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To Serve and Protect on Memorial Day

Hi there, friends, hope your day so far has been splendid. (NOTE: remember that these seven chapters of  this “Mini-guide to Wildlife Research Team” were originally sent out as email newsletters to WRT’s supporters.) As this is being sent to you on Memorial Day, many of you are enjoying a day off work, going to the beach, taking advantage of “special” retail sales, etc. Please remember that we get to enjoy such a day because of the brave men and women who put on a uniform in order to serve this great country. Some, like our founder Tom Kazo, returned home under their own power, but others returned to their native soil in a coffin. And others vanished completely. Tom returned on crutches, as a decorated wounded warrior, and chose to continue to serve and protect the public as a police officer; but his Vietnam memories never left him. I was still picking shrapnel out of him the day before he passed away.

Wildlife Research Team was also founded in order to serve and protect. We have worked to make a difference for two decades, and our volunteers have come from all levels of society. It doesn’t matter to us what your financial status, political affiliation or religious persuasion may be, only that you are willing to grab a paddle and help us serve and protect Nature so that our descendants will be able to enjoy it. And of course, even if you are not physically able to paddle a canoe, you are still welcome to join in the fun!

Today’s post presents five of our six “Outcomes” which we believe, based on our experience, cover everybody, beginning at about the age of seven. Possibly younger, but it depends upon the child’s level of maturity and behavior and how well he or she can be controlled by the parent or guardian. In the other direction, I seem to recall a passenger who was 105 years young!

Remember: it all starts with our basic training session which we call “Canoeing 101” which was the subject of a previous post. Even if you tell us you’ve paddled before, well, WRT does things a bit differently. And hey, it’s FREE, so don’t be afraid of being a beginner! And remember, most people will solemnly swear they are good drivers even on the way to traffic school!

It’s worth repeating: once you have volunteered for twenty (20) hours with Wildlife Research Team, you are a Lifetime Member. There will never be dues to pay! We will be introducing a small user’s fee for Members-only events and excursions, however, to cover the direct costs (campsites, launch fees, food, etc.) and to set up a self-insurance fund that will pay for lost, damaged, or worn-out gear or equipment.

First Outcome: Able-Bodied Volunteer – Potential WRT Member – Potential Paid Staff

Criteria:

  • At least 12 years of age;
  • Wants to volunteer with WRT;
  • Wants to become a Member;
  • Physically able to become a strong paddler;
  • Lacks financial means to pay for our fee-based programs.

Outcomes:

  • He or she is welcome to volunteer for WRT cleanups and other physically demanding water-based activities;
  • Welcome to volunteer for land-based events such as shop workdays, office tasks, fundraising drives, etc.;
  • If needed, can earn Community Service hours;
  • Welcome to volunteer as assistant on You Point We Paddle excursions;
  • Earns Lifetime Membership after twenty hours of volunteering;
  • Could become a paid, certified Canoe Guide/Naturalist, or other staff member;
  • Therefore: this person won’t ever have to open his or her wallet to enjoy a rewarding relationship with WRT;
  • We consider this opportunity to be part of our nonprofit missionPerhaps a donor would step forward to help this Member pay the user’s fees for some Members-only excursions, which this person might not be able to afford.

Second Outcome: Able-Bodied Volunteer – Client – Student  Potential WRT Member – Potential Paid Guide or Staff

Criteria:

  • At least 12 years of age;
  • Wants to volunteer with WRT;
  • Wants to become a Member;
  • Physically able to become a strong paddler;
  • Can easily pay for WRT’s fee-based programs, tours, extra canoe lessons, tuition to Canoe View University classes.

Outcomes:

  • He or she is welcome to volunteer for WRT cleanups and other physically demanding water-based activities;
  • Welcome to volunteer for land-based events such as shop workdays, office tasks, fundraising drives, etc.;
  • If needed, can earn Community Service hours;
  • Welcome to volunteer as assistant on You Point We Paddle excursions;
  • Earns Lifetime Membership after twenty hours of volunteering;
  • Could become a paid, certified Canoe Guide/Naturalist, or other staff member;
  • Student of Canoe View University classes;
  • Client for other paid programs (ex.: books a customized You Point We Paddle tour for parents’ anniversary);
  • WRT Members enjoy a group outing, and this person is able to pay user’s fees.

Third Outcome: Passenger – Client – Volunteer – Student  Potential WRT Member – Potential Paid Staff 

Criteria:

  • A person of any age who is less able to paddle due to chronic illness or disability, or perhaps age is a handicap;
  • Able to pay for fun or educational You Point We Paddle tours and/or Canoe View University classes;
  • guide would be required to power this person’s canoe.

Outcomes:

  • Welcome to volunteer for land-based events, such as shop workdays, office tasks, fundraising drives, or the like;
  • If needed, can earn Community Service hours;
  • Earns Lifetime Membership after twenty hours of volunteering;
  • When WRT Members enjoy a group outing for which there are user’s fees, this person is able to pay them;
  • Possibly could become paid staff for land-based jobs not physically demanding;
  • Can afford tuition for Canoe View University classes;
  • Client for other paid programs (ex.: books a customized You Point We Paddle tour for a special personal event);
  • WRT Members enjoy a group outing, and this person is able to pay user’s fees, although a guide will be required to paddle this person’s canoe.

Fourth Outcome: Nature Therapy  Client – Passenger Only

Criteria:

  • People of any age who are not physically able to paddle to improve their health through interaction with nature;
  • May or may not be able to pay for our programs;
  • Unable to volunteer due to limitations of health, age, etc.;
  • Would require our most highly trained guides for the safest possible You Point We Paddle excursion;
  • May require a health care assistant or family member in their canoes (and of course, these people would also be required to attend Canoeing 101).

Outcomes:

  • Improved health!
  • Happiness!
  • WRT would seek sponsors for such excursions so that we could offer Nature Therapy as part of our nonprofit mission and still be able to cover our costs (which would include paying our Certified Canoe Guide/Naturalists).

