Preserving, conserving, and restoring the native plants and native plant communities of Florida.



homepage

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

No Funding for Land Conservation is a Legislative Insult to Voters


Are you one of the 4.2 million voters who supported Amendment 1 in the last election? If so, did you believe a primary purpose of the funding was to finance the purchase of additional natural areas as a way to help protect our water resources, wildlife, rivers, beaches and scenic vistas? The Florida legislature doesn’t believe that is what voters actually had in mind when 75% of them voted for passage of Amendment 1.

Is there another way to explain why the House and Senate budgets include NOTHING for the purchase of land through the Florida Forever Program? Our will as voters is essentially being preempted by the people we pay to represent us in Tallahassee! Unless you like being slapped in the face, let's stop this disenfranchisement once and for all.

$20 million to the Kissimmee River Restoration
project (which is 85% complete) is terrific, but
unacceptable as a budgetary substitute for
Florida Forever project funding.
The Senate budget currently proposes to allocate $2 million to purchase conservation easements. The more “generous” House budget would spend $10 million to purchase conservation easements. Neither chamber proposes to allocate ANYTHING for the purchase of lands that would add to our system of state parks, state forests and wildlife management areas.

Don’t be fooled by smoke and mirrors, like the proposed allocation of $20 million to purchase lands along the Kissimmee River in order to complete restoration of the river. It’s a good project that has been in progress for years and deserves to be funded... but it has nothing to do with Florida Forever.

Amendment 1 requires, in simple-to-understand language, that 33% of annual documentary stamp tax revenues must be dedicated to land and water conservation. Most of us interpreted that to mean a substantial amount of the funding would support the protection of natural areas through the purchase of land. Those revenues are projected to total well over $700 million in the first year alone. Both the Senate and House propose to spend millions to cover existing agency operating costs and fund expensive water supply projects, and NOTHING for Florida Forever.

Contact your Representative, Senator, and
any or all of the politicians listed below to
tell them what you think of the way they've
proposed to spend Amendment 1 funds!
The Legislature’s unwillingness to heed the will of the voters is unconscionable. The overwhelming passage of Amendment 1 is an irrefutable testament to the love Floridians have of their natural areas and the concern we have for their future. Please contact the House and Senate leadership this week and tell them what you think about their budget proposals (contact information is provided at the bottom of this blog). If you can, please take the time to contact your own Representative and Senator as well. Some statements you might want to include in your letters/e-mails:
  • The first year of Amendment 1 spending should allocate at least $350 million for the acquisition of approved Florida Forever projects. That amounts to less than half of first-year revenues!
  • The time for debating whether the people of Florida support additional land purchases has passed. You knew what you were voting for when you voted to pass Amendment 1.
  • Amendment 1 was called the Water and Land Legacy Amendment for a reason. Sewage treatment plants and water supply projects are important, but they aren’t the legacy for future generations that we had in mind on Election Day. Rivers and springs clean enough for swimming and fishing; parks and forests where people can recreate and enjoy nature; beaches where our children can play. THAT is the kind of legacy we want to enjoy for ourselves and leave for those who come after us. 

Top Priority Contacts:

Senate

Senate President Andy Gardiner (Orlando)
Capitol: (850) 487-5229
District: (407) 428-5800
Email: gardiner.andy@flsenate.gov

Senate Budget Chairman Tom Lee (Brandon)
Capitol: (850) 487-5024
District: (813) 653-7061
Email: lee.tom@flsenate.gov

Senate General Government Appropriations Committee Chair Alan Hays (Umatilla)
Capitol: (850) 487-5011
District: (352) 742-6441
Email: hays.alan@flsenate.gov

Senate Budget Vice-Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto (Ft Myers)
Capitol: (850) 487-5030
District: (239) 338-2570
Email: benacquisto.lizbeth@flsenate.gov

House

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (Merritt Island)
Capitol: (850) 488-1450
District: (321) 449-5111
Email: steve.crisafulli@myfloridahouse.gov

House Budget Chairman Richard Corcoran (Lutz)
Capitol: (850) 717-5037
District: (813) 792-5177
Email: richard.corcoran@myfloridahouse.gov

House Ag and Natural Resources Appropriations Chair Ben Albritton (Wauchula)
Capitol: (850) 717-5056
District: (863) 534-0073
Email: ben.albritton@myfloridahouse.gov

House Budget Vice-Chairman Jim Boyd (Bradenton)
Capitol: (850) 717-5071
District: (941) 708-4968
Email: jim.boyd@myfloridahouse.gov

