The focus in the park was water quantity. During a stop along the Shark River Slough, Bob Johnson, the park’s chief scientist, explained how the Tamiami Trail and a network of flood-control levees and canals had squeezed off the natural flow of water, almost drying out what had once been the deepest section of the River of Grass.
As a result, he said, much of the rich peat soil that made up the system’s distinctive ridges and slough landscape has oxidized and disappeared.
“This area would historically have a foot of water on it,’’ Johnson said, pointing to a swath that remained dry despite recent heavy rains. “You wouldn’t want to drive your airboat over that.’’
As Interior secretary, Jewell runs an agency often caught in tugs-of-war between conservation and other interests, overseeing not only the nation’s parks and refuges but also bureaus that manage all federal lands and offshore resources, handing out mining and drilling leases to energy companies.
Though Jewell has never run for elected office, she stressed that she wasn’t “completely naïve to politics.’’ As the chief executive of REI, which is based outside Seattle, she had worked with two previous Interior secretaries and had some experience on Capitol Hill pushing to protect wild areas prized by her company’s customers.
“In my last 13 years at REI, it was really evident that a healthy ecosystem and health public lands are really important for a large chunk of the economy,’ said Jewell.
Jewell, who had previously worked as a petroleum engineer and a banker, said she agreed to the president’s request because she thought she could have more influence in protecting “the lands, the waters, the ecosystems I care a lot about.’’
Jewell’s passion for the outdoors extends far beyond business. She’s a highly skilled mountain climber, ascending Mount Rainier in her home state of Washington numerous times, Mount Kilimanjaro and many other daunting peaks. But she stressed she had broader interests and found the Glades captivating. She had canoed with a park ranger in the 10,000 Islands on the Southwest coast of Florida previously, she said, spying manatees and other creatures and also had visited the bird-rich Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples several times.
“People talk about my mountaineering stuff but I am a certified scuba diver, I have a sailboat and a lot of things that float,’’ she joked.
Jewell said she “still getting her feet wet” on some controversial issues, such as expanded offshore oil drilling, but she generally supports the Obama’s administration policy to improve conservation but also broaden and diversify energy sources. The next stop on her trip was to the Gulf Coast to watch an oil spill drill.
Despite the tightening federal budget, she believes there is strong support for the Everglades in Washington, in part because state and federal agencies have set an example by cooperating on restoration goals and projects.
“There are a lot of people working together here, which I think is really a model,’’ she said.