Fifth Outcome: Client – Passenger – Student

Criteria:

  • Ages 7 and up (with parent/guardian if under 18);
  • Can easily pay for WRT’s fee-based tours or tuition for Canoe View University classes;
  • Not able to paddle strongly enough; definitely require a guide;
  • You Point We Paddle classification;
  • No interest in volunteering, WRT membership, or working as paid staff.

Outcomes:

  • These people may seek “only” personal enjoyment and enhancement of being;
  • Could become a student of Canoe View University classes;
  • Could become a client for other paid programs (ex.: books a customized You Point We Paddle tour for a special personal event).

Where do you see yourself? If we’ve somehow missed you, or a family member or a friend, please let us know. If you think that a challenge to your mobility bars you from enjoying our Canoe View, think again! One of the best features of our wide-bodied 17-foot tandem Mohawk canoes is that we can fix up the center area quite comfortably. We use plenty of cushions, and cover the gunwales (those are the upper edges of the sides of the canoe, for you landlubbers) andthwarts (the crosspieces that keep the canoe from folding up) with foam insulation. Our passengers have become so cozy and relaxed they’ve fallen asleep!

One more day and this particular journey together will be at an end.

Tomorrow, Part Seven, the Sixth and Final Outcome: How YOU Can Help! 

Thank you again for your time, tenacity and interest in our Team.
May your ears catch the song of every bird.

Warmest regards,

Donna

Photo Credit: Donna Kazo. Canoeing in South Florida can happen almost every day of the year! A sparkling December morning on Biscayne Bay, as WRT volunteers set out on a cleanup of the mangrove shoreline of Matheson Hammock/R. Hardy Matheson Preserve. 

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Hello again, and welcome back to our seven-day journey; we are now on Day Five. Thank you so much for your time and continued interest! 

If you are wondering where the term Canoe View came from, it originated in our earliest years. Remember that Dr. Tom Kazo and I started Wildlife Research Team in 1993 with our You Point We Paddle program, which we found out was unique among ecotourism outfits. Well, in early 1994, we carried a film crew from a local television station on an excursion along the historic Coral Gables Waterway. When we watched the segment on the television news later that week, they named us as “one of the most fun things to do in South Florida!” And when the reporter referred to our “Canoe View” we were thrilled. Had such a nice ring to it, that we’ve stuck with it all these years. It’s true: life through our Canoe View is a lot more interesting!

Part Four discussed the first step into the fun, exciting and educational world of WRT, the basic training session we call Canoeing 101, and provided a hint of what lies beyond for those who choose to enhance their lives by learning how to paddle a canoe. I’ve also mentioned another early program, our Canoe View Classroom. Since our early years, we’ve been honored to help out many wonderful teachers and students from all grade levels with stimulating hands-on field studies in various aspects of science. But with more organization and a tad more effort, we can expand our curriculum and bring new excitement to education in a wider variety of subjects.

So without further ado, here’s a very basic description of what we call…

Canoe View University
Yes, since our beginning, WRT has nurtured close relationships with teachers and students at all levels of study. We believe that teachers are some of the most important people on the planet! We’ve helped kids in elementary school with award-winning science fair projects that originated in our canoes, and hosted field trips for high school and college students. Boy Scouts have earned their Merit Badges, all the way up to the highest designation of Eagle Scout. Several esteemed college professors have sat on our Board of Directors. “Research” is our middle name and we take it seriously! We have gladly assisted scientists of different disciplines with their research projects. During our five-year restoration of Matheson Hammock/R. Hardy Matheson Preserve’s Essential Fish Habitat, “Project Baitfish,” we performed studies of the effects of our habitat restoration methodology. Our canoes became field laboratories. It wasn’t long before we coined that happy term, “Canoe View Classroom.”

Why should learning be restricted to an enclosed space, anyway? Who hasn’t fallen asleep in a stuffy classroom? Who hasn’t been bored to tears by a Power Point presentation? Don’t our brains need oxygen to retain information? How do you feel after sitting in front of a computer for a few hours? Are your eyes glazed over, your head throbbing, your body stiff and sore? How much of that online lesson do you think you retained? Wouldn’t you love to be out in the fresh air and on the water with other adventuresome students and an inspiring teacher in pursuit of an invigorating learning experience?

Canoe View University:

  • Will further our mission statement of “Environmental Education through Habitat Restoration and Conservation;”
  • Will build upon our cherished programs, You Point We Paddle and Canoe View Classroom;
  • Will charge a reasonable tuition fee to cover our expenses;
  • Will offer scholarships to deserving students, encouraging third parties to become sponsors (for which they will receive a tax deduction to the fullest extent of the law);
  • Will have teachers/instructors/professors on a surprisingly wide variety of subjects (see below);
  • Will aim to pay these people, and their assistants, and some of our certified Canoe Guide/Naturalists who will lead the excursion and act as “engines” for some of the canoes;
  • Will be supported by a vastly improved website that will feature a valuable assortment of original content written by WRT members and guest authors;
  • Will seek to offer actual credits, perhaps Continuing Education Units, for our classes, that students may use toward graduation or certification.

What kind of courses do you think could be taught in a Canoe View Classroom? Science in its many manifestations? Yes, as mentioned above, different aspects of biology, environmental/earth science are readily absorbed when you are paddling through a living laboratory. Oceanography? Perfect subject for CVU’s hands-on field studies. Canoes excel in respectful delivery of students into the most delicate of watery habitats for fish, plant and bird identification.

But why not geology, history, archeology, painting and drawing, photography, even yoga, tai chi, qi gong?  Why not the language arts? Literature? Poetry? Shakespeare? Music? Why not a course in Creativity for its own sake? Instead of daydreaming out the window in a dreary classroom, bring the class outside, launch our canoes, charge up our brains with oxygen, renew our muscles, strengthen our bones! Can you imagine paddling out to a sandbar in beautiful Biscayne Bay to stretch and watch the sun rise as you and your classmates gaze about in childlike wonder and joy? There’s some lifelong learning for you.

How about YOU? What subjects would you like to be taught in a Canoe View Classroom? Or would you like to teach them? Let me know!

