Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Magnolia Chapter Gets College Students "Hooked" on FNPS


By Scott Davis

It is a wide known fact that the attention span of today's youth is short—and getting shorter. Twenty years ago, it would have taken hours (or days) of research to acquire the same amount of knowledge that can be obtained in just a few seconds of keyboard finger tapping today! Though the future of FNPS depends upon the successful recruitment of members from all age groups and cultures, it is obviously paramount to the society's future to adapt for the ever-changing interests of young people.

The Magnolia Chapter's outreach has included local
universities and the USFWS. If your chapter hasn't
forged partnerships with like-minded organizations,
now is a great time to start.
Recently, the Magnolia Chapter developed some ideas that have proven to be very effective in "hooking" local youth. Magnolia chapter officers voted recently to establish three chapter leadership positions for student board members. These three positions reflect Tallahassee's three large educational institutions: FAMU, FSU, and TCC. In establishing these positions, the chapter's primary goals were to achieve the creation of university student liaisons, receive feedback from individuals familiar with the wants and concerns of young adults, establish relationships with environmentally-oriented student organizations, and create activity/field trip leaders that potential youth membership are more likely to seek camaraderie with.

The first individual to be voted in as a student board member was Brent Williams. Brent is a talented chemical engineering student with an interest in exploring the vast number of plant species whose chemical properties have not yet been researched. Through chemical profiling, Brent seeks to find sustainable ways to balance nature and society through the development of sustainable native plant resources. Brent also manages the FSU organic garden and native plant permacultural guild, and he is a standing board member with the Tallahassee Sustainability Group.

Brent has three primary native plant interests: pollinator support systems, invasive plant species management, and native plant food sources. These interests have worked to facilitate the accelerated development of relationships not only with the university students in the Magnolia Chapter's region, but also to forge a strong relationship between FNPS and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Brent worked closely with fellow Magnolia board members Gail Fishman and Scott Davis to develop a volunteer program cooperative between FNPS and USFWS. This program aimed to further the mission of FNPS, help develop the Educational Field Trip Initiative of the Council of Chapters, and assist a primary land management agency with society-sourced expertise and leadership.

A liaison to local educational institutions can bring able
bodied volunteers and future members to chapter events.
Nicknamed the "Groundpounders" by USFSW staff, Brent acts as a "hook" to the universities, exciting the interests of not only mainstream environmentally concerned students, but also to students that are simply looking for an opportunity to get outside, do something new, and make a difference. A number of high school students have also begun to volunteer their time.  Brent has worked effectively with refuge managers to develop (and schedule) a growing list of opportunities.  To name a few, this list includes citizen science volunteer opportunities, invasive plant workdays, educational opportunities with refuge staff, pollinator garden development projects, and off-site rare plant rescues for relocation to protected lands.

Brent says, "There is a strong demand from young folks to see tangible results that are brought about with their own hands." He also lives by the philosophy that "if there is work to be done, and if there are individuals willing to engage in the workings, then there is no reason for the work to not be done when good communication and leadership are brought into the equation." Currently, there are numerous workdays led per month by Brent that focus on invasive plant identification and removal techniques, hiking trail management, plant rescue and relocation, pollinator garden design and maintenance, fire crew prep work, and more.

In the last month, Brent has overseen the removal of invasive plants from environmentally sensitive areas inside of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge; this includes over 600 invasive coral ardisias (Ardisia crenata) and three tons of invasive torpedo grass (Panicum repens). In addition to these achievements, in the last month he has also led the Groundpounders in projects that undergo pre-fire preparation work for USFWS fire crews, implemented a relocation program for various native plant species from refuge mow strips to designated recipient pollinator garden sites, managed the rescue team of 97 state-endangered moundlilly yuccas (Yucca gloriosa), and begun the process of installing pre-fabricated bridge piles across creeks in areas adjacent to the Florida Trail to give connectivity to through-hikers.

The "Groundpounders" in action...
Case in point, the assignment of Brent as a student board member is a fantastic example of one of the many ways in which FNPS can appeal to the next generation of environmentally aware citizens, strengthen its relationship with land managers, further its mission, and stratify its place as a power player in protection of Florida's native plant communities in the future.