Other Important Contacts:

Senator Joe Negron (Stuart)
Capitol: (850) 487-5032
District: (772) 219-1665
Email: negron.joe@flsenate.gov

Senator Denise Grimsley (Sebring)
Capitol: (850) 487-5021
District: (863) 386-6016
Email: grimsley.denise@flsenate.gov

Senator Charlie Dean (Inverness)
Capitol: (850) 487-5005
District: (352) 860-5175
Email: dean.charles@flsenate.gov

Senator Wilton Simpson (Trilby)
Capitol: (850) 487-5018
District: (352) 540-6074
Email: simpson.wilton@flsenate.gov

Vice-Chair of Senate General Government Appropriations Sen. Oscar Braynon (Miami Gardens)
Capitol: (850) 487-5036
District: (305) 654-7150
Email: braynon.oscar@flsenate.gov

Vice-Chair of House Ag and Nat. Resources Appropriations Rep. Ray Pilon (Sarasota)
Capitol: (850) 717-5072
District: (941) 955-8077
Email: ray.pilon@myfloridahouse.gov

Rep. Greg Steube (Sarasota)
Capitol: (850) 717-5073
District: (941) 341-3117
Email: greg.steube@myfloridahouse.gov
---
Posted by Laurie Sheldon 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Legislative Update to the F.N.P.S. 2015 Session, Weeks 1 and 2

By the F.N.P.S. Policy and Legislation Committee

Conservation research on the recovery of
Florida Ziziphus (Ziziphus celata) is one of
the projects that this grant previously funded
Native Plant Conservation Funds

In drafting the Senate legislation to restructure trust funds to implement Amendment 1 (SB 584), the termination of the CARL Program Trust Fund within Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) has created the unintended consequence of eliminating the $250,000 annual transfer from the DEP CARL Trust Fund to the DACS Plant Industry Trust Fund for the Endangered or Threatened Native Flora Conservation Grants program. FNPS lobbyist Sue Mullins met with DACS and DEP officials about the unfortunate by-product of this bill, and will meet with House Budget Chair Albritton to rectify the situation. We originally had $300,000 in our budget line item for the program, of which we expect to restore at least $250,000.

The bill restructures the trust funds to implement the constitutional requirement that documentary stamp taxes directed for environmental purposes must not be commingled with the General Revenue Fund and ensures that these revenues are not commingled with other revenue sources and can be tracked from distribution to expenditure. The bill terminates certain trust funds, including CARL, currently receiving documentary stamp tax revenue intended for expenditure on environmental programs.

Water

The House passed its water resources bill, HB 7003 by a
vote of 106-9 in Week 1 and sent the bill to the Senate. The bill offers very little for conservation or pollution reduction, and instead focuses on some controversial proposals related to the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee. It combines the Lake O phosphorous pollution control programs with the lake’s Basin Management Action Plan adopted under federally-mandated water quality laws, and preempts the use of a long-standing existing rule that could be used by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to set specific limits on pollution entering state waters. Its approach to Lake Okeechobee also centers on shifting more of the blame and burden to the federal government for the scheduled release of water into the lake.
 
Historic water flow in the Everglades ecosystem:
Lake Okeechobee collected water from the
northern Everglades region, which flowed into
the Everglades of the south. Today, this path
has been greatly altered and polluted, leading
to a host of environmental problems.

The Senate is continuing to work on its land and water bill, SB 918. The bill introduces springs legislation similar to what passed the Senate last year, which was to change water policy that determines when the minimum flow or level of spring water bodies were too low to be viable, as well as provide some progressive pollution control measures. The bill addresses water project funding by creating a new statewide Water Resource Advisory Committee that will give preference to water projects that have a measurable impact on improving water quality or water quantity, those in areas of greatest impairment, those of state or regional significance, those recommended by multiple districts or multiple local governments, those with significant monetary commitment from local or private sponsors, and those that are in rural areas of opportunity. FNPS considers this is a critical element of the bill.

The Senate bill does not include the Everglades or Lake Okeechobee provisions that the House bill contains. FNPS worked extensively with Senate staff on this legislation, specifically to set up the criteria for water project funding that would narrow the kinds of local projects eligible for A1 funds. We know from leadership in both chambers that some A1 dollars will inevitably be directed towards water projects, so the bill was crafted to try to make only those projects that are environmentally beneficial be eligible for funding from Amendment 1 dollars.