Once again, I thank you most earnestly for your time. As I sit in front of my computer, I try to imagine the response of all of you very different people who are receiving these missives in your inboxes, shared with you because I believe you have an interest in the need to reconnect humans with our fast-disappearing natural world. I hope that I’ve been able to fire up your imagination, so that you can visualize yourself enjoying life from our Canoe View, helping us in our mission.

Remember, you can always check out our WordPress blog or our website (which is in the process of being overhauled) which you can access through the links below. And of course, WRT has a Facebook Page that you can also visit to “Like.”

As we say in WRT, hope to see YOU in a black canoe,

Your future Paddle Pal,

Donna

Tomorrow, please enjoy the sixth installment of our 7-day journey: Outcomes.

Photo Credit, Dr. Tom Kazo: It’s lunchtime on a small lake along Turner River deep in the Everglades, close to the Big Cypress National Preserve, for Dr. Bruce Sharfstein‘s class from Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That’s me, Donna Kazo, on the right, keeping our tethered canoes together and out of the mangroves by paddling backward. Bit of a breeze that day. Dr. Sharfstein is my bow paddler, wearing that jaunty hat. In his “other” job as a scientist for South Florida Water Management District, he has been Division Director, and Lead Environmental Scientist for Lake Okeechobee RECOVER among other important positions. An avid canoeist, Bruce served on WRT’s Board of Directors and remains a valued advisor to our Team.

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Hello again, and welcome to the fourth installment of our seven-day journey. You have learned a bit of our history, and we hope you can see the benefits WRT would love to once again offer to the community and the environment.

But before we provide you with the answer to this important question, let me just say that as difficult as it may be to “re-launch” Wildlife Research Team after the Great Recession sucker-punched us, it is NOTHING compared to what Dr. Tom Kazo had to do in 1993!

When in April 1991, the Veterans Administration released him from long-term care in their Miami nursing home, they turned out onto the street this combat-wounded, decorated Army veteran without a pension, not a penny in his pocket or even a glucometer to monitor his diabetes. His two years in their care had caused all of his outside resources to disappear. Basically, they expected him to die in a few months.

My family was happy to take Tom into our home. We had known him from years before, during much better times. We knew very well he had gone out of his way to help so many others, so we were honored to be able to help him. Then came a long and agonizing process: when he applied for a disability pension from Social Security, his two doctorates counted against him! Surely a man so well educated and resourceful was not in need of government assistance, was the message they handed down, and he was denied again and again. As he put it, “I don’t need a handout, just a hand up.” Only when he appeared before a judge in his wheelchair with his feet heavily bandaged after yet another surgical procedure at the VA, was Tom Kazo granted his well-deserved pension, in early 1992.

This, then was when his dream of a Wildlife Research Team, could actually begin to become a reality. It’s a dream that literally came to him on what the VA doctors predicted would be his death bed. Tom proved them wrong, but he was always the best at cheating Death. He had another fifteen years to make it come true, as I wrote in a previous post.

So, even though times are still tough, what we have to do to get our black canoes back to work is a cakewalk compared to what I witnessed back then. I want to also take a moment to give credit to my father, Captain Don McVicar, OBE, who founded an airline in Montreal after World War II, and ran it for twenty years. World Wide Airways helped to build the DEW Line across the Arctic, among many other accomplishments. Tom was a lot like Dad: they were both big guys with huge hearts who never flinched from the hardest task. They were unsurpassed at making something substantial out of thin air. Lucky me: I seem to be genetically inclined to take on a challenge with passion!

Allow me to repeat the question: Where do we start?

Answer: a program we call Canoeing 101

Another good question: why do we need Canoeing 101?

Answer: Twenty years of observing people in canoes…

Watching people freak out and freeze and fight with their partner because they cannot for the life of them make the canoe move in any direction. Having to paddle out and literally tow them to safety.

Hearing canoes cursed hurts my heart!
Not getting to know some really awesome new volunteers who came out to our cleanups just the once, realizing I didn’t have enough time to get to know them during the event.
Waiting for someone to get hurt, and wondering if the release they signed would be enough to protect us.
Being amazed that some people, friends-of-volunteers, usually, were reluctant to share their names or emails with WRT, even though we were letting them use our equipment and represent our good name.
In short, what the heck was I thinking, letting strangers into our canoes? 

I took it on faith, that because we were doing good works, that all would be well. Based on my years of experience, I was sure that only quality people would volunteer for our cleanups, people not likely to sue for some small mishap. Happy to report that we still have an unblemished safety record!

But was this really Team-building? If we didn’t get “return customers” then we— I— had failed them somehow. And how could we fund our operations since we don’t charge dues like all the other nonprofits? We certainly couldn’t even dream of “charging volunteers” who were donating their time, love, muscles, sweat, and gasoline!

Took a while to come up with a plan. Won’t go into all of that angst! Here then is the answer…

Canoeing 101:

  • Will introduce new people to the wonderful lifetime sport and skill of canoeing;
  • To be held close to WRT’s canoe storage facility in Davie (west of Fort Lauderdale) at a spacious canoe launch with plenty of room for canoes to maneuver once in the water, in a sheltered location (our travel expense = nil);
  • To be scheduled on two Saturday mornings per month (to begin with);
  • Will have small classes so that students will receive personal attention;
  • Will be at NO COST to students; providing this free service to the community furthers our nonprofit mission by removing financial barriers;
  • From now on, every single person who will even step into a WRT canoe must go through this course.

(A Few) Benefits of Canoeing 101: 

  • Teach important safety skills in a more controlled environment;
  • Risk Management, forestall lawsuits as no “strangers” will be setting foot in our canoes;
  • Provide a public service; train people in a lifetime skill that may even save their lives later on;
  • Team building, fellowship, fun;
  • Great publicity;
  • Sponsors and donors can readily understand and support this basic training session;
  • As even future excursion passengers (non-paddlers) are required to go through Canoeing 101, this will weed out those who might ruin the trip for others because they find the canoe to be uncomfortable. (We’ve seen it happen!)

Canoeing 101 will be the doorway to a cherished goal of both Tom and myself: a Team within our Team, of trained and certified canoe guides/naturalists who we will financially compensate as valuable employees (NOT independent contractors!). 

