Nature Needs Half our Planet

The President’s Hoot 
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D. 
April 2020

Plant your “Homegrown National Park.  One of our Audubon goals is to plant 100,000 trees in our county in the next 10-15 years.  We have given away over 900 trees of 9 species—See map and our website https://pelicanislandaudubon.org/home-page/trees-for-life-map/. We are also giving away native flowers and shrubs to be planted on public and private lands to help our declining bird and insect populations. You may have time during this emergency, to plant a few native plants, shrubs, trees, flowers and food. By shrinking your lawn you can reduce water, pesticides, fertilizers! Save money and our Lagoon! Free Native trees available at our Audubon House.

However Harvard University Professor Edward O Wilson, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, says planting trees is not enough! He sees the preservation of biodiversity as essential to sustain humanity.  In his book Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, he states. “Our population is too large for safety and comfort. Fresh water is growing short, the atmosphere and the seas are increasingly polluted as a result of what has transpired on the land.”  Wilson proposes an achievable plan to save our imperiled biosphere by devoting half the surface of the Earth to nature. By identifying and preserving biodiversity hotspots, we can protect 80% of the insects, plants, animals and natural water systems to help humans survive. Currently, only 16% of the terrestrial planet is protected, and less than 8% of marine ecosystems.

To stave off the mass extinction of species, including our own, we must move swiftly to preserve the biodiversity of our planet. U.N. studies show 1 million species of plants and animals are heading toward extinction.  National Audubon finds 66% North American birds are at risk of extinction.  Climate change threatens the World’s food supply.Ocean levels are rising. At ORCA, on the preserved lands surrounding Audubon House, one can see the dying oak and palm trees—dying from saltwater entering the groundwater and penetrating the root zone of the trees. Our world’s health depends upon our cleaning up and restoring our environment.

Development is an economic backbone of our State. While jobs associated with development provide value, they also come with real costs. As we are driven by “economic growth at all costs,” we witness significant conversion of natural and agricultural lands to urban/suburban development. Let’s re-think how to live more economically, in smaller spaces, with more energy-efficient mass transit, and food production using existing developed lands.  Conservation efforts to protect the remaining natural areas of Florida for water, wildlife and human health are smart, conservative strategies.

Jim Robbins outlines plans to protect half the Earth’s land and oceans for nature (www.bbc.com/future/article/20200318-the-worlds-largest-nature-reserve).  The U.S. alone loses a football-sized field of nature every 30 seconds.  In the Brazilian Amazon more than 10 square miles of rainforest being burned or cleared every day to provide us cheap beef, soybeans and palm oil in the developed world. Our current administration has increased drilling for oil and gas on our conservation lands! Paved roads are expected to double in the next 25 years.  Our wealth and population gobbles up development and agriculture land, eliminating our existing forests and native lands.  We must figure out how to live on less land and consume fewer resources.

Florida began setting aside money to purchase public lands in 1964, first with the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF), then Land Conservation Act, allotting $200M to buy environmentally endangered lands (EEL). These efforts were followed by Conservation and Recreational Lands (CARL) program in 1979.  Between 1990-2009, $300M was devoted yearly to the Preservation 2000 and Forever Florida programs to purchase 2.5M acres of conservation lands. However, former Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature refused to fund land conservation at any meaningful funding level. Last year the program was funded at $33M, and this year at $100 M, despite the fact that in 2014, 75% of voters passed a constitution amendment to insure that ALL this tax money would go toward land conservation. It should be noted that only $86M of the $100M allocation will go towards preserving land. 

To have a viable, sustainable state, we need to get conservation acquisition back to at least $300-400M/year. Florida has around 34.7M acres of land with approximately 10.9M acres managed for conservation. Tragically, Governor DeSantis has approved using these rural conservation lands for CORES—building super-highways through our rural lands “to spur development to connect all parts of Florida!” continuing to encourage 1,000 new Florida residents a year.

Let’s get started locally to preserve the biological diversity of our Earth. Indian River County has ~321,920 acres. About 99,000 acres are under some sort of management for conservation, most of it by the St. Johns River Water Management District on lands to protect the water source of the St. Johns River.  We have twice partnered with our County to pass bond referendums to save land: $26M in 1992, $50M in 2004. Although this is impressive, we now must do much more.  Recently, through the efforts of George Glenn, PIAS Corresponding Secretary, both the Indian River County Commission and the Vero Beach City Council approved resolutions that supported full, historical funding of Florida Forever at $300 million annually. Funding land conservation is not a political issue. Progressives and conservatives across the political spectrum value preserving land.  We will again ask voters to approve a new local bond for land conservation and push our legislature to fully fund Florida Forever. 

We have much land in Indian River that needs to be preserved environmentally to stop climate change, sea-level rise, and loss of wildlife. Please call/write Gov. Ron DeSantis (800-342-3557, governorron.desantis@eog.myflorida.com), Florida Rep. Erin Grall (850-717-5954, Erin.Grall@myfloridahouse.gov), and Florida Senator Debbie Mayfield (321-409-2025, mayfield.debbie.web@flsenate.gov) to demand full funding of Florida Forever at a minimum of $300M/year. Also ask them to vote to stop the unnecessary and harmful CORES plan.Despite the Earth’s perilous condition, its biodiversity can be reclaimed.  Do we want a world without Ice?  Nature needs us to act locally while advocating globally.  Nature is why most people moved to Florida! Let’s save it!

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