FNPS’ primary concern remains with the House’s approach to funding a majority of water projects with A1 dollars. Our estimate is that the FY 2015-2016 request is $1,196,953,572, which is much more than the estimated $757 million projected for doc stamp revenues this year and poses a serious risk that a major portion of the A1 dollars will be devoted to local “pipe and pump” water projects.

Amendment 1 Implementation 


Above: Tate's Hell State Forest, a Florida Forever project.
Florida Forever is the country's premier conservation,
water supply protection, and recreation lands acquisition
program. Investing in these resources is critical to
ensuring water quality and quantity, preserving working
lands, protecting wildlife, providing recreational outlets,
and improving the quality of life for all Floridians.
The Senate introduced its policy framework for Amendment 1 implementation. SB 586 is now out along with the legislation released in January that made “structural” changes to implement Amendment 1. Based on the December 2014 Revenue Estimating Conference, 33 percent of documentary stamp funding will amount to $757.7 million. SB 586 keeps existing programs including Florida Forever and the Rural and Family Lands program, as well as more funding for land management.

In the 2014-15 General Appropriations Act, the Legislature appropriated more than $3.5 billion to environmental programs. Currently, approximately 20% of documentary stamp tax revenues ($470.8 million) are distributed under s. 201.15, F.S., to trust funds supporting environmental programs. The legislation maintains existing documentary stamp tax distributions to affordable housing, transportation and economic development at their current effective percentages, however, as a result of the 33% distribution to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund required by the constitution, there will be less doc stamp revenue to distribute to the various other trust funds and General Revenue.

All legislative leaders and the Governor made reference to Amendment 1 on opening day of Session March 3. In his address to the House, Speaker Crisafulli said that while the intention of Amendment 1 is good, there is more to good stewardship than buying more land. “Buying up land that we cannot care for, that falls into disrepair or becomes a breeding ground for harmful invasive species is not a legacy that I am interested in leaving,” Crisafulli said. FNPS is already acting to counter claims that Florida’s existing public conservation lands are mismanaged. We are uniquely positioned to know how mistaken this claim is given the continuing role our members play on Land Management Review teams. FNPS is working with DEP to make a presentation to both the House and Senate on the state of Florida’s land management efforts, which are laudable given the limited resources made available to land management agencies. What other state can claim the number of awards our State Park system has received?

The Florida Water and Land
Conservation Amendment (A1)
was approved in November 2014
by 75% of the state's voters.

Senate President Andy Gardiner stressed the need for transparency in how the Amendment 1 money is spent and about the need to address water policy and land management in his opening day remarks. Gardiner has been a proponent of spending money on bike trails including the Coast-to-Coast Connector across Central Florida. “It’s not just the water — it’s the maintaining of these lands,” Gardiner said. “It’s the access for the public to those lands … as well as ecotourism, which I have talked about with bike trails.”

Sugar Land

The final impediment to implementing A1 as intended by voters may be the looming deadline of October 12, 2015 to purchase 26,100 acres of land owned by U.S. Sugar Corp. in the Everglades. The purchase is estimated to cost at least $350 million. The additional land is needed to store water during the rainy season and eliminate harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and provide water supply for the natural system. The SFWMD has the opportunity through a legal option to purchase a 46,800-acre parcel of land optimally located south of Lake Okeechobee, which is touted by Everglades advocates as a cost effective water storage solution to help solve Florida's water crisis. Advocates of this approach include the 56-strong-organization Everglades Coalition, and several SE Florida local governments.


Harvesters cutting sugar cane on U.S. Sugar Corp. land
In a strange alignment of allies and skirmishes, rival sugar company Florida Crystals Corp. is pushing back against the coalition of Everglades and local government advocates who are now running TV ads to use A1 dollars for the purchase of U.S. Sugar property south of Lake Okeechobee, by saying such an effort could “derail” ongoing Everglades improvement projects.

Tension has long existed between Florida Forever advocates and Everglades restoration advocates over environmental spending with limited dollars. The fact that there are $757 million on the table this year for the environment via Amendment 1 exacerbates that tension.

Growth Management 


The D.R.I. review process would be eliminated by SB562
Two bills sponsored by Senate Community Affairs Chairman Wilton Simpson that would alter the responsibility local governments have in approving large developments unanimously passed through the Senate Community Affairs Committee on March 10. SB 562 eliminates the older process of reviewing developments of regional impact (DRIs). The sponsor said it won't bring an end to the scrutiny of large projects, but it will have the effect of taking that review away from the state's 11 regional planning councils. Simpson’s bill would instead put DRI-sized developments through the state "coordinated review" known as sector planning that applies to other major developments. This process allows state agencies to study and comment on plans. SB 484, also sponsored by Simpson, does in fact eliminate the state’s 11 Regional Planning Councils and reassigns their duties to other state agencies or subdivisions, including the review of developments of regional impact. There are valid concerns that as presently written, these bills would further weaken what little is left of Florida’s growth management laws.
Legislative Monitoring

FNPS will continue to track these bills on your behalf, and seek ways to influence their modification or withdrawal.