As WRT wants everyone to be able to enjoy Nature from our canoes, not just the athletically inclined, we need an A-Team of Canoe Guide/Naturalists to be the “engines” for our canoes in our unique program, “You Point, We Paddle.” Passengers won’t have to paddle, as they may be too young/old/physically challenged.

How and why:

  • Volunteers become Lifetime Wildlife Research Team Members after giving us just twenty hours; they will never have to pay dues. They will be able to volunteer at cleanups and other events, and never have to pay a penny. Financial hardship should not bar good people from helping out!
  • Guides begin, like everyone in WRT, as volunteers, but showing more intensity and dedication;
  • These people will receive ongoing training and certification (CPR, Red Cross first aid, etc.), first, as WRT volunteer/members, and as time passes and they prove their reliability, as paid employees (we will engage the services of an accountant to keep us in compliance with all government entities).
  • Although some people get all they need from volunteering, some are looking for financially rewarding part-time employment;
  • Outside agencies look for accountability to the organization, and having people on a payroll meets that requirement;
  • Volunteers are the lifeblood of a nonprofit organization, but the sad and ugly truth about volunteers is that they know they don’t have to show up, and if they do show up, they don’t have to do a good job. What can I say? People have their own reasons, or excuses, for everything they do, or don’t do.
  • WRT has been blessed with the highest-quality volunteers any organization could ever ask for, I hasten to add.

Would YOU like to become part of a great organization with a twenty-year history of making a difference to the people and wildlife of beautiful South Florida? Or would you be happy to just learn how to make that doggone canoe move forward, so that you and your loving partner don’t turn the air blue cursing at each other? Would you like to improve your physical health while enjoying a Canoe View of Florida’s many waterways? Would you like to be PAID to paddle a canoe?

All of the above begin with good ol’ Canoeing 101.

Tomorrow: Canoe View University

Thanks so much for sticking with me! There’s been so much to cover on our journey together.
On behalf of the amazing people who have given of their time for our Team, I wish you a day of knowing you are making the right decision at every turn.

Think about it: what better gift could there be?
Your future Paddle Pal,

Donna

Photo: Members of Boy Scout Troop 254 are learning the fine points of paddling while working towards their Merit Badges, courtesy of Wildlife Research Team.

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Hello again, glad to have you back!
Welcome to Day Three out of seven days of sharing with you our Canoe View.

Today, we present to you a basic, unembellished list, in no particular order, of Wildlife Research Team’s possible future programs and products. WRT has already accomplished many of them, especially in our early, experimental years, before we put all of our time and resources into our two major habitat restoration projects which were discussed in yesterday’s newsletter.

Some will be offered to the public at no cost in furtherance of our nonprofit mission.

Some could offer sponsors the opportunity to become environmental heroes by simply donating funds.

Some are to earn revenue so as to maintain our free programs and make us self-supporting.

  • Canoe View Classroom expanded into Canoe View University (these will be discussed in future posts)
  • Excursions/classes for still photographers or photography clubs
  • Excursions/classes for videographers or cinematographers or their groups
  • Excursions/classes for artists (could include locations to set up easels)
  • Excursions/classes for plant identification
  • Excursions/classes for bird identification
  • Excursions/classes for fish identification
  • Excursions/classes for scientific research; could include field studies, sampling, hands-on experiments
  • Excursions/classes with a focus on Florida history
  • Waterway and coastal cleanups
  • Scavenger hunts with prizes (can coincide with coastal or waterway cleanups)
  • Geocaching
  • Mapping expeditions
  • Snorkeling trips
  • Overnight canoe-camping trips
  • Boy Scout and Girl Scout Merit Badge projects
  • Canoe Daycamp
  • Birthday or anniversary parties
  • Weddings
  • Stress relief/Nature Therapy trips
  • Corporate wellness and/or teambuilding
  • Sunrise trips
  • Sunset trips, some featuring the rise of the full moon
  • Nighttime trips during meteor showers
  • Picnics on the water
  • Excursions specially designed for the infirm of all ages (long-term hospital inpatients, residents of nursing homes) for a prescribed dose of Vitamin N(ature)
  • Programs focused on specific groups within the community:

~kids from the inner city;
~over-40 couch potatoes who’d like to be healthier;
~diabetics who, like Dr. Tom Kazo did, suffer from foot ulcers and have difficulty walking;
~veterans who could fulfill volunteer opportunities and/or be paid as Canoe Guides
~(I bet you can come up with some target groups!)

  • Canoe “rodeo” for both fun and skills mastery (the shallow tidal flats of Matheson Hammock are ideal)
  • Yoga or other types of exercise such as tai chi, qi gong; a group paddles to a peaceful location to practice their discipline
  • “Blazing Paddles” exercise sessions
  • Canoe races
  • Scouting expeditions to seek new routes (good for Team building)
  • Guided fishing trips
  • Provide Community Service Hours to students
  • Provide exciting and meaningful volunteer experiences on the water and on land, so that people can earn the hours to become Members even if they are not physically able to paddle a canoe.
  • Create decently-paid jobs (even if part-time) which are properly accounted for
  • Seek and develop leaders to keep WRT paddling for decades to come
  • Offer group benefits to Members

We hope the above list excites you! Our Team has worked hard over these past two decades, but we have had a heck of a lot of fun along the way. We’ve seen a lot of wonderful kids grow up in our canoes, including my own two daughters, Christianna and Jamie.

Even just one WRT canoe excursion, however, has been known to improve a child’s outlook for the rest of his or her life.
Many of these youngsters have been inspired to choose careers in science.

Gratifying? You bet!
Exponential results? Our specialty!

So all the more reason for us to get back to work after this long and frustrating dry spell.

Tomorrow’s post: Where Do We Start?

Thank you so much for your time and attention. There are no greater gifts, when all is said and done.

Hope you have fair winds and sunny skies today,

Donna

P.S. Remember you are invited to learn more about WRT before tomorrow (or at any time!), by checking out past posts on our WordPress blog and our website: www.wildlife-research-team.org, and please feel free to share our newsletters and posts with your friends.

