Board Feature: Tiffany Busby

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are thrilled to highlight some of the invaluable contributions of women in conservation. Today, we bring you an exclusive interview with Tiffany Busby, a dedicated member of our board, whose passion and unwavering commitment to our environment has made a lasting impact.

In this interview we dive into experiences and insights from her personal and professional life. Check out her full interview below.

Can you share a bit about your personal connection to Florida conservation and what drives your passion for this cause?

My dad grew up on a farm in rural Minnesota, which inspired a love of nature throughout his life. His love of the outdoors meant that when my brother and I were growing up, almost every month on the calendar involved a different activity–January was skiing, April was scuba diving, May was fishing, July was camping, August was canoeing, and October was duck hunting. Now as a parent myself raising two native Floridians, the work my husband and I do has meant that we spend a lot of time parked at a desk. So, when we have personal time, we want there to be places for our family to play outside and be able to experience the incredible natural landscape and wildlife in Florida.

Can you share a bit about your company, Wildwood Consulting?

I started Wildwood Consulting in 2000 when I got married and moved from Fort Myers to St. Augustine. To be located with my new husband, I had to leave the watershed restoration job that I loved. As the former director of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, I had worked with local governments, agriculture, the phosphate industry, and environmental groups. After leaving, I hoped that I could perform similar work employed in the private sector. Wildwood Consulting is the result of that goal. We are small and niche firm on purpose, so we can support public and nonprofit organizations in their own restoration and collaboration efforts in a very personalized way.

My work prompts me to travel all around Florida. In my travels, I see many out-of-the-way places that tourists miss or with which residents may be unfamiliar, since our state is large. Mostly, I work on restoring water quality in our lakes, rivers, estuaries, and springs, so I tend to notice how changes in the landscape affect imperviousness, fertilizer use, and land cover. Many of the human impacts on water quality are also challenges to conservation and wildlife, so it’s opportune that I can be passionate about both at the same time. However, I don’t know nearly as much about conservation, so my involvement with the foundation also allows me to be more of a student than an expert, which makes it fun.

Can you tell us about your role in assisting the Florida Department of Environmental Protection with the Wakulla Springs restoration public meeting on April 9th?

My role in the Wakulla Springs restoration is small but long term. The spring vents are located in Wakulla Springs State Park, which is definitely worth a visit–and a swim or boat ride if you are in the mood! The water that travels upwards from the Floridan Aquifer comes out of the spring vent and has too much nitrogen. This high nitrogen level triggers algae and filamentous plants downstream that smother the habitat for native plants and animals. To meet water quality standards, the nitrogen in the aquifer must be reduced—and this is where my work comes in. For the last 12 years, we have been assisting the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and its many partners in identifying nitrogen sources and tracking local projects that help Wakulla Springs. This means that we meet with cities and counties, wastewater facilities, colleges, prisons, agricultural and silvicultural producers, and golf courses to plan restoration projects and track changes in management practices. In Wakulla Springs, the biggest sources of nitrogen are residential septic systems, domestic wastewater, and urban fertilizer. Restoring springs is especially challenging because the nitrogen in today’s spring vents is a combination of current sources and decades of historic practices. Tolerance for making decisions with few data and lots of uncertainty is a prerequisite for springs restoration work.

How does the restoration of Wakulla Springs fit into broader conservation efforts within the Florida Wildlife Corridor?

To support wildlife conservation, we need places for wildlife to exist, so conservation efforts are fundamental. Once places are secured, we also need those habitats to be ecologically healthy, so wildlife have food to eat and clean water to drink—and that need is also urgent.

The bonus from creating conservation areas is that they also support excellent water quality. Reducing human inputs of new and additional sources of nitrogen and phosphorus into our surface waters and springs protects them. It is helpful that conservation and springs restoration are very complimentary efforts.  

As we celebrate Women’s Month, how do you feel women are making an impact in the field of conservation, particularly in Florida?

When I started working in Florida in 1996, my job was to convene scientists and experts to collaborate on Charlotte Harbor protection. In many of those meetings, I would be the only woman in the room because there were comparatively few female experts. The policy board who interviewed me and oversaw my program had one female county commissioner. Over time there has been a gradual but marked change in the composition of current environmental professionals and how many women work in this field, particularly in Florida, and those who run for elected office. Now, when I attend meetings and conferences, or we meet with board members with other conservation organizations, there are lots of women making an impact by volunteering their time, funds, and expertise. As our daughter prepares to graduate from college in May, I am excited that one of her best friends is eager to work on conservation efforts, specifically in Florida, and has been interviewing in several different Florida cities. It is inspiring to see that we have a new generation of women ready to take on the latest conservation challenges and that they are drawn to Florida.

How can individuals support the conservation efforts in Florida, regarding Wakulla Springs and beyond?

I believe conservation efforts start with the heart. People that care really affect the ultimate outcomes we see outdoors. When you pay attention to your city or county’s conservation efforts or watch a film about conservation, you are showing interest that builds community awareness. When our elected officials know that people care about conservation, more resources become available. When property owners know that key parcels are important, they are more likely to provide a conservation easement or sell their parcel to an organization for permanent protection. With water quality restoration, one of the challenges is to get people to understand that their lawn fertilizer and septic systems are part of the problem—but that they can also be part of the restoration success. Conservation can succeed if we care enough across our community to act, whether it is with behavior changes, votes, easements, or donations.

Are there any upcoming projects or initiatives in Florida conservation that you’re particularly excited about?

There are lots of efforts to be excited about and I have some personal wishes for the future as well. First, there are some really important corridor connection parcels in Central and Southwest Florida that I hope can be acquired before they are developed and lost forever as a corridor.

Second, I am excited about renewed efforts to fill in and expand the Osceola or Ocala “O2O” corridor in Central and Northeast Florida, which is an amazing area for wildlife like the Florida panther and black bear who need lots of range.

Third, I am hopeful that the recent recovery of seagrass in the Mosquito Lagoon along the Space Coast indicates that the North and Central Indian River Lagoon which have also suffered devastating seagrass losses will also recover soon—along with the fish and manatees that depend on those habitats. Finally, in Charlotte Habor, I would love to see major acquisition of the critical habitats for baby snook and tarpon—many of their isolated tidal pools and surrounding land where they live as tiny fish are currently under immediate threat from new development. So many people love the snook and tarpon fisheries—not to mention the sharks that love them too–that I have hope their nursery areas can be permanently protected.