Protection of the environment through education, appreciation, and conservation.
Serving Leon, Jefferson, Wakulla, Gadsden, Liberty and Franklin Counties.
In the fall of 1963 an extraordinary group of men and women from the Big Bend area of North Florida came together to form the Apalachee Audubon Society. Focusing on conservation and working closely with Audubon Florida and National Audubon, for over 50 years Apalachee Audubon members have joined with like-minded men and women and forged ties with organizations with compatible goals to protect and preserve the natural environment.
Early Apalachee Audubon History
By Suzanna MacIntosh
Special thanks to Charles Lee with Audubon Florida and to Apalachee Audubon’s first President Dr. Huey B. Long for their invaluable help and for their generosity and commitment to the values that have made Audubon successful over the years.
Any discussion of the early history of Apalachee Audubon needs to include some background about Florida Audubon’s Executive Director C. Russell Mason and his outstanding leadership and vision. Russ Mason served as President of Florida Audubon from 1937-1940 during a time when there was no paid staff. Mason was employed as a Vice-President of the Stokes Seed Company, managing their Florida operations from an office in Sanford, Florida. In 1940 Mason left Florida to become Secretary/Treasurer of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Later he became their Executive Director and among his many accomplishments were the formation of the Natural Science Workshop to train teachers and youth leaders in natural history education and the founding of residential camp Wildwood.
As their paths would cross again in Florida, it’s important to note that Mason followed Carl W. Buchheister as Massachusetts Executive Director and that Buchheister went on to become President of National Audubon in 1959. Buchheister had also served as Director of the Hog Island Audubon Camp of Maine where he “established programs and workshops for adults in the principles of ecology and conservation which became widely accepted as models of their kind.”
Russ Mason served as Massachusetts Audubon’s Executive Director until he was recruited in 1957 to return as Florida Audubon’s Executive Director. At that point, Florida Audubon’s membership and fundraising had fallen very low and over the next 14 years Mason revitalized Florida Audubon and set a course that would guide Florida Audubon successfully into the future.
Mason worked to build conservation partnerships and was very successful raising money and increasing membership for Florida Audubon. Speaking in 1963 to the Dunellon Garden Club, Mason shared that “contrary to a rather general impression, Audubon does not confine its efforts to only bird conservation” and that while in 1957 Florida Audubon had only two sanctuaries, there were by 1963 over 35 in addition to the privately owned areas whose owners cooperated in conservation. Of particular interest was the 650,000 acre Bald Eagle Sanctuary stretching from Kissimmee to Okeechobee where most of the remaining Bald Eagles in the United States nested.
Eventually Mason developed a system of cooperative Bald Eagle sanctuaries with ranchers and other landowners covering 3 million acres of eagle nesting habitat in Florida. Through his interest in Central American birds and their conservation, Russ was instrumental in the establishment of the Asa Wright Nature Center in Trinidad and the Cerro Punta Sanctuary in Panama, in founding Audubon Societies in Mexico, Belize and Panama, and in forming "Amigos de la Naturaleza," a coalition of conservationists from Central and South American countries.
In 1963 under the leadership of Director Carl Buchheister National Audubon leased Wakulla Springs' 4,000 acres in a management agreement with Ed Ball and Wakulla Springs was designated as a wildlife and bird sanctuary. Soon afterwards in the fall of 1963 Russ Mason approached Dr. Long about the establishment of a local Audubon chapter in the Tallahassee area and by early 1964 the Apalachee Audubon Chapter had been established with twenty-six charter members. The first officers were President, Huey B. Long; Vice-Presidents, Mrs. A. D. Aldrich and O. Earl Frye; and Secretary-Treasurer, William R. Kidd. All members were required to hold membership in Florida and National Audubon as well as Apalachee Audubon. At that time A.D. Aldrich was Director of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission and later Earl Frye would become Executive Director of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission; William R. Kidd was Chief Engineer with the State of Florida and had served as Chairman of the State Recreational Committee. One of Russ Mason’s greatest gifts was his ability to build partnerships to further the conservation mission of Audubon. From the very beginning Apalachee Audubon was made up of an influential group of individuals who had the ability to make an impact by working together sharing information with one another and with the public while strengthening the effectiveness of the chapter.
Dr. Long kindly provided the following information:
“As to the formation of the Apalachee Audubon Society, I think it emerged in the following manner. As a District Information and Education Forester with the Florida Forest Service my job included opportunities for close relationships with the Florida Park Service, Florida Conservancy (as a Board Member), as well as the Florida Audubon Society (as Vice-President). Later I was promoted to Assistant Branch Chief of the Information & Education Branch of the Florida Forest Service and shipped to Tallahassee in the fall of 1963. Russ Mason came to Tallahassee where we discussed the idea of a chapter.
"We had no overt connection with any birding group to my knowledge. Some of the early members of the Society could have been associated to one or more without my knowledge. We were fortunate to have some strong reputational leaders as members: Bill Miller was Florida Parks Director and Earl Frye was Assistant Director of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. Betty McCord, wife of Judge McCord, and Karl Zerbe internationally known artist and his wife were among our early members. There was also an ornithologist-biologist Bob (?), and the head of the Science Education Department at FSU Dr. (?), and an architect whose names I have forgotten. *
"As I recall we began a travel nature film series soon after our creation. From there we moved on to regular field trips led by specialists from our group and others. Many members of the chapter shared a scientific interest and holistic outlook and appreciated the relationships and interdependence within our natural world. We went to places such as a plantation, Tall Timbers, near Thomasville, St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge, and Wakulla Springs. Subsequently we organized two major weekend programs, one in the spring and one in the fall. These usually began with a film and reception on Friday evening, a special field trip featuring a selected plant, bird, or geographic feature with dinner on Saturday night. Because of the scholarly and scientific knowledge among our members these were well received trips. For example, the member who was head of the Science Education Department was an expert on pitcher plants and when we visited selected sites her information was outstanding, as when we visited Wakulla to see small orchids in bloom. Bob, the ornithologist, was a great birder and Zerbe often carried a pouch for the collection of plant material he would incorporate in his paintings. Chuck Salter followed me as AAS President and also followed me as Assistant Branch Chief of the Florida Forest Service I&E Branch and later when the Florida Forestry Service and the Department of Agriculture were reorganized he became Chief of the Branch. Malcolm Johnson, Editor of the Tallahassee Democrat, was likely a member and we may have had a board meeting at his home "Half-Hill" on Meridian Road.
"I left the employment of the Florida Forestry Service in 1964 and became the first Director of Public Relations for the City of Tallahassee and worked on my Ph.D in Higher Education at FSU. Upon receiving my degree in 1966 I accepted the position of Assistant Director of FSU's Urban Research Center in Titusville, FL. and became Director in 1967. During these years I maintained a close relationship with Russ Mason. Unfortunately for me I lost contact with that fine group of individuals who comprised the leadership of the Apalachee Audubon Society. Any comments on the chapter's history should praise those early members who provided great leadership and devoted many enthusiastic hours to projects.”