Plants are critical to all life on Earth, including ours!

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

Native trees and plants are being planted in Indian River County and surrounding counties. Thank you, Parks & Conservation Resources, Indian River County (IRC) (Kevin Kirwin, Beth Powell, Wendy Swindell, Mike Redstone, Scott Seeley, Woody Mouyaga, Brandon Chadwick, Dillon Surette, and Andrew Edgcomb) for taking out an abandoned citrus grove full of Brazilian pepper and replacing them with native plants and trees at Jones’ Pier Conservation Area (https://www.ircgov.com/Departments/General_Services/Parks/Conservation/Jones_Pier.htm).  PIAS was so happy to provide volunteers and 50 southern live oak trees. This is not the first time that non-natives have been removed from a public place, but it is probably one of the places where more natives were planted in IRC. 

Volunteers at the Jones Pier Conservation Area.

At another public site, Eddie Perri, new Refuge Ranger at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge (PINWR),America’s first wildlife refuge and our chapter namesake, is partnering with PIAS in redoing their Butterfly/Pollinator Garden with some of our native plants. The same far-sighted people, who in 1960s preserved the land around Pelican Island, also started our chapter in 1964.  Ranger Perri has planted one of a number plant species in a row along Centennial Trail, each with a clearly marked ID to educate visitors.  In addition, we are working with him to replace the educational QR code signs along Centennial Trail.

Unfortunately, most people do not make a connection with our native plants.  We must educate the public about the value of plants worldwide for how they serve us and the pleasure they provide us.  At PIAS we are educating and helping our 5th grade Audubon Advocates to plant gardens at their schools to learn how plants attract important pollinator insects that are essential for our food production. 

PIAS is also partnering with Rabbi Michael Birnholz and the interfaith community to offer people the opportunity to plant one of our trees to honor a special person or in someone’s memory. To date, we have given away over 1,634 trees of nine species and 3,490 native plants of 30 species recommended for birds and butterflies by National Audubon Society, Florida Wildflower Foundation, and scientists, for public buildings and gardens, and private landscapes. To demonstrate our progress, we have GPS maps on our website showing where all trees and plants have been planted. 

Native plants along the Centennial Trail at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Dr. Doug Tallamy, keynote speaker at our 1st Conference “Transforming Landscapes for our Sustainable Future,” gave a great webinar entitled: “A Guide to the Little Things that Run the World,” on Sept 22nd sponsored by Venice Area Audubon and Audubon Florida. It is available on our website https://pelicanislandaudubon.org/2020/09/28/a-presentation-by-doug-tallamy-restoring-the-little-things-that-run-the-world/ Dr. Tallamy reported that only about 5% of the lower 48 states remains  unmodified by logging, agriculture, roads, invasive plants, and urban/suburban development! Our lands, air and water have been subject to all sorts of chemical pollution.  Because 86% of land east of the Mississippi is privately owned, Tallamy proposes restoring nature on power, pipeline, and railroad right of ways, golf courses, airports, rural and urban residential centers, roadsides, and rooftops that total 599 million acres. This is more than Vermont, New Jersey, Maine, Virginia, New York, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma, Montana, California, and Texas combined. We need more native plants because “caterpillars transfer more energy from plants to other animals than any other plant-eaters.”  Caterpillars dominate nesting diets in 16 of 20 bird families.  Without them these birds would not reproduce. Thus, we need to plant the plants that make the caterpillars.  The main reason we’ve grown and giving away 1600 Southern Live Oaks in our county is they can produce 450 species of caterpillars! In the next 50 years, Florida’s population is expected to cover another 5 million acres of our farms, forests, and unprotected green space as the human population grows.  We must learn to live with nature or perish!

World Wildlife Federation (Sept 11, 2020) says that 2/3 of wildlife has vanished since 1970. Globally nearly 16,000 plant species are at risk of extinction! How many might contribute to new medicines or grown for highly nutritious foods?  Plants are critical to our birds, ourselves, and all animals on our planet.  Planting Coontie cycads brought back the Atala butterfly when some thought it was extinct. We need to love and protect plants  just as we do our animals and humans.  We must get involved in saving our plants from going extinct.  

Many of our natives plants are beautiful and enrich our quality of life. Plants are critical in our ecosystems by providing food (fruits & vegetables), climate-change reduction through carbon absorption,  and they clean the water we drink and air we breathe. Because of our changing climate, and increasing development of houses, and roads, many plants are going extinct.    

We can save our native trees and plants by reviving our county’s land-acquisition efforts. Alachua County, Florida, now has a program called Turf SWAP where, through grants, they are matching homeowners up to $15,000 to replace their turf with native plants. We should do that here. We need smart homeowners to provide critical habitat and not lawns of turf to save our planet. Stop clear cutting trees to build homes. If we in the US reduced our lawns by at least 50%, we would have 20 million acres of a “Home-grown National Park”—larger than the Adirondacks, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Tetons, Canyonlands, Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Badlands, Olympic, Sequoia, Grand Canyon Denali, and Great Smoky Mountains combined!

To enhance our county’s bird and wildlife habitats, we need you and your neighbors planting native plants in towns and suburbs to soak up carbon dioxide and rain. Trees filter and absorb polluted runoff, stabilize our canal banks, and improve our soil. Trees absorb and clean stormwater and reduce flooding and sea-level rise. We can make it work.  We all have an obligation to save this planet.

Plants and Birds can’t vote, so we must be their voice in the coming election!

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