Okaloosa, Walton, Santa Rosa and Escambia counties are each “facing the great growth boom” that is increasing the need to protect their natural treasures, Mary Gutierrez said.
She is the executive director of Earth Ethics Inc., a Fort Walton Beach-based nonprofit organization that strives to educate the public and raise awareness of environmental and social issues locally, regionally and globally. The organization was first formed in the Pensacola area in 2008 and now has approximately 200 members.
“We’re not opposed to any development, we just have to be smart about development,” Gutierrez said on Wednesday. “Some of the problems associated with (increasing growth) are the loss of habitats and species, the loss of wetlands and impacts on surface waters. Most of us who live here value our natural resources. We have many areas that are great for kayaking, canoeing, and camping, and we don’t want those areas affected. »
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At 6 p.m. on February 15, the public is invited to participate in a virtual panel discussion hosted by Earth Ethics, where members of the group will speak about their mission, the impacts of development on the natural environment in Okaloosa and Walton and ways people can work together. to deal with the impact.
Gutierrez said the roundtable will feature “an open dialogue about how we want to see our communities grow.”
Those planning to attend the meeting include representatives from the Okaloosa County Democratic Environmental Caucus, Scenic Walton, Emerald Coast Science Center, Florida Forest Service, EO Wilson Biophilia Center, Seaside Institute and Flood Defenders .
“Ideally anyone who joins the conversation will want to volunteer to help these groups and get more general information,” said Gutierrez, who earned an undergraduate degree in environmental science and a master’s degree in public administration with a focus on the University’s sustainable community development. of West Florida.
Gutierrez also has certification in public health with a focus on environmental health. Additionally, she previously served on the West Florida Regional Planning Board and worked for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Gutierrez said residents can help educate their elected officials about being proactive rather than reactive when it comes to protecting natural resources. She noted that many of these resources are in the northern parts of Okaloosa and Walton counties.
“I think the focus is on the beach, but there’s so much more to explore and see,” Gutierrez said. “You have to leave Fort Walton Beach and Mary Esther and Destin to see many of these places, and it’s well worth it. If people like the outdoors, they must see them all, and they might be more affected.
The Earth Ethics and Earth Action website is at earthethics.us.
This article originally appeared in the Northwest Florida Daily News: The Earth Ethics group studies the impacts of development on natural resources