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Posted by Laurie Sheldon

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Victory for Wakulla Springs

By Gail Fishman

Beautiful Wakulla Springs sparkled in the summer sun. The first time I floated over the vent—185 feet below—made me dizzy as a child. The water was so clear it seemed that I might fall into the hole.

Geographic and hydrologic elements at Wakulla.
Wakulla Spring discharges about 250 million gallons per day, with a nearly constant water temperature of 69ºF. The Wakulla River gently carries the water to meld with the St. Marks River about nine miles away, and together they flow to Apalachee Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. Mastodon bones and a trove of ancient artifacts have been found in the spring. Movies were made—two Tarzan films, Airport 77, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon—because the clarity of the water allowed for stunning underwater scenes. But such is not the case today, even though Wakulla Springs is a protected state park.

A gallinule chick makes its way across a mat of Hydrilla.
When the water turned dark and the glass-bottomed boats could not run on many days, what had been long suspected turned out to be true. About 300 feet below the ground lays the Wakulla-Leon Sinks Cave system, the longest mapped underwater cave in the United States and the sixth largest in the world. But years of increasing stormwater runoff and effluent from septic tanks and sewage treatment from the surrounding area filtered into the system and ended up in Wakulla Springs. The river is now beset with Hydrilla, an aquatic invasive plant, and the piercing cry of the limpkin is no longer heard because apple snails have disappeared.

A year or so ago, Tallahassee Community College (TCC) announced the construction of an environmental training center in Wakulla County—the Wakulla Environmental Institute (WEI). Recently, they unveiled plans to sublease some 2000 acres of Wakulla Springs State Park for 50 years, build a campground near Cherokee Sink, and begin training the next generation of park managers. Conservationists rallied. A heavily attended public meeting was held on June 17. It was at best an acrimonious gathering that could have turned ugly. The majority of speakers favored the plan. Most environmentalists did not.

I attended the meeting along with two other Magnolia Chapter board members. I had not planned to speak, but I was urged to get up. By the time my turn came, many in the audience had left. I offered support of WEI, but said that the Magnolia Chapter staunchly opposed the campground, pointing out that two other campgrounds, one another state park, were nearby and could be utilized and students could be sent as interns to other state parks. I also noted that it would take more than a two-year Associates degree to train a park manager.

In the days afterward, I conferred with local, well-known Florida springs advocates, Jim Stevenson and Madeline Carr. Both welcomed and encouraged the support of the Magnolia Chapter, hoping that our members would write letters to officials and voice their concerns about the WEI proposal. I wrote a letter to the editor of the Tallahassee Democrat addressing my concerns, including the precedent this program might set for other Florida state parks. I sent copies to Governor Rick Scott, TCC President Jim Murdaugh, and Lewis Scruggs at DEP. None responded personally. On Sunday, July 20, the newspaper published letters opposing WEI's plan from Pam McVety, Ann Bidlingmaier, and myself. I soon received thanks from Jim, Ann, and Madeline, as well as several Magnolia Chapter members and others concerned about the issue.

On Friday, July 25, Bob Ballard, WEI director and former DEP deputy secretary, announced that the proposal had been withdrawn. Although Ballard advised that they might come back with a modified proposal, DEP press secretary Tiffany Cowie said, “Due to the withdrawal of the proposal, the department is no longer considering the project.”

"You have to stand up for some things in this world."
- Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Florida's environment has been under siege for decades, but lately the sale of some of the last surviving acres of south Florida's pine rocklands, unprecedented water withdrawal requests from the aquifer, rapidly growing populations of invasive plants and animals, the lack of proper best management practices addressing prescribed fire on state and federal public lands, and more assaults on this paradise are taking place at a quickening rate. Each chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society as well as state level board and committee members have a role, nay, an obligation to take a stand against these egregious violations of the  environment. The plants, animals, and ecosystems cannot cry out themselves. We cannot be silent. We must be their voice.

