A Double Dipping Win: Volunteer and Learn about Nature

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
December 2009

Volunteerism and generosity are hallmarks of Indian River County. Audubon and the County have been a leader in efforts to help preserve the natural areas and resources of our County. One of the major goals for our planned “Audubon House – Gateway to Nature” working with the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory (FMEL) and Oslo River Conservation Area (ORCA) as part of our community awareness and education mission is to recruit and train volunteers for our 15 county owned conservation areas. The County desperately needs these volunteers as it only has two employees to take care of approximately 2,050 acres. Moreover, only 7 of these conservation areas are open to the public.

ORCA field trip photo by Bob Montanaro.

Thanks to the efforts of Janice Broda (PIAS Advisory board member, FMEL staff coordinator, and former president of the Florida Native Plant Society) working with Richard Baker, FMEL researchers and staff who share their world-renowned expertise and to an endowment from an anonymous donor, the 14th volunteer training class at the ORCA will begin on January 23, 2010. This free class with field experience will be held from 1:30pm to 4:30pm on six consecutive Saturdays at the FMEL Boathouse. Pre-registration is required. For more information or to register, please visit http://ourorca.org, which is hosted by PIAS.

More than 200 people have attended these classes over the last 11 years. Participants are requested to attend all sessions to gain an understanding of the basic ecology of IRC habitats (7 different ones are found at ORCA alone), the dynamic relationships of these plant communities and the many creatures that they support, including human, what is needed to survive, and the county’s conservation approaches and issues such as exotic species control. Some wonderful board members and supporters have come from the ORCA training: Debby Ecker, Peter Sutherland, Sue Richardson, Susan Boyd, Bob Smith, and Pat Sawyer.

2010 Volunteer Training Class for our Conservation Areas

January 23 Welcome, History of ORCA & IRC Conservation Lands, and First Hammock Stroll. Dr. Walter Tabachnick, Director of the FMEL, welcomes the class with an overview of the purpose and fascinating research work performed at the FMEL. The ORCA was the first conservation land purchased by Indian River County for preservation and public enjoyment. Dr. Richard Baker, will recount how with PIAS’s leadership this purchase motivated increased community efforts to start a formal conservation land purchase program and the role that volunteers played – and will continue to play – in opening these conservation lands to public access. Just steps from the ORCA parking lot and the adjacent shopping plaza is a quarter mile loop trail through a stunning moist oak hammock with fabulous fern beds and a rich mixture of temperate and tropical plants. Begin to get to know some of the predominant plants of our County and the insects and animals that depend upon them with Janice Broda.

January 30 Adaptation: Mangroves & Coastal Wetlands. Dr. Donna Devlin, a Florida Atlantic University Professor based at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, will orient you to the Indian River Lagoon and the mangroves that line its banks. With her guidance, you will explore the many unique plant-insect and plant-animal relationships that the IRL fosters.

February 6 Sea grasses – Our Primary Producers. The shoreline along the ORCA is home to the finest sea grass meadows in our County. FMEL Wetlands Ecologist Dr. Jorge Rey will show us sea grasses and elucidate their vital importance to the web of life in the Indian River Lagoon. You will learn what you can do in your own life to protect this precious natural resource. This will be follow by a Dike Hike to ORCA Observation Tower, a fifteen-foot tall tower overlooks the coastal wetlands at ORCA, led by Janice Broda and Richard Baker, through hammock and scrubby pine flatwoods to this scenic overlook.

February 13 Life in the Pits & Treetops. With FMEL Entomologist Dr. George O’Meara, you will investigate burrowing as an adaptation or what lives ‘in the pits’ – Great Atlantic land crabs, fiddler crabs, mosquitoes, fish, and more. Up in the treetops, you will discover what lives in tree holes and tank bromeliads (a.k.a. ponds in the sky).

February 20 Birds of ORCA: Different Habitats = Different Birds. The diverse habitats at ORCA are home to a variety of birds, resident and migratory. Enjoy learning about the common birds of ORCA with Dr. Richard Baker from photographs and then (hopefully) sneak a peek at the great horned owl and eagle that have been nesting at ORCA each year.

February 27 Review of the Plant Communities of ORCA. Plants are always present and allow you to identify the type of habit. Review, with Janice Broda, the habitats of ORCA and the plants that occupy each of them. Plan how you would like to participate as a volunteer.

As you know with your donations we have been working towards establishing an Audubon House that will allow us to have a greater presence in the community, advocating for the environment, educating, having displays, exhibits, citizen scientist observers to monitor our habitats, and enhancing IRC quality of life. On September 22, 2009 the County Commission gave conceptual approval to lease land for our Audubon House on the ORCA Link property located on the south side of Oslo Road linking the County-owned ORCA parcels on north and south side of the road. PIAS asked the county to install a parking lot along the south side of Oslo Road with a special needs boardwalk leading to the Audubon House. County staff is expected to present a lease agreement shortly to us and the county commission for our and their approval. We will keep you informed of developments and are thankful for your ongoing support.  

It’s wonderful to belong to an organization where everyone works together for worthwhile causes, donating their skills and talents. On our current efforts to raise Audubon House, these have given their time and pro bono works for:

  • Project coordination: Jimmy Sellers, & Michael Walther, Coastal Technology Corp.
  • Survey and Engineering: Patrick Walther, P.E., Principal, Carter Associates, Inc.
  • Geotechnical work: Dave Alker, Geotechnical Consultant, AM Engineering & Testing, Inc.
  • Design: Michael Thomas, Richard Bialosky, AIA, Architects, Amy J. Thoma, LEED AP, Tierra Verde, Inc.
  • Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing Engineering: Kim Stephenson, EIT Formica & Associates, Inc
  • Structural Engineering: Bill Stoddard, PhD, P.E. Schulke, Bittle & Stoddard, LLC.

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