---

Post, hyperlinks and images by Laurie Sheldon

Friday, March 13, 2015

Know Before You Grow: All Lantanas Are NOT Created Equal

Webpage of big-box store selling Lantana camara

By Laurie Sheldon


Lantana camara, commonly known as lantana and/or shrub verbena, can (unfortunately) be found throughout the state of Florida. It is a Category 1 invasive species, according to the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. Category 1 species are defined as

"Invasive exotics that are altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives. This definition does not rely on the economic severity or geographic range of the problem, but on the documented ecological damage caused."

These plants are being marketed as "Flowers for Florida" and sold at many big-box home improvement stores. DO NOT BE FOOLED by this rather deceptive advertising. Although they do GROW in Florida, they are in no way FOR Florida.

 

Lantana montevidensis (left), sometimes referred to as "trailing shrubverbena," is another non-native species. Its flowers are pink or lilac with long (8-20mm) corolla tubes.



Fear not - there ARE some native Lantana species which you can plant with confidence in your home landscape! Among these are...

Lantana canescens
Native to the Dade County area, this upright plant has white flowers borne in dense axillary spikes.
Lantana depressa 
Another Dade County native. Unlike L. canescens, its growth is prostrate or decumbent
(it stays low to the ground) and has solid yellow flowers.
 Lantana involucrata
This species grows in the coastal regions of south and central Florida.
Its flowers are white and borne in flat-topped, sometimes involucrate heads.

I hope that you'll remember this brief rundown of Florida's native and non-native Lantana species the next time you're out shopping for plants. Happy gardening!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Tidiness Dilemma

 By Devon Higginbotham

They were driving me nuts!  I have a couple dead Pecan trees in my yard and periodically they drop large dead limbs with gobs of moss.  It’s been a long time since I have seen a green leaf on either of them.  The wood is decayed and crumbly so it’s not difficult to collect the fallen limbs (there are no branches left) but I was dying to chop them down.

Last month, as I lugged another fallen limb to the trash, I looked at one trunk that had slowly dwindled down to 20 ft in height. There is a hole at the base of the tree large enough for a family of hobbits to pass through.  The interior is dark and mysterious and I envisioned a raccoon charging out, obviously very inconvenienced by my snooping into his home, but all I saw was darkness.  No one seemed home.   I suppose it’s time to get rid of them.  My neighbors had been quietly asking the same question.  “Why is she keeping those behemoths?  What an eyesore!”

So I thought, “It’s time to take them down!”  I made a mental note to call my neighbor, Jerry, the next day and have him push them over with his tractor and drag the hulking masses of decaying wood to the trash.  I would be rid of them!  My yard would be tidy once again.

But, the next day, while walking past one dead trunk (that’s all that’s left), I heard the rat-a-tat-tat of a Woodpecker.  Looking up I saw the shy creature as he slipped around to the backside out of view.  I suppose the Woodpeckers are still finding insects in the wood, but the trunks look so dead!  The Woodpeckers will find food in other trees!
Last week, as I listened to Shari Blisset-Clark talk about Florida Forest Bats, she described how bats spend the day in hiding in hollow trees and craggy bark and I thought about the Pecan snags in my yard, ideal habitat for sleepy bats.  “Maybe”, I thought, “I should let them linger”.  The bark was perfect for slumbering creatures and the gaping hole in the trunk must already be home to multiple species of wildlife, even though I don’t see them.

Then today, as I tidied my yard, I heard the distinct call of the Red-shouldered Hawk.  Looking up I caught a glimpse of two hawks mating at the very top of one of the snags!  “Yeah”, I thought, “the snags are staying”!
---
posted by Laurie Sheldon

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Gallus Quigley: A Subdivision Apart


Minneola, Florida, resident Gallus Quigley has gone native - and he’s persuaded his whole neighborhood to join him. Like many people, Quigley lives in a subdivision. The landscaping in such communities usually isn’t very enticing to birds, but Quigley wanted to change things up when he bought his home in October 2009. He envisioned a wildlife refuge of native plants.

