Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida for eight years, was named Florida state parks director, filling a post that has been vacant since February and troubled for the past year.
Julie Wraithmell, who was promoted in March 2016 to Audubon Florida deputy executive director, was named interim executive director.
“Eric Draper has dedicated his career to the protection of Florida’s environment and his passion for our state’s natural resources make him an ideal fit to join our world-caliber parks team,” state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein said Thursday in a press release.
As parks czar, Draper will oversee 175 state parks and historic sites encompassing roughly 800,000 acres, 100 miles of beaches, and more than 1,500 miles of trails. The staff includes more than 1,000 rangers, managers, biologists, and planners.
Draper's appointment comes as Gov. Rick Scott is proposing a record $1.7 billion environmental package for lawmakers to consider in 2018. The package includes $50 million for state parks, $55 million for springs, $100 million for beaches, $355 million for Everglades restoration, and $50 million for Florida Forever, according to a breakdown by Florida Politics.
"Any real accomplishment that we've had in the last 20 years with conservation in Florida has had [Draper's] fingerprints on it," Wraithmell told the Capitol News Service.
In a statement, David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, said “Eric leaves Audubon with a legacy of real accomplishments. From partnering on the restoration of the Everglades, to working with the State on designating or expanding 18 Florida Critical Wildlife Areas, Eric has been a model state director for Audubon.”
A career warrior for birds, Wraithmell figures to be a top candidate as Florida’s oldest conservation group conducts a search for Draper’s replacement.
"Julie is the best of Audubon," Draper tweeted Saturday.
Wraithmell is credited with helping Audubon Florida “return to its roots,” strengthening its bird conservation stewardship during a 10-year tenure. She is a leader in a movement to designate more sanctuaries for roseate spoonbills, reddish egrets, blue herons, brown pelicans, black skimmers and other at-risk Florida water birds.
"The thing I'm heartened by is there are a lot of people, not just little old ladies with binoculars, but boaters and anglers and kayakers and photographers and reasonable folks who recognize these as commonsense protections," Wraithmell told the Orlando Sentinel last year.
In 2015 as Audubon Florida’s director of wildlife conservation, Wraithmell earned the Charles H. Callison Award from the National Audubon Society, the organization’s highest honor for staff. She has a degree in biology from Duke and a master’s from Florida State.
The previous state parks director was Lisa Edgar, a former member of the Public Service Commission who in December replaced Donald Forgione, who started out as a park ranger in 1983, was named director in 2010, and was abruptly demoted. Edgar quit in February and was later charged with DUI.
» Photos via youtube (Draper), Audubon Florida.
Julie is the best of Audubon https://t.co/An12rHBwg3— Eric Draper (@EricDraper) November 4, 2017
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» Captive breeding may be the last chance to save Florida's grasshopper sparrow, North America's most endangered bird. (Via Audubon)