Photo: our first two canoes, Do-er and Do-It, moored along Turner River in deep southwest Florida, in 1993, during a scouting expedition.

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Hello and thanks again for your time and interest in Wildlife Research Team. Here we go!

When Dr. Tom Kazo and this writer, Donna McVicar Cannon (later Kazo) founded WRT in 1993, with a single refurbished canoe, a main reason was to help Dr. Tom control his diabetes. It worked: paddling burned off his excess blood sugar and literally saved his life. Although for the rest of his life he was plagued with foot ulcers and was wheelchair-bound at times, he’d wrap his foot well enough to keep it dry in the canoe. Awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded in battle in Vietnam, Dr. Tom was a long-term patient of Miami’s Veterans Administration Hospital, and epitomized the role of “wounded warrior.” So from our outset, WRT has welcomed people who must overcome physical challenges to their mobility.

Dr. Tom was that rare combination of a dreamer and a doer. Which is why our first canoe, a Mohawk Blazer, bought for just $20 because it had a hole in its side, was named Do-er. Our second canoe, purchased new for $300, was named Do-it. In 1994, a generous person donated another Mohawk, a 17-foot “guide” canoe which became Did-It. The fourth canoe, Dunnit, was purchased through a newspaper ad and was a fast racing type made by Sawyer Canoes. When a solo canoe found its way into our fleet, Dr. Tom named it Magnificent Deviation. As the fleet grew, the pattern of “Do” names persisted for the tandem canoes, while the solo canoes would have unique names. As an experiment, Dr. Tom also decided to paint WRT’s canoes black to see if manatees and dolphins would accept the dark shape as friendly, one of their own. He was right: these mammals frequently follow our black canoes on their excursions (see the photo accompanying Part 1 of this series.)

As my dear partner Tom sought to overcome his medical problems, I had my own fears to conquer, more typical of first-time canoeists: tipping, drowning, sharks, alligators… One of his favorite sayings, “Knowledge eliminates 99% of fear” empowered me, though, and I had grown up on a lake in Quebec that was part of the St. Lawrence River, so I did possess a child’s love of “messing around in boats.” We explored waterways throughout South and Southwest Florida inDo-er and shared many adventures as I learned how to be a canoe guide/naturalist. When Do-Itcame along, we were able to initiate our first program, You Point We Paddle. One of us was the “engine” of each canoe, so that the passenger(s) were not required to paddle, although they were always allowed to. YPWP allowed many people to enjoy an excursion with WRT who would not otherwise be able to get out in such a small vessel. This included residents from the VA nursing home, where Tom had spent so many long months. The response of these people was particularly gratifying.

Other programs we developed as the 90s passed were our Stress Relief excursions, our Canoe View Classroom for students and teachers, our trips scheduled for sunrise, sunset, and the rise of the full moon, Canoe Camp, research trips with scientists, and of, course, guided fishing trips, as Dr. Tom was an avid fisherman who “tyed” his own fishing flies.

Everything changed when Wildlife Research Team took on the momentous task of restoring Matheson Hammock’s Hurricane Andrew-devastated mangrove forest, however. Tom had grown up on Miami’s Biscayne Bay; he was a professional powerboat racer in his teens and a fearless sailor who’d captained a small sailboat from Miami to the Bahamas at age twelve. He was sickened to see what Andrew’s force had done to the mature mangrove trees of Matheson Hammock and R. Hardy Matheson Preserve when we paddled along the ravaged coast a few months after the storm. Despite the fact he had only his small disability pension, he vowed at that time to “fix it.”

Tom put the wheels in motion; WRT incorporated in June 1999, and we presently applied to the IRS to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. As soon as we received that valuable designation, and with no experience in grant writing, we submitted a proposal to FishAmerica Foundation and the NOAA Restoration Center for a habitat restoration grant. This was 2001; we not only won that grant, for $10,500, but five more, each focusing on a particular area within Matheson’s devastated mangrove habitat. We matched these grants with 10,000+ volunteer hours, so that the total value of these six grants added up to $330,000. What a gift to the residents of Miami-Dade County!

NOAA funds grew our fleet to over thirty canoes. This number includes those first canoes, which were used hard during the first years of our grants; it may be that they are no longer seaworthy. Which is why we bought Florida-made Mohawks of various models, to replace them. As Tom put it, “canoes for every reason and every season.”

In 2000, he fell in love with the North Fork of the New River in Fort Lauderdale, as this “undiscovered” urban waterway still possessed areas along its banks that were remnants of the Everglades. WRT has attained some valuable partnerships as we’ve worked alongside many other concerned people to clean and restore it to full health. WRT was named a Keeper of the River, and we continue to take that role very seriously.

In 2003, our Dr. Tom was chosen to be a NOAA Environmental Hero of the Year, “for his unique vision” which restored the tidal creeks, key to the restoration of Matheson Preserve as an Essential Fish Habitat. His methodology was simple: using only hand tools, canoes, and volunteers, we unclogged the corridors full of giant mangrove trees, and let Mother Nature do the rest with renewed tidal cleansing. It worked. There’s much more to this story, but I am really trying to keep this brief!

The year 2006 was a tough one for all of us in WRT; in early May, Tom succumbed to liver cancer after a long heroic battle; in September, our Matheson grants were successfully closed out. There was no reason to apply for more grants; we’d accomplished what he had wanted us to do. The restoration of Matheson’s mangrove habitat was the best possible testimony to Dr. Tom Kazo’s love and perseverance, and to our amazing and dedicated volunteers who found such inspiration in his courage.

Even as I dealt with deep grief in the loss of my partner and husband, as WRT’s new President and Executive Director, I had my work cut out for me. With the NOAA/FAF grants over, so began our public fundraising phase. I spent countless hours composing letters and emails to friends of Dr. Tom and anyone else who might be a potential donor. Several thousand dollars in donations received by people who wanted to honor Dr. Tom paid our monthly bills for a time.

But we had to do something to benefit the public which would spur them to support our mission. So, in early 2007, I chose to focus on something for which we were already renowned: waterway and coastal cleanups. These would provide volunteer opportunities, community service hours, and would keep our name and reputation in the public eye. For the next two years I created, coordinated and led sixty cleanups, with about 700 volunteers participating. Many tons of harmful marine debris were removed from South Florida’s shorelines.