The problem was how to get his neighbors to go along with it. Quigley became involved in the homeowners’ association that governed the subdivision, was elected secretary, and fnally persuaded the association to embrace native plants for future landscaping. It took more than two years of work, and it helped that Quigley could show other homeowners how he had successfully landscaped his own yard with native plants.

“Seeing something new makes it less scary,” he says.

Quigley explained to the other homeowners the benefts of native plants, such as less water use, lower maintenance costs, and more pollinators for vegetable gardens.

“The best part is that now the community has a unique entrance,” he says. “It isn’t like every other subdivision in the area.”

After some back-and-forth, Gallus Quigley convinced his
homeowner’s association to embrace native plants. Photo © Gallus Quigley
Quigley’s experience shows how one individual can change a whole community, one yard at a time. He says: “You just need to invest a little time and passion into it.”
---
Gallus Quigley works for Lake County as a land steward

Article from the May “Conservation and Community” issue of American Birding Association magazine; reprinted with permission

posted by Laurie Sheldon

Monday, February 23, 2015

Flagler Library Embraces Native Landscape

By Joan Bausch
Florida Native Plant Society
Martin County Chapter


A hearty "good job" to the Flagler Beach Library community and director, Ruth Young, for their initiative to subtract lawn and add Florida native plants at the library on 7th Street  (just west of A1A,  south of Route 100). Their efforts are noticed and welcome. Thank you Ruth and your collaborators!

Visiting in Flagler Beach in December, I found that the library there had installed some really nice natives to kick off of their goal of eliminating "lawn" care. I reached out Sonya Guidry, Paw paw Chapter Rep, and eventually recieved an email from Ruth Young, Library Director.

“With funds from our annual book sale, and the help of two special people, a local man who likes not to be recognized, Art Woosley, and MaryLou Baiata (now deceased), a local landscape business owner, this vision became a reality. Art did most of the work, with a little help from a few others. MaryLou was generous with her expertise and discounted prices on trees, plants and mulch. This was definitely a project of lots of labor and love. Please stop in if you are in the area sometime. Sincerely, Ruth Young, Director”

Sonya responded “...sounds as though we should make Flagler Beach Library part of a Flagler area Landscape tour.  Thanks for plugging a good deed well done!"

When you visit Flagler Beach, take a walk out along the natural Betty Steflick Memorial walkway that leads directly from the library to the greenway along the Intracoastal Waterway. You'll be delighted with this lovely natural area!
---
posted by Laurie Sheldon

Monday, February 2, 2015

Meet the New Officers of The Villages Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society!


By Karina Veaudry

New Villages Chapter Officers!
Inaugural Meeting

On Friday, January 30th, Steve Turnipseed, inaugural President, led The Villages Chapter inaugural meeting.  Steve had signed up interested persons through website and newspaper publicity ads and we were expecting 30 to 40 people.  By the start of the meeting, 162 people had filed in and we scrambled to set up enough chairs.  It was standing room only!  Within the first 15 minutes, a VP of Programs, VP of Field Trips, Secretary, Treasurer and Chapter Representative were confirmed.  Steve is a strong leader with excellent communication skills.  He has already given tasks and they are on their way to opening a bank account, etc. – and they have the next 4 months speakers recommended and are lining them up.  This chapter will be very successful.

I talked about the history of the FNPS, its mission, typical chapter meeting format, chapter initiatives, field trips, membership dues format, conference information, existing committees and their work, our research and conservation grants, landscape awards, etc.  Nancy Dwyer, President of the Sumter County chapter sent well wishes and Taryn Evans of the Marion Big Scrub Chapter attended the meeting and delivered a greeting and short presentation.

Not only did were officers and members secured, the new chapter had its first program with two speakers. The crowd was both energetic and enthusiastic.

New Memberships

150 membership forms were passed out.   We should expect the new membership forms to start arriving (online and mail-in paper form).  Steve has directed the Officers to join online so that he can record their membership number on the Chapter Approval Form and get it turned in before the BOD meeting on Saturday.  He will submit that form with the names and contact information of all the officers to the appropriate statewide officers and administrators by Friday, February 6th.

The house was packed!

Moving Forward


Devon Higginbotham, Kim Zarillo and Jonnie Spitler (State Finance and Treasury Officers) have already contacted the new chapter leaders and introduced themselves and will be assisting them in 501c3 (or not) set up. Anne Cox, FNPS President, will be attending a meeting within the next several months.

Steve Turnipseed, Villages Chapter President, and Susan, his wife, may be at the B.O.D. retreat at Archbold next weekend.  Please make sure to meet and greet them!

