|The President’s Hoot|
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
PIAS received the “Best Chapter of the Year Award” at the October meeting of Audubon of Florida (AOF) Assembly. It is the second time that PIAS has won this award – 2007 being the first. Key factors in the award application were:
1. Chapter shows increasing membership: A model to increase our chapter membership – our affiliate chapter – Grand Harbor Audubon Society (GHAS). Visionary folks led by residents Neil Stalter, Don Morris, Deb Fletcher, Joan Klimm, Jim Bercaw, Bette Nielsen, Glenn Rose and Vicky Tulloch at Grand Harbor Golf and Beach Club, were real-life pioneers in the state in establishing our first local affiliated chapter. Their membership, which is added to PIAS’s, has expanded from 50 members to around 200. Our own activities also have added members – increasing from 548 in 2007 to 995 in 2011 (88 are PIAS chapter-only members).
2. Chapter annual report demonstrates sound financial status: Besides raising funds for the Audubon Community Center, PIAS continues to raise operating funds to support a half-time office position. We have been creative in finding sources for funds while furthering the mission of the organization: A. PIAS cookbook Pelican Bites by Darlene & Bill Halliday; B. Fundraising pontoon boat rides at Blue Cypress Lake by Bob Bruce; C. Reflection of Blue Cypress book, note cards; D. Donation requests, Passing the hat at meetings; E. Grant funds; and F. Selling the porcelain sculptures. GHAS raises its own operating funds.
3. Chapter accomplishes innovative conservation and education programs:
- Jay Watch Program, begun by Joe Carroll and led now by Roz James, successfully demonstrates a field and bird watching oriented biology project. Three areas have been monitored continuously. Others sites were followed for shorter periods thanks to field time by many volunteers (David Cox, Brian Barnett, Bill & Darlene Halliday, Peter Sutherland, Jens Tripson, Nancy Irvin, Tim Towles, Gary Hickman, Billi Wagner, Berth Viviano and Jim Shea).
- Audubon Community Nature Center adjacent to the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) on Oslo Road. Since 2007, PIAS has raised $266,000 for an Audubon Community Nature Center, and an additional estimated $200,000 in pro bono work for surveying, permitting, engineering, and legal work. Our center will serve as an outreach center for the County’s public natural areas including the Great Florida Birding Trails, and will provide an eco-tourist destination focused on bird watching, hiking, canoeing with PIAS’s six canoes and a kayak, nature photography, and art. The center will provide offices for PIAS and ORCA and a classroom and meeting space for community, environmental, and educational organizations for nature-based social, educational, and recreational programs.
- Legally challenged Indian River County’s dredge and fill project at the Oslo Road Boat Ramp near the Indian River Aquatic Preserve. PIAS has opposed the county’s project to dredge a three-foot deep channel through a major seagrass flat in the Indian River Lagoon, and filling three acres of mangrove swamp to put up a parking lot for deep-draft boats in a federal shellfish and conservation area adjacent to an aquatic preserve in a major manatee protection zone. This ramp and launching area has been used by small, shallow-draft boats for over 50 years. The seagrass beds are critical nursery areas for snook, tarpon, spotted seatrout & red drum and feeding areas for manatees. Federal Agencies (EPA, USCOE, USFWS, and USMFS) also oppose the project as currently proposed. A $5,000 Fund for Wildlife grant and designated donations covered the legal costs.
- Indian River County Water Initiative. An AOF $1,000 grant with the PIAS’s matching funds supported a 46 page illustrated booklet authored by PIAS board member, Deborah Ecker, available on our website or in print from our office. It describes in layman’s terms where our water comes from, how it is used, and how we manage our county’s waste and stormwater. Debby has made many community water educational presentations.
- Florida Bird Photo of the Month, published in our Peligram and the Scripps newspapers,encourages bird photography, an interest in birds, involvement in nature, and new chapter members. See bird photos and essays by Juanita Baker on our PIAS website.
- Speakers, Field Trips, and Scholarships. To better reach our north county members, monthly meetings are now held Vero Beach and in Sebastian. For the 2011-12 season, all board members are leading or arranging a field trip; increasing our field trips to 19 from September to March. See the brochure or the PIAS website. In addition, we will be doing routine guided trips to our namesake, the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. Under Susan Boyd’s leadership and a donation, PIAS continues to give two $1,000 scholarships to local graduating seniors for college expenses.
- Quality of Life Indicator Project. This project attempts to measure progress towards a sustainable future. Under Dr. Graham Cox’s leadership and with the help of 23 advisors from the county, including two chambers of commerce, United Way, church, industry, agriculture, and minority-community leaders, Indian River State College, and the school district PIAS initiated an innovative, inclusive community-based process to survey and measure ‘QOL’ indicators to guide the county towards an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable future.
Many people work together on a variety of initiatives to make PIAS an outstanding Audubon chapter!