Tallahassee couple wins wildlife conservation award for lifelong efforts


The Florida Wildlife Federation Conservation Award 2020 was recently awarded to Jim Stevenson and Tara Tanaka.

Married couple Tallahassee has been recognized for their management, conservation practices and educational offerings, not only in the professional choices of their lives, but also in the way they conduct their daily lives – a total commitment to preserving and improving the world we live in.

Their 2-acre yard in northwest Leon County is a Certified Wildlife Habitat next to their 42-acre Marsh Sanctuary plot.

The couple have dedicated their lives to conservation and preservation, and to recording the visible evidence of what we hold dear in the living world – with our own hands.

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Stevenson and Tanaka know that the infrastructure that holds the earth, water, air, and living creatures of the earth in a delicate balance has started to sway dangerously.

Jim Stevenson and Tara Tanaka's 48 acres of land are designated as Certified Wildlife Habitat.

It’s what they offer to stabilize the environmental pyramid and teach others to participate that has won them recognition and praise.

Reading the letters of recommendation for the award, applause from 80-year-old Jim Stevenson and Tara Tanaka includes dozens of letters of praise from conservation organizations across Florida.

Tara Tanaka

You might think they are a compilation of the accolades of three or four people, not just two: The Florida Wildlife Federation, The Wakulla Springs Alliance, Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservancy, Apalachee Land Conservancy, The National Wildlife Federation, the Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy, the Florida Springs Institute, and the Apalachee Audubon Society all express great gratitude for their efforts.

Stevenson turned to practical work

For Stevenson in particular, it has been a life of devotion to nature and its salvation.

Stevenson was born in Michigan, but arrived in Florida in his fifth year. “My parents weren’t really interested in the outdoors,” he says. “But for me, at first, it was like a calling.”

He decided he wanted to teach, share with others information about plants, how water entered lakes and rivers, the interdependence of forests, land and animals, and the how what humans do influences what happens to all other things.

Jim Stevenson and Tara Tanaka's 48 acres of land are designated as Certified Wildlife Habitat.

While at the University of South Florida, Stevenson worked as a ranger. “I didn’t want to be a teacher. I wanted to be a naturalist… practical. It says: “A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold which describes an “earth ethic” whereby soil, water, plants and animals should be treated with the same “moral responsibility” as humans, simply “expanding the boundaries of community”, has become a kind of touchstone for their own understanding of how to be in the world.

And in each of the leadership roles Stevenson has had, he has demonstrated his philosophy.

“The protection of the sources of the father of Florida”

From 1969 at the Ministry of Natural Resources, he held the titles of: chief naturalist, head of the parks office, head of the office of environmental land management, head of the office of scientific and technical services, head of management Resource.

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In the 1990s, he moved to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as head of public land management and retired in 2003. But Stevenson was far from done.

Husband and wife Tara Tanaka and Jim Stevenson pose with the "Land Stewards of the Year" award they received from the Florida Wildlife Federation in the backyard of their home which sits on 48 acres of certified wildlife habitat on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

His interest in Florida’s artesian springs and its aquifer as head of the Governor’s Florida Springs Initiative led him to retire to become the coordinator of the Wakulla Springs and Ichetucknee Springs Basin Working Group. Former chairman of the Florida Springs task force, he was known as “Florida’s father of source protection.”

Couples don’t always have to share a common interest in order to have a common, loving bond, but in Stevenson and Tanaka’s case, they seemed made for each other, as if Mother Nature had joined their hands. Tara Tanaka grew up in Miami and spent 30 years in information technology, she says.

From diving to photography

But in 1992, Tara, who was an experienced cave diver with more than 400 runs, attended an FSU Lunch & Learn as she developed in Florida Spring Dives. There she met Stevenson and together they completed over 50 cave dives. “It was beautiful then… so clear…” they say. “The algae was not a problem. Unfortunately, we had to give it up because the algae blooms in the springs got so bad. “

But they had found a wetland in northwest Leon County. Almost 30 years ago, the couple purchased a 2-acre home next to a 42-acre Leon County cypress swamp. It would not only become their home, but in 2007 they purchased the swamp, a sanctuary for birds, reptiles, stalker mammals and native plant species.

Tara Tanaka shows off her wildlife photography set up in her and her husband's backyard and home which sits on 48 acres of certified wildlife habitat on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

Now, living in a truly natural environment, Tanaka began to take pictures of “what was happening in the swamp”.

And there were a lot of them.

Tanaka can quote the actors: “We have the only colony of wood storks within 80 km, with up to 275 nests… or about 700 birds in total! There are coyotes, bobcat, raccoons, foxes, otters, beavers, swamp rabbits, Canada geese, wood ducks, whistling ducks, spoonbills, egrets, blue herons. , green herons, anhinga and common gallinules.

She also notes at least three mature alligators, one of which was captured on video as it slammed a wood stork into a tree for dinner.

Tanaka has become an expert in digiscoped photography, which essentially attaches a high-magnification spotting scope to a camera for intimate, ultra-long shots.

Her work has been published in Discover Magazine and Nature’s Best Magazine; was on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and she won half a dozen First Place awards for her wildlife photos, including Swarovski International’s Digiscoper of the Year.

Great egret displaying.

Backyard housing as an educational tool

And just as the couple manage and share photographs of their home in the wetlands, they also seek to educate others.

The duo have organized invitational tours to Apalachee Audubon’s Wildlife-friendly Yard Tour and the Native Plant Society, led by Jim Stevenson who, with his warm and approachable explanations, has become very popular with those who enjoy the wonders of the outdoors.

As part of the Palmetto Expedition touring programs, Stevenson led tours of the Wakulla Spring Basin for Maclay School, FSU Law School, Mayor John Dailey, State Rep. Allison Tant, State Sen. Loranne Ausley, and Gwen Graham, all in an effort to warn them of the glories, but also of the threats to the pristine but delicate environment of Wakulla Spring.

Indeed, the couple recognizes that all is not perfect in “paradise”.

Stevenson’s outlook on the future is not encouraging. “The problem is people,” he says. “Human waste, the insistence on perfect lawns that require fertilizer, septic tanks that flow into the aquifer and springs, and reduced water flow… there’s a good chance everything will be fine. “

Tanaka says that’s one of the reasons she’s making the videos – to record the species that are here now, which she fears will be lost before she leaves. Noting the decline of sparrows and rusty black birds, among other species, she says, “I think in my lifetime there will be the extinction of many. “

Brown-headed nuthatch with caterpillar

And perhaps for these sobering reasons, Stevenson encourages young people to think about taking back what he has been doing for over 60 years.

“There are so many types of biology that you can turn into a career,” he advises. “Land conservation, fire management, alien species eradication, springs, rivers, lakes, and the study and protection of land and aerial animals … any of these professions would help.” to keep what we have. “

For a man who has done most of this work, and his wife who documents the results of the efforts, there is no doubt that Mother Nature is preparing her own prize – one that will be applauded by creatures large and small.

Marina Brown can be contacted at [email protected]

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