Since 1996, the Everglades Coalition has conferred the George M. Barley Conservationist of the Year Award to a person who has made a great contribution to Everglades restoration and protection.
When he died in 1995, George Barley, a seventh-generation Floridian, had dedicated much of two decades to environmental causes. A wealthy real estate developer, he believed environmentalists would succeed only with the help of the business community. His love of fishing and hunting sparked his outrage over the destruction of Florida Bay and the Everglades, which he channeled into a fiery campaign for restoration. He borrowed a friend's small plane and, over the course of several months, took more than 1,000 people on flights above the Everglades and Florida Bay. He convinced dozens of journalists to visit Florida Bay and bring back the story of destruction.
In the early 1980s while serving as the first chairman of the Marine Fisheries Commission—a body dominated by commercial fishing interests—he supported controversial limits on snook and redfish. While serving as the first chairman of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, he became convinced that the destruction of Florida Bay was caused by the massive amounts of water being diverted to tide and that the government was not looking at the Everglades system holistically.
He engaged in the battle to end the sugar industry's protections against foreign imports, and in 1993 he founded the Save Our Everglades Foundation and collected 600,000 signatures to put a sugar tax on the ballot to pay for cleaning up water flowing from farms to the Everglades and Florida Bay. In 1994, the Florida Supreme Court prevented the amendment from going to a vote. At the time of his death, he was crafting a new amendment that would meet the court's approval.
A tenacious and passionate fighter, he brought business accumen and an entrepreneur's drive to the Everglades restoration movement.