Asked about Scott’s request in Miami, Salazar said:

The state of Florida in our last three years has a very effective partner with us in accomplishing what we’ve been able to accomplish. We hope that the same thing happens with the new governor, but I will saying honestly that the jury is still out, and the plan that he has presented is a plan which we are currently evaluating … But we are encouraged that we have a positive dialogue moving with Gov. Scott, but we’ll see where that takes us over the next several weeks.

Salazar’s hint of skepticism notwithstanding, he caught a bit of flak from author and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen, who spoke after him and called the Secretary’s optimism about working with Scott “somewhat amusing.”

“This is the same guy who only shortly after taking office was interviewed wearing a pair of alligator-skin boots, announcing that if it were up to him, he would just shoot the alligators,” said Hiaasen, a native Floridian. “This is who is now custodian of the future of the Everglades in Florida. Every time I think about giving up the column to just work on these novels that I write—mostly as psychotherapy—Florida does something like Rick Scott, and how could I possibly sit on the sidelines for the next four years?”

Indeed, in introducing him, University of Miami president Donna Shalala called Hiaasen “South Florida’s rakish champion of the environment and scourge of the wrongdoer,” adding that, “no one wants to be exposed in a Hiaasen column.”

He joined the paper in 1976 and worked as a general assignment reporter, magazine writer and investigative reporter before starting his now weekly column in 1985.

Apart from the wry criticism of Scott, Hiaasen would likely have endorsed Salazar’s calls to better cover conservation programs and the environment’s wide-ranging economic importance. Yet he was characteristically cynical about the dog and pony show that politicians put on for the media.

“Twenty years ago, it was very rare to hear very many candidates for political office ever mention the Everglades,” he said. “You never heard a word about it because it was all about pouring concrete, and that was the engine of growth in Florida—growth for the sake of growth. We had the same exact political philosophy as a cancer cell…

“Now, there isn’t anybody running for office, either within the state or nationally, that doesn’t make the pilgrimage to the Everglades—the photo op on the Anhinga trail, and we’re gonna see this before the presidential primary. You’re gonna watch these numb-nuts pile into Florida for the next few months. Seriously. When they get to South Florida, there’ll be a trip; someone will give them some khakis to put on, they’ll loosen their ties, and they’ll go pose in front of the Chamber of Commerce alligator on the Anhinga trail and they will be conservationists for one freakin’ day, and that is it. Because we’re dealing with a mentality right now in Washington that questions whether science is viable, whether science is even real or not.”

Hiaasen chastised Republicans’ efforts to peg environmental regulations as killing jobs and economic growth. Columnists at Time and Forbes, and editorials at the Los Angeles Times and Dallas Morning News, have likewise criticized the GOP’s assault on rules that protect valuable natural resources and public health. They’re not alone, either. Still, there could always be more.

Salazar clearly highlighted stories that he thinks would best serve the interests of the current administration, and help it survive the coming election, so journalists should, as always, take his tips with a grain of salt. [Update: For example, an article by Pittman at the St. Petersburg Times tempered Salazar’s optimism about the Tamiami Trail Bridge Project, reporting that raising only the one segment of highway will not provide enough new water flow to save the Everglades by itself.] But that doesn’t make the Secretary wrong. Environmental restoration and conservation efforts, and all their political and economic reverberations, are something reporters nationwide should be paying more attention to.

Note: Audio recordings of Salazar’s and Hiaasen’s remarks can be found here and here, respectively, on the Society of Environmental Journalists’ conference coverage page.

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Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.