to Pelican Island as the next stop for the TR Tour. When I called the Wildlife Service office in Vero Beach, I reached Ranger Joanna Webb and she was so nice to
invite my family to come and play a role in the Wildlife Festival planned that very next weekend.

From that first visit on, through the following years, the kindness and hospitality we received at Pelican Island characterizes just the sort of thing we try to pass on to others. At the
Pelican Island Wildlife Festival in Sebastian’s City Park, we celebrate the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt’s first federal bird sanctuary, declared in March of 1903.

The bird and reptile programs, repeated throughout the day, are always informative and entertaining, with the stars kids just love to touch and stare at. Exhibitors sell all sorts of fun
Florida items, many of them organic or nature based. Rehabilitated pelicans are returned to the wild, kayaks are paddled and yummy foods eaten. Music and dancing have been known to occur. Public servants share their conservation message. It's always a great day.

Mostly, the volunteers of the Pelican Island Preservation Society and the rangers and staff of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service get together to spend more than a day of hard work hosting one of the nation’s most wonderful celebrations of Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation legacy.

Bully for PIPS. Hope to see you on Saturday, March 17, 2012, in Sebastian, Florida.

Friday, March 2, 2012

God bless and keep Erik Dorr Johnson

Today, Friday, March 2, would have been Erik Johnson’s forty-ninth birthday. Erik was a year older than me, and we ran cross country together at the University of the South in Sewanee,
Tennessee. I say we ran together. Erik was one of those tall and skinny guys
who ran way ahead of me.

Erik was a biology major at Sewanee. When you major in the hard sciences at Sewanee, you disappear for hours and days at a time in the science building. In my day these students were “Woods Lab Rats.” Today, with Spencer Hall being added to the science and math complex, I’m not sure what they call these kids. This much I know. For over one hundred and fifty years, the
science labs of Sewanee have been producing graduates who make our world a better place.
I’ve kept touch with some of Erik’s Woods Lab compatriots. They are curing cancer, providing health services to the poor, saving endangered species and more. I wish I would have kept in better touch with Erik. He married Amy, a classmate of mine and easily the sweetest, kindest person at Sewanee. They settled in Tallahassee and had a family. Erik worked in forestry, most
recently as a Forest Ecologist with the United States Forest Service in the National Forests of Florida.

Unlike me, Erik stayed in great shape after college, always the lean and strong distance runner. He had the heart of a Viking and the soul of a brother in Christ. In October, Erik passed away, illness taking him much more quickly than doctors presumed.

My second career has allowed me to travel and perform in Florida. I helped the Friends of Ocala
National Forest celebrate their centennial in 2009. Every year, I help the Friends of Pelican
Island celebrate our nation’s first federal bird sanctuary. How I wish I would have stayed in touch and known Erik was so nearby.

Earlier this week, I visited late at night with Erik’s old college roommate here in Phoenix. The
evening was full of stories of Erik growing man eating plants in his closet and coming to the rescue of his well pickled friends. Today, I climbed Phoenix, Arizona’s Piestewa Peak, formerly known as Squaw Peak. More than one of the insanely fit runners who passed me, ascending the 2608 foot mountain, reminded me of my friend Erik. You may remember that Piestewa Peak is named in honor of Army Specialist Lori Ann Piestewa, our first female soldier to be killed in 2003 during the Iraq War. Erik and I both had the honor of running at Sewanee with Navy Lieutenant William “Tom” Costen, a Sewanee man killed in action in January of 1991, flying off the carrier the USS Ranger. All too often, the old saw is painfully true. The good die young.

When Erik passed away, his family asked that remembrances be made to one of the following organizations, all of which are integral to Erik’s life’s work: Florida Natural Areas Inventory ( ) or the Atlanta Botanical gardens carnivorous plant restoration efforts (, which benefit Florida State Parks.

God bless and keep Erik Dorr Johnson and his family. EQB and YSR!