Our regular cleanups at “our” Matheson Hammock, (and one at Oleta River) paid off when the environmentally aware Miami-Dade County Commissioners Katy Sorenson and Sally Heymantook notice and awarded us some of their “discretionary funds” for our hard work (Commissioner Heyman also donated $500 of her own money!). We also received funding from South Florida Water Management District for our North Fork cleanups, in partnership with Florida Atlantic University, Broward Urban River Trails, Broward’s Department of Environmental Protection, and several community groups.

In October 2008, a trusted mentor told me, “It’s all coming together, you don’t see it because you are too close to it, but it’s coming together.” But it was not to be. December 2008, during the rapid downturn of the global economy, WRT’s 2005 Ford Explorer Sport Trac unexpectedly suffered catastrophic engine failure. The horrific timing of this breakdown meant that donations to replace the engine were not forthcoming. This vehicle, purchased new by Dr. Tom in 2005 to tow our canoe trailers, was well maintained but just out of warranty. Any other time, donations would have poured in. Without a dedicated tow vehicle, WRT’s operations trickled to almost nil.

I am sure you are aware of the sad stories, that so many wonderful nonprofits had to shut their doors during the dark days of this Great Recession. At least canoes don’t need to be fed! I have to admit that by summer of 2009 I was suffering from emotional exhaustion. I’d done all I could to raise the funds to fix our Sport Trac but the economy was against me. Fortunately, in 2007, I had taken on a contract for a monthly cleanup which earns us enough to pay the rent on our canoe storage facility. WRT Director Tom Brown took on this task in 2009 and that’s what has kept us alive; on life support, but alive. Yes, another Tom, and he’s an Environmental Hero as far as I am concerned!

There’s something about an anniversary with a zero in the number; so in this, our twentieth year, I’ve determined to get Wildlife Research Team’s black canoes back to work. I’ve regained my strength and my zeal, and it’s darn obvious: the people and wildlife of Florida need us now more than ever before.

Once again, all of us on Wildlife Research Team are grateful for your interest in our small but dynamic group. You are invited to learn more about WRT before tomorrow (or at any time!), by looking back through our WordPress blog and our website.

(You may have guessed; the photo at the top is of Tom and Do-er at the Crandon Park Marina on Key Biscayne.)

Hope today the tide is with you!

Donna

Tomorrow: How many good things can a canoe do for you if a canoe is named for doing good?

Beginning on May 22, 2013, subscribers to WRT’s “The Canoe View” e-newsletters began receiving what has been called our “storytelling campaign” as part of our relaunching activities. There were seven installments to this campaign, which ended May 28th. They were meant to be a “mini-guide” to Wildlife Research Team, a journey into the past as well as into the future. Who, what, where, when, why and even how, needed to get out there in a more concise form, for the benefit of our Members, past, current and future, our Donors and Sponsors, our Students, Clients, and Volunteers.

I basically wrote my heart out. Writing about Tom, especially, raises a lot of mixed emotions. But we do have a great story. And one reason people need to know it is to help them find the courage and strength within themselves that I witnessed Tom Kazo exhibit every day. If they follow his lead, they will be happier, and so will the world be.

So for the next seven days, I will be simply copying and pasting each newsletter (almost) exactly as it was emailed, to keep this information available in this form.

Please enjoy; I’d love to know your thoughts.

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The manatee following WRT Guide Gillian Swinscoe’s canoe is proving right Dr. Tom Kazo’s theory that manatees and dolphins think black canoes are “One of us.”

Hello, and thank you for taking a few moments out of your day to learn about Wildlife Research Team. My name is Donna Kazo and I am co-founder, President/Director and Head Canoe Guide of WRT. This is the first of seven (7) daily newsletters we will be sharing with you over the next week, in order to introduce you to our organization, and to discuss with you the real need for people, especially children, to reconnect with Nature. We’ve been doing that for twenty years now, and so it is our wish that at the end of those seven days, you will feel a little more hopeful, maybe even excited!

Part One: Our Mission and the Need

WRT’s stated mission: Environmental Education through Habitat Conservation.
All projects involve the use of our own fleet of human-powered canoes. Since our founding in 1993, we have proven ourselves to be true Guardians of the Coast, that vital, delicate interface where the land meets the water. We are based in South Florida, which is blessed with a wide variety of navigable waterways; these provide access for WRT’s canoes for hands-on environmental education, research, exploration, improvement of health, stress-relief, and other purposes.

WRT’s underlying mission: the essence of what we do is to reconnect humans of all ages with Nature, so that they may experience enhancement of being for the good of all beings. For twenty years, we’ve sought to get as many people as possible into our canoes and out into the environment, no matter their financial means, or age, or if they are dealing with a challenge to their mobility or other disability.

The rapid urbanization of our area has made it more and more difficult for people, especially children, to enjoy a primary, hands-on experience with wildlife in their natural habitat. Over these past two decades, several thousand people of all ages have learned about the environment from a unique perspective we call “The Canoe View,” meanwhile empowering themselves, discovering new strengths and skills within.

The humble canoe has proved itself to be the ideal vessel for enlightenment. Canoes are primeval, built by native peoples worldwide for purposes of travel, exploration, commerce, fishing, celebration and ritual. No matter the project or the challenge, Wildlife Research Team has proven that canoes can get the job done where no other vessels can. Our canoes have continually demonstrated themselves to be the ideal vessels for high-quality environmental experiences. Better than any other watercraft, human-powered canoes can gain access to the most delicate of areas without leaving behind any trace (yes, even better than kayaks, because canoes float on top of the water and kayaks sit in the water, meaning that they need deeper water in order to be paddled. Also, canoes can carry more people and cargo.).

Paddlers must learn to develop environmental awareness, experiencing direct contact with Nature, unplugging themselves from the passive and secondary existence provided by over-reliance on technology.

