Monday, November 25, 2019

MUCK CITY AFLAME: Stop the Burn protest highlights failure of FDACS to protect community

For Immediate Release
November 23, 2019
Contacts: Steve Messam,, 989-400-4225
Cris Costello,, 941-914-0421
 Stop the Burn protest highlights failure of FDACS to protect community

Belle Glade, FL – Sugar growers around Belle Glade provided a toxic but illustrative backdrop to a protest today in front of the Florida Forestry Division Work Center at 2842 FL-15, Belle Glade, with smoke and ash plumes along the horizon in every direction.  The scene underscored (1) the plague of air pollution, health threats, and economic depression that pre-harvest sugarcane field burning imposes on the Glades and (2) the failure of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to protect the health and safety of the residents in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Shanique Scott and Steve Messam, both local residents born and raised in the Glades and leaders in the Stop the Burn – Go Green Campaign to end pre-harvest sugarcane field burning, spoke to a crowd of over 30 activists in front of a large figure of Smokey the Bear sign ( wearing a Stop the Burn t-shirt.  View the protest here. 

Two large posters of screen shots from the Florida Forest Service’s active burn tracking tool from November 1, 2019 ( and November 14, 2018 v showed huge swaths of the EAA shrouded in ash.  A screen shot taken the morning of the protest ( makes it clear that this is not a rare phenomenon.

Per the Florida Forest Service’s active burn tracking tool (, ash plumes often travel over 20 miles.  Messam said “We have found ash plumes as long as 26.21 miles long on the Forest Service website. You want to put our health and safety first?  Then give us at least a 27-30 mile buffer around our homes, schools, streets, and churches right now and make that the first phase of an eventual a complete ban in the near future.”

Messam added:  “In a press conference on October 1, Commissioner Fried said ‘keeping Florida’s residents, communities, and environment safe is my number one priority.’  She also announced a new 80-acre buffer zone to protect wildlands from pre-harvest burns, but our homes and schools are left unprotected.  In fact, the new announced measures do nothing to keep us safe and healthy. We are still choked by black snow while residents in Eastern Palm Beach County are protected by burn wind restrictions.  I refuse to accept that my people are less worthy of protection. The industry needs to stop pre-harvest sugar field burning and switch to green harvesting now.”

Scott remarked:  “Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the harvest with family, and the Glades is a true horn of plenty. The sugar industry reaps a profitable harvest from our rich soils but our communities have not shared in the profits.  In the Glades, harvest season means smoke and ash, exacerbated asthma symptoms, the high cost of cleaning off our cars and homes, keeping kids inside and fear.  This Thanksgiving needs to be the last one celebrated under this dark cloud!” 
Scott brought it all home with stories about how generations of her family and neighbors have been impacted by the burns. “The only smoke I want for Thanksgiving is a smoked turkey!  Until burning is completely phased out and is replaced by green harvesting, we are not safe, we are not healthy, and our lives are not respected.” 

Messam went on to say: “We are thankful for a number of things this year. The number of Stop the Burn Campaign activists is growing every month.  FDACS has started to talk about green harvesting.  Next year we want to be thankful for a FDACS-sponsored green harvesting economic opportunity workshop in Belle Glade; this is something Commissioner Nikki Fried can start to plan for right now.  And we will be thankful when Commissioner Fried comes to Belle Glade to meet with us and hear our stories; we have been asking her for months to come here and experience the burns first-hand.”

The crowd got their two cents in too by chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, toxic smoke has got to go!”

Photos taken on November 23, 2019 (morning before protest of the smoke/ash over Belle Glade:

Photo of Steve Messam:

Photo of Shanique Scott:

Photo of Smokey the Bear:

Link to protest video:


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Florida Conservation Icon Whitey Markle Has Died

By Kathryn Taubert 
Whitey Markle/Photo by Jim Tatum
(Gainesville, FL)  Sierra Club Florida officials have announced the passing, after a brief illness, on November 4 of Richard “Whitey” Markle, one of Florida’s staunchest and most successful environmental advocates.

Best known for his successful efforts to restore, protect and preserve Florida’s natural resources as a principle of the Florida Sierra Club at both state and local levels, Markle’s tenure as Chair of the Suwannee-St. John’s Group representing 16 counties in North Central Florida brought his substantial energies to the Sierra Club’s efforts to protect, preserve and enjoy Florida’s world-class environmental treasures.

Also serving on the Sierra Club’s state Executive Committee, Markle’s sometimes “in your face” style earned both the respect and dedication of a cadre of conservation advocates who saw him as both role model and bold spokesperson unafraid to confront the issues of overdevelopment and those who would encourage it.

Markle was also an accomplished writer and musician with Whitey Markle and the Swamprooters, performing at festivals all over North Central Florida and featuring a dozen of his original recorded songs written in the “Florida Cracker” genre. His book, Whitey Markle’s Recipes with Tales and Tunes, is an example of folksy intelligence and downhome humor equivalent to the Foxfire series of life in Appalachia.

What many didn’t know is that with his Masters Degree in Urban Planning from the University of Florida, Markle also taught Building Trades, Structures and Soils Labs and Woodshop for the McPherson School in Ocala; a State of Florida Correctional Institution; and the Dept. of Architecture at UF. Markle’s work on his Masters thesis ultimately resulted in the establishment, by ballot initiative, of a noise curfew on airboat noise in Alachua County in 2010. Markle’s efforts to restore the Oklawaha River to its natural state was among his most ardent efforts, even inspiring an original recorded song written by Markle himself.

The recipient of a host of awards by a various conservation organizations, Markle was recently honored in San Francisco by the National Sierra Club for Special Service for his conservation work.

Florida Sierra Club Chapter Director Frank Jackalone said, when learning of Markle’s death:

“Nobody loved Florida's wildlife, rivers, springs, forests and coastal islands more than Whitey Markle, and no Floridian was a stronger environmental advocate than he. His fellow hikers, paddlers and conservation activists in Florida are in deep mourning with his passing, but we are also dedicated to carry on his work.  I can think of no better way for all of us who were inspired by Whitey to complete his mission than to secure removal of the Rodman Dam and restore the natural flow of the Ocklawaha River.”

Markle is survived his daughter Carrie Markle Thomas, three grandchildren, brother Conrad Markle of Jacksonville, and long-time, devoted companion Harriett Jones of Williston and many, many friends. Plans are underway for a Celebration of Life for Whitey Markle on the Oklawaha River in the near future. Details will be posted on the Sierra Club, Suwannee-St. John’s Group website and Facebook pages in the near future.

In lieu of flowers, send contributions in Whitey Markle’s name to The Sierra Club Suwannee-St. John’s Group at SSJ Sierra Club, PO Box 13951, Gainesville FL  32604 or the Florida Springs Council, PO Box 268, High Springs, FL 32655.