Protecting our Family, Friends, Neighbors, Water, Air, Trees, and Wildlife

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

Social distancing and staying home leads me to think about our most precious resources and how best to protect them—our family, friends, neighbors, water, air, trees, and wildlife.  Eric Sala, National Geographic Explorer, aptly says: “Every morsel of food, every sip of water, the air we breathe is the result of work done by other species. Nature gives us everything we need to survive. Without them, there is no us.”

We all can work towards saving us and our fellow species. Together, we at Pelican Island Audubon put great efforts into education, especially for our county’s fifth graders in our Audubon Advocate program.  We have two new videos on our website ( Introduction to Native Plants and Introduction to Invasive Species by our Naturalist Katheryn Nix, and Office Manager Bob Montanaro. They, along with Dr. David Cox, are producing a third video entitled: Great Birding at the Stick Marsh, where hundreds of birds are nesting, including many Rosette Spoonbills.  This, and adjacent T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area (open to the public on Thursdays) are amazing places to photograph and observe birds in winter and spring when thousands of birds occur there.  To find many of our best birding sites, consult our website.

Birds take care of us by monitoring the Earth’s health.  Just like the canary in the coal mine, their numbers and distribution tell us if all is well.  Bird data tells us that global Climate Change from excessive COis very serious and is causing sea-level rise, heating of the planet, loss of biodiversity and stronger storms. Modeling predicts the loss of 2/3 of our bird species by 2050. Let’s take care of our birds as they are taking care of us. With our grants from the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, National Audubon Society, FPL/Audubon Florida, and generous donations from you, we are obtaining more native trees and plants to give away to the public, especially to HOAs, to improve our environment.

We need your ideas to figure out how we can effectively make our environment better and get the word out to activate everyone in our county. You have many contacts. You and your contacts can be involved and help us save the world and our birds with these three projects:

1.  Trees for Life. Join our volunteers who have given away over 950 FREE native trees of 9 species. See a GPS map of all our planted trees at our website. The live oaks were reared by us from around 4,000 acorns we collected locally.  Sebastian River Farms donated winged elm, sand live oak, southern and eastern red cedar, slash pine, red maple, sycamore, and green and silver buttonwoods.  Cherry Lake Tree Farm donated the bald cypress trees. Dr. Grant Gilmore provided West Indian Mahogany and Florida Elm seedings. 

We are in the fortunate position of now having over 1,200 live oak trees and some bald cypress trees available and needing a home.   Vero Beach, Sebastian and Fellsmere City Halls and County parks have already been given or promised trees and plants. 

Do you know how to plant a tree and get it to survive for a year?  We have a NEW, very brief online course that will take you through the key steps of planting a tree: Then pass a brief six question open-book quiz, review the Trees 4 Life Pledge and sign to claim your FREE trees. Sign up online for a time to arrange to pick up your trees on your way home from your essential food shopping nearby or Call (772) 567-3520.

2.  Free Plants for Birds.  We all can plant our yards with native plants. We have given away over 600 native plants of 34 species in Indian River County. Due to COVID-19 stay-at–home orders, you might appreciate having interesting yards with nature and wildlife nearby—so emotionally pleasing, in addition to saving our Lagoon and planet by reducing fertilizer, pesticide, and water use/runoff. From the list online, let us know which ones you want!  See

3.  Plants for Ponds. Other great news is that two HOAs have contacted us about planting native plants around their stormwater ponds.  Thank you, Dr. Willian Loftus, board member and freshwater wetlands and fish expert, for the great article in this issue that outlines the problem and solution to our ponds and lakes.  So many of our ponds have sod growing up to the edge with no plants in and around the edge of the pond. This allows pollution to run right into the ponds and provides no habitat for wildlife. We are prepared to provide some of the plants in these two HOAs to increase their fish, bird, and wildlife populations.  In large ponds, we recommend putting an island of pond apple and willow trees to encourage nesting or roosting by colony bird species.  What an attraction this will be in these developments.

4. Invasive Plant Pluckers! Need outdoor exercise during this period of isolation?  Volunteer at Audubon House!  We desperately need you to help us pull up new emerging invasive air potato plants. It involves pulling and digging up the bulbils and plant. They grow 1 foot/day and cover trees! We need to get them early! Bring your face mask. We use social distancing, song, and humor. Come even for one hour! Earlier is cooler.  Call me!

Let’s restore the natural beauty of our habitats that brought us all here and keep us, our family, friends, neighbors, water, air, trees, and wildlife thriving. Make your yard a National Park!

A Website.