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Posted by Laurie Sheldon

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Conservation, Preservation and Restoration


Written by Jackie Rolly and edited by Juliet Rynear

At the FNPS Annual Conference this year I was listening to Russ Hoffman speaking on “Why People Don’t Get It? - The Psychology of Embracing Native Plants.”  I remember him saying that we should refrain from voicing issues in the negative. The example he used was the state of Texas deciding to put up road signs saying “Don’t Litter,” yet puzzlingly, littering increased. Characteristically, we immediately do what we’ve been told not to do. Later though when Texas put up signs saying “Don’t Mess with Texas,” littering decreased. This was appealing to Texans’ sense of pride of place and even though negatively stated, the pride trait was stronger.

So why am I bringing this up?  I have now volunteered to serve on the FNPS Conservation Committee and we are in the process of writing a draft policy on the Conservation and Preservation of Florida’s native plants and their communities. What’s so hard about this?  We as members are sold on this. We hold native plant sales, provide tours of gardens planted with natives, we restore old orange groves to original habitats, take field trips, and on and on. We believe we are “talking the talk” and “walking the walk” on conservation and preservation. But are we?

West Coast (above) and East Coast (below)
Beach Dune Sunflower - similar, but different.
I was initially horrified to read in the draft policy that, “…Activities that endanger this genetic diversity are in direct conflict with the society's goal of preservation of native plant species in their natural habitats. Such activities include the development/conversion of endangered plant communities, cultivation of native Florida plant species outside their historical range within the state of Florida, cultivation outside their natural community…”  This means that, as members, we should not be planting Pineland Lantana (Lantana depressa) for example outside of the Miami-Dade area. We should not buy or plant Sea Grape (Coccoloba uvifera) inland, but even worse, we should not introduce the East Coast species of Beach Dune Sunflower (Helianthus debilis) to the West Coast, as the West Coast has a different subspecies (Helianthus debilis ssp. Vestitus). Our mission, I thought, was to introduce as many native plants to the general public and get the public to use them in their landscapes. I thought that telling a prospective buyer at a plant sale, that Lantana depressa (a great replacement for Lantana camara), will probably freeze back or die in Central Florida, and that a plant normally found in the Panhandle would not survive our warmer climate here. But if I, or a buyer, liked the plant and was willing to lose it, or spend lots of time protecting it, well, that is our decision. Like the people in Texas, you can’t tell me what I can’t and can do – it’s my garden!

So, how do we come to terms with this dichotomy? Back to Russ Hoffman’s talk, how do we put this in a positive mode?  Let’s address our sense of pride in our beautiful native plants, and actually adhere to our Society’s mission. We need to educate and make members aware of our responsibility, but also inject a “Sense and Pride of Place.” Let’s emphasize in talks to groups, members, and conferences, that we must be aware of the historical range of a plant and why that’s important. Let’s stop trying to make the whole State look the same. We have unique and beautiful plants, and when planted in the right place, i.e., their historical range and natural community, they thrive and we can tell when we have moved from north to south or east to west, thereby achieving a sense of place. More importantly, we preserve the unique genome of each plant rather than risking its loss.

Although Lantana depressa may grow
elsewhere, it is only endemic to Dade County
Of equal concern, is the risk that comes from introducing a species outside its natural range (i.e. exotic species) and the potential for that species to overpower a natural area where it has not previously occurred. For example, in South Florida, indigenous populations of West Indian Mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) are found in a narrow range including the upper Florida Keys and the coastline along Florida Bay.  After being planted outside of its historical range, it has been observed invading intact natural plant communities in areas of The Big Cypress National Preserve, Mainland Miami-Dade County, and the Lower Florida Keys including Big Pine Key, where it is altering native plant community structure. As members, we should educate ourselves on a plant’s historical range and ask growers where they procured the seed so we can know where the plant should be located.  It will be hard at first, and I’m not saying that you should rip out the Lantana depressa if you are in Central Florida, but be aware of what you are doing, the message you are sending, and start practicing real preservation. I have spoken to a few members about this and their first reaction, like mine, was “but I like that plant, it grows well in my garden.”  However, after a few minutes reflection, I hear, “now that I know about this, it makes sense and I will try to be more aware of what I plant.”

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Sense of place image by Kim Seng
Helianthus images by Shirley Denton
Lantana image by Roger Hammer

Note: if you are unaware of the natural range of a given native plant, you may find that information on the FNPS website.

posted by Laurie Sheldon