We’re standing up for scientific integrity in the Everglades

Dr. Tom Van Lent is among the most knowledgeable scientists in the world when it comes to America’s Everglades. In recent months we have been proud to work alongside him in his new role as Senior Scientist for Friends of the Everglades, where his expertise informs and sharpens our mission to save this unique ecosystem.

 Yet this week, on May 10 and 11, Dr. Van Lent faces a hearing on criminal contempt charges brought against him by his former employer, the Everglades Foundation. Because we respect the Everglades Foundation’s history as a nonprofit colleague with decades of experience advocating for protection of the Everglades and South Florida’s waterways, we have remained largely silent as this baffling legal battle has dragged on since April 2022. 

Now, we feel compelled to speak up as Dr. Van Lent faces these charges, and another hearing on attorneys fees in June that could — if successfully argued by the Everglades Foundation’s team of attorneys — leave him facing jail time and bankruptcy.

The lawsuit brought by the Everglades Foundation alleges, among other things, that Dr. Van Lent stole or destroyed the Foundation’s “confidential and proprietary information, including trade secrets.” Dr. Van Lent vehemently denies these allegations.

Disputes between employers and former employees are hardly uncommon, but it is dismaying that this matter could not be amicably resolved. 

We believe this legal action against Dr. Van Lent is bad for the Everglades movement. Attacks against a leading Everglades scientist undermine restoration efforts and only benefit the forces that seek to undermine or delay Everglades restoration — the polluters we have been fighting for decades. 

Prior to his 17-year tenure at the Everglades Foundation, Dr. Van Lent served as the lead hydrologist at Everglades National Park. He has co-authored more than 40 peer-reviewed publications on Everglades topics. In 2010, the Everglades Coalition — composed of about 60 member organizations — presented him with the George M. Barley Conservationist of the Year award for his ability to convey technical information in understandable terms to decision-makers. George Barley co-founded the Everglades Foundation. 

In view of Dr. Van Lent’s distinguished career and his long tenure with the Everglades Foundation, it is unfortunate that their relationship has come to this. The Everglades Foundation has ratcheted up its aggression to an elevated, punitive level.

There is also concern that this action could impact ongoing and timely Everglades science and advocacy. Dr. Van Lent has raised scientific questions about the effectiveness of the planned $4 billion Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir project, which the Everglades Foundation and other entities now routinely call a “crown jewel.”

Friends of the Everglades also has expressed concerns about the EAA Reservoir project falling short on water quality — concerns most recently substantiated by the National Academy of Sciences in its December 2022 report

Now more than ever, Dr. Van Lent’s clear-eyed scientific expertise is crucial to progress in the Everglades. This lawsuit serves to discourage that progress and is detrimental to the broader cause. We value our partners in Everglades restoration efforts but we can’t help but question the region’s most heavily bankrolled environmental group for launching litigation that has already cost Dr. Van Lent so much. 

We urge the parties to come to an agreement and settle this lawsuit so we can collaboratively engage in the real struggle to protect and restore the only Everglades in the world. 

For the Everglades,

Philip Kushlan
President, Friends of the Everglades Board of Directors

Peter Upton
Vice President, Friends of the Everglades Board of Directors

Connie Washburn
Secretary, Friends of the Everglades Board of Directors

Richard Trotta
Treasurer, Friends of the Everglades Board of Directors 

Alan Farago
Conservation Chair, Friends of the Everglades Board of Directors

Friends of the Everglades was founded in 1969 by renowned journalist, author, and environmental activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving America’s Everglades and its interconnected ecosystems.