Two Great Opportunities to Help

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

First – Our Audubon House. We have come a long way with our Audubon House construction. From the photographs see how far! If you would like to come to see the work in progress, call me at 772-567-3520 to arrange for an informal tour. We will have a grand opening when done!

Audubon House will be a gateway to nature, our first real office and activity center in 50 years of service to the community. Our center will allow us to train volunteer environmental stewards for nearly 10,000 acres of county conservation lands and work with the community to reduce pollution in our Lagoon and rivers. This vital new resource for environmental outreach and education efforts is located on Oslo Road (195 9th St. SE), next to the University of Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory and surrounded by the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area, (ORCA), 440 acres of different habitats.

Audubon House will provide many opportunities for you to give your ideas, advocate for the Lagoon, and help with citizen science like monitoring birds (through the Christmas bird count, Eagle Watch, Jay Watch, Blue Cypress osprey nest count, and other programs); assist with Boy Scout merit badges and square foot gardens; help define indicators of social, economic, and environmental quality; plant trees; lead field trips, and suggest and enjoy program speakers. Now, with your help, we have a real center in which to meet and to run school and adult environmental education programs and activities including birding classes, attracting birds to back yards, turning lawns into diverse habitats and creating butterfly gardens.

Progress: Audubon House’s novel design of two ‘bird houses’ joined together and turned into classroom and meeting space will allow us to do so much more to teach about and protect the Indian River County land, water and wildlife we love so much. These dynamic programs will be directed from a small area for offices including space for ORCA volunteers.

Still to finish: interior and exterior painting, installing insulation and doors, finishing the parking lot, and putting in our native plant and butterfly gardens. Also furnishings: install computer equipment, projector and large-size screen, desks, tables and chairs; everything that will make our classroom a living, breathing learning center, and teaching space for 50-70 people.

Audubon has received much community support to build the center. When we started this project campaign in 2007 we raised $212,903. In addition, local businesses provided $175,000 in in-kind services. But the land purchase and increases in building and material expenses were unanticipated. The current estimate to finish the building is another $100,000. Our July 2014 appeal thankfully brought in $34,460 from 88 generous members, which was matched by an anonymous donor who will continue to match dollar for dollar up to $60,000. Those who have not yet donated, please help complete our new education building! Every single contribution, no matter how modest, makes a real difference, and we very much welcome gifts made to honor the memories of your loved ones.

Audubon House classroom, left, and PIAS office, right, under construction.

Second – STOP the Dredging of Sea Grasses at Oslo. Judge D.R. Alexander, presiding at our recent Oslo boat ramp administrative hearing, ruled against our petition. He believes you can mitigate anything, even when clear evidence from Dr. Grant Gilmore, foremost Ichthyologist (fish scientist) on the Indian River Lagoon, told him that Spotted Seatrout, Red Drum, Snook, and Tarpon are very particular about their spawning and nursery grounds. Larvae of all those species need specific habitats before developing into the fish we catch and eat. Only a few places in the Lagoon meet those needs even when there are lush seagrass and mangroves elsewhere. The fish recognize those areas even if humans cannot. For reasons unknown to science, these fish have chosen just this spot, as Dr. Gilmore calls it, a “fishery gold mine around Oslo Road!” .

There are some areas that just need to be conserved. Period. And this is one of them. We humans have altered the great majority of our county’s natural habitat in the pursuit of progress. ORCA is one precious area to preserve in Florida.

Fortunately, the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) decided not to fund the million-dollar project, but County Commissioner O’Bryan was reported saying he’d use taxpayer’s funds! While the Judge did not get it, FIND commissioners realized that this harmful, costly dredge and fill project neither helps our Lagoon recovery nor supports our fishing, shellfish, and tourist industries, our bird, manatee, dolphin, and fish populations, our kids’ future, or our economy.

What can you do to protect this world-class habitat? Help keep this issue before the county commission with phone calls, letters or appearances before the County Commission. For excellent background info, underwater videos, sample talking points and letters, and where to write, please visit the PIAS website:

I have run out of reasons why the county commission is doing this!!! If you know or want to help us stop this, please call me at 772-567-3520. We’ll also be launching a petition shortly, so please stay tuned.

Thank you.  

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