The National Park Service named a new superintendent for Everglades National Park this week, sticking with a local who is well-versed in the complexities of the South Florida environment.
Currently the superintendent of Big Cypress National Preserve, Pedro Ramos will be the park’s first Hispanic chief when he takes over later this month. Ramos also will oversee the more remote Dry Tortugas National Park.
“There’s something about the community in South Florida in particular that shows a genuine care for these places,” Ramos said. “The Everglades is right in Miami’s backyard. And I want to make something out of that.”
Ramos started working at South Florida’s Big Cypress — one of the nation’s first preserves created in part to replenish freshwater flowing into the Ten Thousand Islands — in 2001 as an administrative officer. He was named superintendent in 2009.
Born in Puerto Rico, he attended college at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, then spent a decade with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, first as a community development officer in the U.S. Virgin Islands and then as a regional director overseeing parts of New England and the Virgin Islands.
Ramos replaces former superintendent Dan Kimball, who retired in March after managing the park for a decade during a time of intense change: Kimball helped create one of the nation’s largest no-motor, pole and troll zones to preserve seagrass beds but struggled to control a surge in invasive species like the Burmese python. While both parks share environmental concerns, they are distinctly different places that Ramos will have to navigate. They also differ sharply from Big Cypress, a preserve that allows hunting, off-road vehicles and oil drilling. All are prohibited in national parks.
Ramos, who takes the nation’s third largest park as it continues to wage a decades-long struggle to restore the flow of freshwater, says restoration will be a priority. But he also hopes to do more to connect people with the place, particularly minorities.
“I’m talking about the issue of relevance. It’s an issue we as an agency have been struggling with. People of color, Hispanics and other communities, have not been coming out,” he said. “If we don’t allow those communities to develop a relationship [with the park], what’s going to happen in the future? Forget restoration if people don’t care about these places.”
Past superintendents have spent as much or more time lobbying for the park — about 2,400 square miles squeezed between two urban coasts inhabited by some eight million people — as they have managing it, said John Adornato, regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association.
“It is a very unique park in the system because of its need to engage in an outside activity called Everglades restoration,” he said.
But being a local allows Ramos to deploy ties that could aid in restoration work, Adornato said.
“Pedro has been in the community and developed a lot of relationships with a lot of people, so this will heighten the park’s perspective in some peoples’ eyes.”
Everglades managers have also grappled with creating a new park management plan for about 13 years. The plan has not been updated since 1978. Past proposals that placed heavy emphasis on conservation were rejected by sportsmen and anglers while environmentalists argued for tougher restrictions to preserve fragile marshes, seagrass beds and fish populations.
The plan is expected to be finalized any day, Adornato said.
“It’s a seesaw act and any superintendent has that challenge of balancing the seesaw,” he said.