Lee County has a new Land Stewardship Coordinator to oversee Fort Myers Beach natural areas that include Matanzas Pass Preserve, Bowditch Point Park and Bunche Beach on the mainland across San Carlos Bay. Rick Bauer recently took over these responsibilities from newly-retired Terry Cain.
“I am originally from Baltimore, Maryland,” he said, “but my parents moved south so that is where I spent most of my childhood, playing with snakes and turtles! I eventually attended Davidson College, where I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Biology, doing a lot of laboratory and research work in Herpetology with salamanders and frogs and had my first exposure to South Florida with Burmese pythons in the Everglades.”
From there, he went to Missouri, doing field work with the Missouri Department of Conservation, including the study of amphibians, small mammals and various birds. Rick next went to Jekyll Island off the southeast Georgia coast, “where I had a wide range of responsibilities, including sea turtle research, checking up on their nests until they would hatch. My main duty, however, was managing the habitat for the benefit of the American Alligator, including light sensitivity, surveys, and monitoring and tracking of their movements.”
Rick next spent three years attending Graduate School at The University of Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology. “I attained my master’s degree in Conservation Ecology, where I investigated a Superfund site contaminated by heavy metals and its effects on diamondback terrapins and alligators and sea turtles that were 99% Loggerheads, just like here on Fort Myers Beach.”
He learned about the Lee County Land Stewardship Coordinator opportunity from an online wildlife & environmental job board and it immediately appealed to him. “Shortly thereafter, I first had a telephone interview, then they brought me down for an hour-long face-to-face session. I arrived a day early and stayed a day longer, to get to know the area and visit many of the preserves that I felt might be under my jurisdiction, to see what the Conservation 20/20 Program was all about and how they managed things and their environmental stewardship philosophy. I visited Matanzas Pass Preserve and Bunche Beach, along with Prairie Pines and Yellow Fever Creek Preserves.”
Matanzas Pass Preserve on Fort Myers Beach particularly impressed him. “It has such a diverse habitat and I really liked that it has an ADA-accessible trail and is right across from the beach, with a lot of foot traffic. Bunche Beach and Prairie Pines seemed to have a lot of activity as well, while the others less so, as they are further from the public, where you can get away by yourself, so I liked that variety.” Since accepting the position, he has now visited Bowditch Point Preserve at the island’s northernmost tip. “I found it so surprising, in a good way,” Rick exclaimed! “I did not expect it to have such a healthy Gopher Tortoise population, considering that it is not that large, is at the very end of the island, and surrounded by development, as ordinarily those things do not go so well together, but there they are!”
While only on the job a few weeks, Rick continues to acclimate himself to his new activities. “As a Land Stewardship Coordinator, my primary responsibility is to ensure that we maintain the natural preserves for future generations. One primary way to do that is through the control of invasive exotic species, as Southwest Florida is a perfect environment for those to grow at the expense of native ones. The work I can do on my own and with Lee County crews, we will do, but volunteers are crucial to making this a successful effort. For the largest projects, we will mostly likely contract out that work. Another important component of my job is to write or update Land Stewardship Plans for the various preserves that we update every ten years, and of course I want to play a significant role in public education and programming.”
He is still learning about the various preserves, needing “to spend more time in each to really get a feel for their ecosystems.” Another thing he is coming up to speed on is last year’s Red Tide and Blue-Green Algae outbreaks. “Hopefully those will not be an issue this year, but we will have to see what the tide brings in, I guess.”
Rick looks forward to working with volunteer groups like the Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve, as well as environmental preservation groups like Turtle Time, Inc. “Vicki Little of the Friends of MPP works for Lee County, so we have already met, and I attended their second Speaker Series program on June 11, and they seem like a terrific organization and I plan to go to those upcoming programs (the second Tuesday of each month through October). I reached out to Eve Haverfield of Turtle Time, but we have yet to connect, as I suspect this is her busiest time. I understand the record number of Fort Myers Beach turtle nests was 99 from two years ago, so if we are ever going to break that record, this should be the year, as the Georgian coast went over 1,000 nests for the first time, with other records being shattered all along the Eastern Seaboard.”
Replacing A Legend
Rick is well-aware he has big shoes to fill in replacing Fort Myers Beach environmental legend Terry Cain, who recently retired after 15 years as the beach’s Lee County Land Stewardship Coordinator. “Oh, yeah,” he said with a chuckle! “When I accepted the position, I moved to Lee County as soon as I could to purposely spend three weeks with Terry on the job. As you can guess, she was enormously helpful as we toured each preserve, telling me the things to keep an eye out for and sharing her opinions and what she would do over the next year or so, but she also strongly emphasized that no two people ever do the same things, and to manage the preserves the way I think I should and not how I think she would. I am sure, however, if she sees me doing something wrong, she won’t hesitate to call!”
So far, Rick says he is really enjoying Southwest Florida, “though it is hot, so maybe moving down right at the beginning of summer has its challenges! I am a very outdoorsy person, however, and have thought about moving to Florida for a long time now to advance my career, especially to Southwest Florida, so this is definitely where I want to be at this point in my life. From the time when I was a kid, I could never stay inside, no matter if it were sunny or raining, always playing with some kind of reptile, so I eat, sleep, and dream about these things as my passion. That makes being here the next logical step in that goal, to take what I learned through my studies and experiences and research and see how all that will work in the real world, and this position will allow me to do that, so I am very excited to be here!”
To contact Rick, email email@example.com or call 239-707-3015.
By Gary Mooney