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Tribe makes key hire in climate change battle

Jill Horwitz is the Seminole Tribe’s first climate resiliency officer. (courtesy photo)

HOLLYWOOD — The threat of climate change is not out of sight or out of mind for the Seminole Tribe or for those living in Florida.

The range of dangers and problems has already arrived. What usually comes to mind for Floridians is sea level rise, increased flooding and more frequent and powerful hurricanes – but there are many more and the consequences can be devastating.

Tribal leadership has made climate change a priority over the years. It has many departments involved in the fight, whether through the work of the Heritage and Environment Resources Office (HERO), the Environmental Resource Management Department (ERMD) or Seminole Heritage Services (SHS). In recent years, the tribe has hosted a yearly Renewable Energy & Sustainability Conference that brings stakeholders from across Indian Country to Hollywood.

The tribe has now made a key hire to help execute its ongoing efforts. Jill Horwitz is the tribe’s first climate resiliency officer. She started in the job Dec. 7 and will juggle a number of responsibilities, from engaging with government officials and agencies to outreach and education. The position falls under HERO, but the work is tribalwide.

“There are a number of efforts already underway and I’m looking forward to pulling them all together to put the tribe in a good position,” Horwitz said.

She said areas of the tribe that are affected by climate change include tribal assets, cultural resources and energy independence.

“Climate change touches all of us and we each have a role,” Horwitz said.

Challenges ahead

Horwitz said there are multiple risks to be aware of, and for the tribe to be positioned to respond to, including the aforementioned sea level rise but also changes in rainfall and precipitation, extended periods of drought, groundwater level increases and salt water intrusion, coastal erosion, habitat shifts, water and surface to air temperature changes, and extreme heat.

“For folks moving forward there are economic challenges as the world changes and there are more pressures,” she said. “When we’re building resilience into the community, it’s focusing on our strengths, like education, health, economics and the environment.”

Andrew Bowers, the tribe’s Executive Director of Operations, reinforced the issue’s urgency in a tribalwide announcement of Horwitz’ hire.

“As a result of the threats posed by climate change, the Tribe is facing growing environmental instability,” Bowers said. “The effects are already being observed here in South Florida and pose a threat to tribal communities, businesses and operations.”

Bowers said one of Horwitz’ first tasks will be to develop a “resiliency assessment” to help tribal leadership and the tribal community make informed decisions regarding climate change “challenges and opportunities.”

“We look forward to keeping everyone updated with this critically important initiative,” he said.

Record of collaboration

Horwitz is known for her ability to bring stakeholders together to work on community planning – convening experts in many fields to share and compare knowledge on the issues.

“I expect Jill’s excellent track record of community based engagement to be particularly useful in her new position serving the Seminole Tribe,” Paul N. Backhouse, the HERO senior director, said.

Horwitz previously created the peer network “Sustainability Stewards of Broward” – a group of 500 professionals who facilitate workshops and discussion groups. She wrote the climate change section of the Broward County Comprehensive Plan.

Her credentials go further.

She’s worked for 15 years on environmental advocacy issues like ecosystem protection, community health and climate resilience planning. Horwitz earned a degree in environmental science from the University of Florida and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning with a focus on climate change from Florida Atlantic University.

“I fell in love with this idea of looking at ecosystem protection and how does human development interact with it and how do we plan for it?” she said.

‘Very excited’

Horwitz, 44, is from Miami and grew up in South Florida. She lives with her husband and two young daughters in Hollywood.

She’s started to introduce herself to tribal leadership, tribal members and stakeholders outside the tribe – something that’s more difficult during a time of social distancing and other restrictions.

“I’m very excited to join the tribe. I encourage members to reach out to me,” Horwitz said. “I want to hear from people: What do they worry about? What are they excited about? What good can we do as we create a new vision?”

When she’s not on the job, Horwitz said she enjoys gardening and camping with her family, including lots of cooking and canoeing.

Contact Horwitz via email at jillhorwitz@semtribe.com.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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