Hurray!!! Pelican Island Audubon celebrates our 50th Anniversary

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
January 2014

What if you were worried that Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge would be crowded by boat traffic and development disturbing wildlife? Joe Michael and Ryall, Kennedy, Vincent, and Lier families and a few more who produced prime citrus and lived nearby were concerned about the future around the refuge. Joe assembled local citrus growers, commercial fishermen, sportsmen and concerned citizens, and formed in 1961 the Indian River Preservation League to stop a bad dredge & fill housing project adjacent to our nation’s first Refuge. In 1959 Florida Audubon got a lease around the refuge for 1000 acres, but this was not enough protection. Nearly two miles of waterfront property awaited development at this site. Joe wanted 422 acres that would not be dredged and filled.

Joe Michael at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.

He knew he was in for a big fight with two major developers, First Realty, Inc., of Boston, MA and Rio Corporation of Miami.  They wanted to dredge and fill around what is now known as Pete’s and Bird’s Impoundment.  In those days, the League was up against a long tradition where even state owned bottomlands were given to the closest landowners for dredging and filling their wetlands.  In fact, this was always the case especially in Miami where there was tremendous growth in the city and into the coastal wetlands.

Some of the county commissioners favored the dredging and filling, but that’s not new even today. Fortunately, women’s and other Indian River County (IRC) organizations joined the concern:

Wabasso Woman’s Club,
Woman’s Club of Vero Beach
Junior Woman’s Club of Vero Beach
Gardenia Garden Club of Sebastian
Orchid Isle Garden Club of Vero Beach
Sebastian River Inlet Conservation Club
Beach Business Bureau of Vero Beach
Rotary Club of Vero Beach
Taxpayers Association of IRC
Rod & Gun Club of IRC
IRC Farm Bureau
Sebastian City Council
Presidents Council of Vero Beach
Sebastian American Legion
Joe Michael, president of the Indian River County Farm Bureau,  was an inspirational leader who brought the community together to oppose and stop giving these bottomlands to these two large developers who proposed building the subdivision. The community leaders of the Indian River Preservation League who deserve much thanks are:

  1. R. J. Amos, President- a retired banker and citrus grower
  2. Joe W. Michael, Vice President
  3. Bill Payne, Secretary- also President of the Indian River Rod & Gun Club
  4. Dudley Clyatt, Treasurer- local Farm Bureau
  5. Ralph Peterson– Chairman of the Sebastian River Inlet Area Conservation Club
  6. Fred Harden– Nature Conservatory State secretary, formerly Mosquito Director of St. Lucie County, and later worked with Disney to develop that Disney World in an environmental way.
  7. Alma Lee Loy– community civic leader
  8. Mary Lou Durance
  9. Mrs. W. E. Orth, wife of Mr. Orth who ran a flying service
  10.  Stanley Buss
  11. Joe Egan, a major citrus grower
  12. Thomas Coxon, President of Florida Audubon and a quiet, but effective speaker
  13. Don Sembler– fisherman
  14. Stanley Carter- citrus grower who loved nature
  15. Fred Weick, Ph.D.Piper, crop dusting

Finally, on December 10, 1963, Florida’s Trustees of the Internal Improvement Board decided unanimously not to sell the property to the private developers who had applied for their approval.  Present at the meeting were representatives from state and federal agencies, Florida Audubon, Florida Nature Conservancy, The Florida Wildlife Federation, Southeastern Fishers Conference, and the League.

After being successful in stopping this development, the League chose to continue its mission to protect wildlife through advocacy, education, and public awareness by becoming a Chapter of Florida Audubon and the “Voice of Conservation” in Indian River County in April 1964, one of 500 Chapters and Centers within the National Audubon Society.  Therefore, this is our 50th Anniversary.

The U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service recognized Joe Michael on May 22, 2010 by dedicating a beautiful trail and observation platform at the Refuge located on North Jungle Trail after him . 
Pelican Island Audubon, believe it or not, is still fighting to stop dredge and fill projects on conservation lands!  The County wants to dredge out to the Intracoastal and fill of mangrove wetlands at Oslo Road Boat Ramp, which has been preserved as conservation lands, next to an aquatic preserve and bird rookery, a plan, which goes against the County’s own Manatee Protection Plan, and has the best seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon.

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