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The Inspiration and Evolution of the Definitive Guide to America's Everglades

Interview with Dr. Thomas Lodge, Author of The Everglades Handbook

Dr. Thomas Lodge’s love of the Everglades has its roots in an unlikely place: Cleveland, Ohio. There, his childhood home bordered a 5-acre lake that became his fascination. He marveled at painted and snapping turtles he would catch and place in pans of water. He fished in the same lake, with both a rod and a dipnet. While in high school, he was hired to organize and expand the fish collection at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, which sparked his interest in the ecology of various species of fish. 

Dr. Lodge’s formal education included chemistry, limnology, ecology, and ichthyology. He graduated with Departmental Honors in Zoology at Ohio Wesleyan University and completed his Ph.D. in Biology at the University of Miami, where his dissertation involved the physiological ecology of Everglades’ freshwater fishes. 

Early in his graduate studies, Lodge was awarded to go straight to a Ph.D. Concurrently, opportunities emerged for consulting in the field of ecology, largely due to requirements of the then-new Clean Water and Endangered Species acts. “Consulting in Florida constantly led me to understanding the Everglades and defined my direction after graduation.” 

During his professional career, one project stood out. He was involved in a large land development project in partially drained Everglades lands. Mitigation of wetland impacts required examination of Everglades functions and values. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in its role of administering the Clean Water Act, tasked Dr. Lodge with developing a methodology for that purpose. “That was a key immersion into documenting specific functions and values of the Everglades and how they could be measured based on the small but growing scientific literature.” The work resulted in Dr. Lodge’s “Wetland Quality Index.” It outlined hydrology, vegetation, and wildlife values to give a consistent, defensible equivalency between impacts and their mitigation for South Florida freshwater wetlands where small fish and wading birds are key food-chain indicators. 

Also during his graduate studies, Lodge became interested in photography as a means of illustrating ecological principles and functions. He frequently teamed up with another photographer, Bob Hamer, to shoot photos in the Everglades. “Beginning in the early 1970s and continuing for a decade, we typically spent a day of every weekend capturing photos in the Everglades,” Lodge said. “At the time, there was no such thing as auto-exposure, auto-focus, or image stabilization, and you couldn’t see your results until the film was processed at a photo lab!” 

By the early 1980s, based on the volume of photos Lodge and Hamer had captured, Hamer suggested they produce a coffee table book showcasing his photography with text crafted by Lodge. “Neither of us had any name recognition, but we made repeated attempts to get it published. With every attempt and rejection, I kept improving the text.” 

Those improvements coincided with increasing public interest in Everglades restoration and the emergence of the Everglades Coalition. Dr. Lodge saw that participants from the public needed a “bible,” a single source that covered the geography, geology, hydrology, flora and fauna of the South Florida ecosystem. “There were also no standards for naming plant communities,” recalled Lodge. “For example, the literature at the time referred to much of the Everglades as a ‘wet prairie,’ among other names. There was a need to define the various plant communities and help standardize their names. Another requirement: the document had to have an excellent index. Nothing filled these needs.” 

So, he transitioned from pursuit of a coffee table book to a “light” textbook – still using Hamer’s photography but supplemented with many of his own photographs and, of course, his text. “With that new direction, I approached St. Lucie Press, selected because it was publishing a large technical book, Everglades: The Ecosystem and its Restoration. I got immediate acceptance and was even granted pre-publication access to some of the chapters of the larger technical book. Together with other emerging research, including the new discovery of mercury in the food chain, I scrambled to make last-minute revisions. The publisher suggested the title, The Everglades Handbook. I accepted, providing it included the subtitle expressing my intent: Understanding the Ecosystem.” The first edition was released in 1994. 

Lodge originally sought to educate an interested lay audience in The Everglades Handbook: Understanding the Ecosystem, but to his surprise, it also became widely used as an advanced high school and college textbook. “I often encountered students carrying the handbook in the Everglades for spring break field courses.” In creating the content, Lodge leveraged his decades of consulting work focused on freshwater and estuarine water quality; terrestrial, wetland, aquatic, and shallow-marine environments; threatened and endangered species; and conditions such as noise and toxic contaminants. Lodge’s efforts carried through four editions that expanded in geographic coverage to include the entire South Florida ecosystem and incorporate new research. After the first edition, St. Lucie Press was purchased by CRC Press, the imprint of the subsequent editions. 

When the need for a fifth edition of the handbook emerged, Lodge was at a point in his career where he wanted to enlist a co-author, and said he knew exactly who to call: Steve Davis, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer at The Everglades Foundation. 

“I met Steve through a project focused on restoration work at Everglades National Park and was already aware of his wealth of knowledge about coastal dynamics, as well as expertise in multiple other areas,” said Lodge. “Certain topics of the previous edition needed an overhaul that included reorganization. Steve reshaped the chapters about the coastal Everglades and Florida Bay, hurricanes, sea level rise, and the impact of saltwater on freshwater wetlands. We also needed a dedicated chapter on chemistry. Everglades issues involving chemistry were addressed in previous editions but were awkwardly located. We sought to consolidate material related to chemistry in a single chapter and to add important missing topics: carbon and nitrogen. Steve was instrumental in this effort, as well as contributing his breadth of knowledge throughout the book.” 

The 5th edition is packed with science-based insights about the Everglades, including how drastically it has changed. Considered essential reading for anyone trying to understand the history, diversity, and challenges faced in restoring this unique ecosystem, the 5th edition of this bestseller presents the latest information.  

"It's an honor to be associated with a book that has served as the base of Everglades knowledge for nearly 30 years,” said Davis. “As a graduate student, I referred to the 1st edition of The Everglades Handbook while beginning my research in the Everglades in 1995. Working with Dr. Lodge and having my name on the 5th edition rank among the most rewarding experiences of my professional career." 


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