The Need for Outdoor Adventures 
Speaking of unplugging, how are we going to get our children and grandchildren to care about the disappearance of wildlife habitat and the dire consequences of species loss (among other crucial environmental issues) if we can’t pry them away from their addictive high-tech toys? The digital world can never contain all the information available in the real, “analog” world. Tragically, over the past thirty years, parents have drilled fear into their children in unprecedented ways. Stay inside with the artificial stimulation and you will be safe. Look to electronic devices to be entertained. Although parents may think they have the best interests of their children at heart, the consequence of their fear-driven message has been a frightening disconnection with the natural world. Children have thus been deprived of outdoor adventures which taught self-awareness, hands-on problem solving, peripheral vision, respect for nature, cooperation with others, ability to entertain themselves without technology, and, last but not least, courage.

So why are we called “Wildlife Research Team”?
Well, the man who started it all, my co-founder Dr. Thomas Kazo, PhD., earned one of his two doctorates (the other was in olfactory mechanisms) in Ethology. There are different definitions, but Dr. Tom simply defined this as the science of observing the behavior of animals as they adapt to their changing environment. By observing animal behavior as a scientific discipline, we humans gain both knowledge of that species for its own intrinsic worth, along with an increased knowledge of human behavior. In the urbanizing environment, wildlife tend to flee to the water’s edge, where they may cling to scraps of habitat that are mostly inaccessible to “improvement” by humans. WRT has often observed this type of behavior and activity from the vantage point of our canoes. At times we may be accomplishing a cleanup of the area; we may be out there for purposes of education, research, health or even…fun. And we do this in “teams” of some of the best people to ever grab a paddle!

Since people have asked me if Wildlife Research Team is a club; no. WRT was incorporated in 1999 as a charitable organization for purposes other than recreation, which are cultural, scientific, and educational. WRT was subsequently granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status by the Internal Revenue Service in 2001. Lifetime membership in WRT is gained by 20 (twenty) hours of volunteer work, not through payment of dues. (There are a few generous people who have earned Honorary Membership through their support of WRT behind the scenes.)

So we hope you agree: the humble canoe is actually a powerful vessel. It allows us to carry out our important missions, even as it creates a very special, intimate space in which two, three, or four people must cooperate fully or get wet! They must learn how to balance the canoe and each other, or they won’t get anywhere. They will find courage within themselves. They may have to wait for gratification. They may be uncomfortable for an unknown length of time in order to experience the sublime rewards Nature has to offer those who pay attention.

Canoeing, therefore, is truly a metaphor for Life. Real, not virtual, Life.

Tomorrow: we’d like to share with you a brief history of Wildlife Research Team.

On behalf of all of us who have enjoyed real life from a Canoe View, I thank you for your time and wish you a glorious day.

Donna

 

In this post, Dr. Tom Kazo’s Project Baitfish 1096 reports from several consecutive weeks have been combined, as all of them are short, and all of them refer to a common enemy: rough weather. Tom was no stranger to waves and wild weather, as he grew up boating on Biscayne Bay. He began building raceboats at age 13, and at age 16 was World Champion Powerboat Racer. He was also an accomplished sailor, and could read the water better than most of us can find our way through our homes.

Speaking from personal experience, being with Tom gave everyone else courage. He was the best at figuring out how to escape from the most dire situations. So, with our grant money burning a hole in our bank account, and an overwhelming task ahead of us, Tom and other members of WRT were driven to get the work started. He and I had waited since 1993 to get busy “fixing” Matheson’s mangrove forest.

First, to help you understand the areas under discussion, is a sketch Tom did during this time period. The area on the left is Matheson Preserve, and on the right is Biscayne Bay. Our journeys were therefore highly influenced by the conditions on this large body of water. Paddling back into the teeth of a northeast wind was brutal.

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Sunday, 11 November 2001

Project: “Baitfish” FAF 1096

Location: Matheson Hammock

Time on Location: 7 am→ 1 pm

Weather: Breezy, cold, seas 2’→4′   Low tide (10:30 am) Threat of rain

Canoe: Sure-Do

Guides: T. Kazo, Rob Council

Passengers: 0

Summary: The low tide makes the day’s workload difficult. Our return trip will take us out into the ocean. We were intent on retrieving several canisters of fluid that was suspicious in nature. We had to alter our plans as the tide receded and would not allow us to gain access.

We continued to areas that could be penetrated, removing several (5) plastic oil containers with heavier than water fluid (to be disposed of) plus other oil containers discarded by local fishermen and boaters. Total of 3 large bags of trash and 2 blockage logs (3′ x 5″ thick) were taken from the area.

Rough weather would not allow us to continue.

-TK

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Kevin Rapczynski is standing where we usually park the tow vehicle and trailer for unloading.

Saturday, 17 November 2001
Project: Operation Baitfish FAF 1096
Location: Matheson Hammock
Time on Location: 7:30am→3:30pm
Weather: Windy, 20 mph N.E.    High tide peak 10:04 am       Seas 2′ increasing
Canoes: Sure-DoDuzzit, Dark DeceiverDid-it
Guides: Tom K(azo), Kevin R(apczynski), Adam C(asper), Rob C(ouncil)
WRT Volunteers: Dr. Rose Resendez, Ed C.

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From right, Adam Casper looks on while Robert and Kevin make slow progress through the corridor. The bottom of this tidal creek was clogged with fallen trees, and deep sinkholes were also a real hazard.

Summary: The weather is not conducive to good canoeing but the tide is. We ran the coast south to the southmost entry point of the project. We worked our way to the clog. We took notes on what equipment will be necessary to remove the log jam. We entered into the north trail, removing much debris.

This area can be treacherous to both canoe and human. There are also bottom sink holes that have no apparent bottoms. These will all be tested, checked, and marked. Runoff sediment could possibly be the reason for this problem. Severe damage by Hurricane Andrew, uprooting large trees etc. may be another cause.

Our return trip was rough with seas at 3′ and a NE wind of 20 gusting to 35 mph. All canoes were loaded with trash and tires.

-TK

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Robert Council (left) and Adam Casper loading up the trailer; one of those days when our volunteers could paddle right up into the parking lot.

