Thinking Big

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
November 2012

PIAS has many exciting projects that make a difference in Indian River County, such as our Quality of Life initiative, Square Foot Gardening in schools, QR codes at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, an Audubon Community Center, JayWatch, and a PIAS/State Park Pamphlet.

Unfortunately because of illness, our Audubon speaker in Vero had to cancel on Oct. 15. As a substitute, we decided to engage those attending in a very different brainstorming effort to see how we could all work together on one BIG Project. Soon we will have a center where we can “THINK BIG” about working together for and with the whole community to bring about a major change.  We could have chosen to focus on a number of different community projects.  We thought no matter what project was selected in the future, we could use the brainstorming ideas towards any community effort. In addition, we hoped brainstorming might also stimulate volunteers for our current projects, have attendees feel more a part of PIAS, help us begin thinking of a bigger vision, and eventually lead to all kinds of ideas.

So we chose one idea nearly everyone can understand-Trees. Over the past 15 years, the number of trees in many US cities has declined by about 30 percent, while concrete and other solid surfaces has risen by 20 percent, (Gary Moll  Remember Indian River County once had big cypress stands at Blue Cypress Lake; wetlands and forests have been cleared or drained for cattle ranches, citrus, and development.

Indian River County is estimated at 139,000 people.  We decided to brainstorm on “Planting 100,000 Trees in Indian River County” or “the GREENING OF INDIAN RIVER COUNTY” as an example of what a community can do working together.  First we shared information on why Massive Tree Planting can lower our community’s carbon foot print, reduce global warming, provide more habitat for birds and insects and other wildlife, save, reduce current energy costs, conserve water and reduce runoff. In addition, research shows that in cities, having trees in neighborhoods also reduces the crime rate. Similar projects have been done in other places like Chile, Kenya, Atlanta, Chicago, and Detroit.

For about 20 minutes 42 attendees divided into eight brainstorming groups (all ideas were listed, even if impractical because they could lead to workable ideas). Major topics and the notes that capture the results of our brainstorming:

1. What kind of trees?   Diversity?  Which habitats? Where to plant? 

  • Variety, Native trees, shrubs and palms across our county according to wet/dry soil conditions; can withstand wind, do not require fertilizers. Trees/shrubs that produce food and “cavities” for wildlife especially birds and butterflies; Offer vacant lot owners replacement native trees for their exotics.
  • Check city and county tree ordinances for guidelines.

2. Coalition building:  Which organizations should we bring on board to work on this?  How do we build a coalition?  Who has those skills?  Who has done it before?  Who can best contribute?

  • Sierra Club & environmental organizations, Women’s and Garden Clubs, Boy and Girl Scouts, Native Plant, Neighborhood  & Mobile Home Parks Associations, property managers, business community, daycare centers, civic organizations, chambers of commerce, government,  school campuses, hospitals, plant nurseries.

3. Planning the grand opening/first community-day tree planting

  • At Riverside Park, Festive & fun, Stage with trees & flowers, prizes, and seedlings for children
  • Speakers including council members, county commissioners, and Carl Hiaasen
  • Tree parade-dresses in green and tree hats, music by high school bands

4. Getting funding/sponsors.  What grants?  How to get trees?  Who else is doing this?  National organizations?

  • Native Plant Society has grants of about $1,000, and the FL Exotic Pest Plant Council has grants for education
  • Donations from individuals and businesses with an interest in a green community. 
  • The best source for money is locally, from people who know PIAS and also others connected to other local conservation NGOs, rather than going after grants and big contributions.
  • Local corporations with an interest in a green county and water and energy conservation; in the carbon credit markets. In the Northeast we have a state corporation, which does this, not so sure about Florida.
  • Water Conservation: St. John’s River Water Management; FPL; energy, biofuels & water utility companies
  • Condo and homeowner associations, for their specific pieces of real estate.
  • An array of state and federal agencies.
  • Multiple seedling sources based in Florida and in neighboring states.
  • Florida Forestry Association, and land owner & tree farm committees.

5. What experts are needed?  What do we need to do to teach volunteers to plant trees?  What cautions do we need in planting trees, deciding where to plant them, maintenance — how long to follow up watering, when to plant?

  • Native Plant Society, tree vendors, tree farmers, USDA, US Forest Service, extension services, university’s department of horticulture, water management districts, State of Maryland and Baltimore County programs.

6. Advertising, Media contacts? Getting the word out

  • Sebastian 32958, Vero Beach 32963, T.C. Palm, Hometown News, radio stations; Guest editorials
  • Cultural council, Non profits
  • School kids competitions for slogan and logo

7. Volunteers: how to organize volunteers, what is needed?

  • Posting signs at all county libraries, post offices, newspapers, public radio stations
  • Representatives from communities, agencies, churches and mobile parks
  • Reach out to all schools, PTA’s, ELC
  • Reminders at PIAS meetings. List jobs that volunteers can do
  • Tables at local events with printed material. Booths at farmer’s markets in county
  • PowerPoint presentations to organizations to help spread the word and get more volunteers
  • Organize volunteers for special tree planting days (possible summer camps)

8. Barriers to the project to be overcome & potential solutions: community attitudes, knowledge; lethargy; who needs to be ‘sold’ on the project?

  • Location problems, Trees can be messy, Allergy problems, Grass loss, suggest ground cover
  • Educating the public:  Build a demonstration garden; Publicity, Distribution-how, to whom?
  • City/county future planning and permitting
  • Unrealistic expectations of growth- promote idea of long term maintenance

We all agreed this Tree project or another Thinking Big project would be invaluable for our community. Our immediate challenge is to form a dynamic steering committee. So, volunteers for a steering committee anyone?

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