Sunday, 18 November 2001
Project: Baitfish FAF 1096
Location: Matheson Hammock
Time on Location: 7:00am-3:30pm
Weather: Winds 20(+)mph N.E. Gusts to 35 mph. Hi tide 10:27 am
3′ seas    Sunny, cool
Canoes: Sure-DoDoerDuzzitDunnit
Guides: Tom K(azo), Rob C(ouncil), Kevin R(apczynski)
WRT Vol. Members: Dr. Rose Resendez, Ed C
Summary: We took advantage of the 3’+ seas by heading out into them and then after 1/4 mile, making a long southward arc. This enabled us to surf almost to our southmost entrance. We came equipped with saws, pulleys and line. We removed the “Clog” (a way point named after its definition- “clogging up the waterway.”)
We then started on the north trail (was completely clogged). We chopped, sawed and removed approx. 1/4 mile of debris and uprooted, dead flora…One roll of film was destroyed by sun exposure.
We proceeded NNE, most of the time wading waist deep in detritus. Many bottom logs had to be moved or removed. This was necessary to enhance corridor flow. Many of these logs had to be cut (by hand) for removal. The movement was slow and brutal. We removed several large trees (dead). The bottom should now have some relief.

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Looking for logs in all the wrong places

Our desire is to have runoff and tide flow wash the sediment out and into a “hook” exit in the bay, causing a small delta. This can then be planted with red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle). This in time would create a crescent internal circular corridor for baitfish.
It is important we complete a rough corridor before late spring. This will allow us to observe blossoms and breeding of bait fish if we can get them to use the corridor. This would cleanse the mangrove area.
Our return trip took us up the coast close to the mangroves. Eleven bags of trash and debris, plus two tractor tires were also retrieved and brought in for removal. Several large trees were chopped up and dispersed at the work site.

-TK

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Loaded down with a large tire and other items of marine debris, Kevin and Robert are zipping right along. Note the condition of Biscayne Bay beyond: breezy and rough.

Saturday, 15 December 2001

Project: Operation Baitfish FAF 1096

Location: Matheson Hammock

Time on Location: 6 am→ 1 pm

Weather: Hi tide, raining, mixed winds, 67°  Bay waters very choppy. NNE→E 20 mph

Canoes: Dark Deceiver, Duzzit

Guides: T. Kazo, Rob Council

Passengers: Volunteer- Linden F.

Summary: When we arrived in the Park, no human was in sight. The seas and skies were very threatening. Tide was high with winds gusting 20 mph +. We headed south through the forest. The overcast had stopped the rays of daybreak. It was almost like traveling at night. The storms of the past several days have left the project area littered with debris and flotsam.

We entered the North Entrance. Approx. 600′ of black nylon trap line had come ashore and entangled itself within the mangrove structure of the area. The winds and rains were fierce. We spent 4 hours filling 15 bags (6′) of this plastic black trash. If this were left for a later date, if would have totally entangled the area and would destroy new growing flora.

We headed back only when the tide got so low that we were scraping bottom.

-TK

Sunday, 16 December, 2001

Project: Baitfish FAF 1096

Location: Matheson Hammock

Time on Location: 7 am→2:30 pm

Weather: Overcast- raining- tide reaching peak. Increasing wind 10 mph +

Canoes: Dark Deceiver, Sure-Do, Duzzit, Can-Do

Guides: T. Kazo, Rob C., Dr. Dave, Shara D., Kevin R.

Volunteers: R. Baker, C. Baker, B. Figini

Summary: Today again, it is not a good day to be on the bay. Our main interest is to remove the remnants of trap line fouling the flora of our work project. We managed to unravel and cut 11 more bags of line from the coast and entrance area of the project. We stored them (bags) in the shoreline.

We then proceeded into the south fork of the project. We loaded 2 canoe loads of rotten logs and tree debris that we had been cutting for several weeks.

We now have one complete corridor completed southbound and two westbound. It was rigorous trying to transport all the trash but we managed.

Our biggest problem is that in our absence, more flotsam compiles along our shoreline, than we removed the time before.

—TK

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A typical view of the tangled mess within the Preserve, with Robert just seen beyond, paddling through the maze.

Saturday, 22 Dec. 2001

Project: Operation Baitfish FAF #1096

Location: Matheson Hammock Park

Time on Location: 9:30 am→ 1:20 pm

Weather: Small Craft Warnings: 3′-5′ seas in Bay    Winds to 35 mph, scattered rain— very cold 50º — incoming tide

Canoe: Dark Deceiver

Guide: T. Kazo

Passengers: 0

Summary: Another bad day on the bay. White caps into the parking lot. Not good weather for canoeing. NE wind very cold. Just enough water was present to scout the shore line to the north entrance of the project. Last week many hundreds of feet of trapping line was removed from this entrance area. Several 4″ float balls were staged in the mangrove wash before our departure.

Today I attempted to locate them and in turn learn something of the force and direction of fresh water runoff and its influence of the area. Four out of six balls were located and positions marked. The area will be gridded and results formed as to influence.

—TK

Saturday, 5 Jan. 2002

Project: Baitfish FAF 1096

Location: Matheson Hammock

Time on Location: 7:00 am→ 10:30 am

Weather: Very rough, seas 7′ in Bay. E→SE wind 25(+) mph – 40 mph gusts— very cold, 57º

Canoe: Sure-Do

Guides: Tom K., C. Doyle

Passengers: 0

Summary: Winds were so bad that we had difficulty taking canoe from trailer. We hoped to enter into North entrance and check any water flow changes with comparison to wind direction. We were not successful. We were unable to fight the fierce winds as we entered the open bay.

—TK

Sunday, 6 Jan. 2002

Project: Baitfish FAF 1096

Location: Matheson Hammock

Time on Location: 7:45 am→ 11 am

Weather: Very rough seas  9’→12′    Winds 30 mph (+) Scattered showers. Bay is covered with froth. Small Craft Warnings

Canoe: Duzzit

Guides: Tom K., Craig D.

Passengers: 0

A 2nd attempt was made to gain entrance on the north side of the project. Again another failure. Within 30′ of the beach (2 boat lengths) we were swamped 3 times in a short period of time.

Better luck next week.

-TK