---

posted by Laurie Sheldon

Thursday, December 18, 2014

FNPS Annual Fund Drive


Live Oak seedling
By Devon Higgenbotham

Have you ever planted a young Live Oak or Hickory knowing you might never it see reach maturity?
In this age of instant gratification, too often we want results today, but in 1980 the founders of the Florida Native Plant Society had the foresight to start an organization that would outlive them.
"Too old to plant trees for my own gratification I shall do it for posterity."
said Thomas Jefferson, age 83.
The Florida Native Plant Society was started by individuals that were looking into the future and planning for an organization that would grow and provide benefits to all Floridians for many years.  We have been handed the benefits of their foresight, the full grown shade tree that was planted years ago, perhaps before we were around.

We in turn have the responsibility to nurture this organization for the generations that will come after us, keep it healthy and leave it stronger than when we found it. 

This is the time of year for our Annual Fund Drive which provides vital resources for outreach, conservation awards, education, land management and the continuation of our promotion of Florida native plants.  Help us to grow!

Please respond generously to the Annual fund Drive.  Your donation will ensure future generations will enjoy a stronger, more vibrant FNPS.  Do it for posterity!

Mature Live Oak

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Helen Roth: Amazing Florida Land Steward

By Arlo H. Kane, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Welcome to Spring Canyon LLC in Gadsden County, a 100-acre property owned by Helen and Tom Roth. This beautiful property is home to steephead ravines and longleaf pine-wire grass sandhills. Helen has traced the history of the property through property records and aerial photographs back to 1926 near the end of the turpentine era. In 1960, the land was donated to the First Baptist Church of Greensboro. The church put in a dam on Crooked Creek to create a small lake in the center of the property. Fire was excluded from the uplands during their ownership. Helen’s brother, Mark Bane, bought the property in 1993 and began working with the Forest Stewardship Program in 1994. He harvested the hardwoods from two of the three upland areas and applied prescribed fire to one of the areas be- fore he passed away in 2005 and the property passed to Mark and Helen’s father.

Helen Roth, owner and manager of Spring Canyon
In 2008, Helen and Tom purchased the land from her father and entered the Forest Stewardship Program. At that time, the one upland area that had been cleared and burned was in good shape and so it became Helen’s reference area for what the rest of the uplands should look like. In the areas that had been cleared but not burned, natural regeneration of longleaf pine had occurred, but the encroaching hardwoods were head high. Helen was able to get a contractor to come in and conduct a prescribed burn in 2011. She quickly learned that the fire helped control small hardwood saplings that were invading the uplands, but it did not control the larger hardwoods enough to open up the habitat.

Before the brush clearing project
Helen’s goal for the property is to restore and maintain the longleaf pine-wiregrass uplands that will ultimately maintain healthy steephead ravines and provide good wildlife habitat. In 2012, Helen entered the Working Lands for Wildlife Program operated by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Working Lands for Wildlife Program is focused on creating and restoring habitat for gopher tortoises. Helen was awarded a contract for 26.5 acres of brush management and prescribed burning. The upland sandhills were divided into 3 treatment areas and work on clearing brush and trees up to 6 inches in diameter began in the summer of 2013. Using a battery operated chainsaw, she and a volunteer cleared the first 8.5 acres by October of that year. By January 2014, they had cleared another 14 acres. In March 2014, the first burn on the three upland areas was conducted and Helen became a certified prescribed burn manager. The final 4 acres of brush management was finished in August 2014.

Since the completion of the brush management, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of gopher tortoises and fox squirrels using the property. New burrows are appearing and inactive burrows are being re-activated. The endangered Gholson's Gayfeather (Liatris gholsonii) is one of many wildflowers exploding across the now open sandhill habitat, and the wiregrass has begun to recover after years of excessive shade and fire exclusion. To say the transformation has been spectacular is an understatement. One has to see the property to believe the change.

After the brush clearing
Helen loves to use the property to educate other landowners and those interested in Florida’s natural areas. Over the years she has led tours for the Florida Native Plant Society and the North American Butterfly Association and will soon host the Florida Trails Association. She has been visited by a number of university professors and researchers who have come to study the plants, wildlife, and ravines on her property. Much of what she has learned about the plants on the property she learned from members of the Florida Native Plant Society. She labels plants as people identify them so she is able to observe them throughout the seasons. This is a great way to learn how to identify plants whether in flower or not. Her philosophy has been that you need to learn the plants on your property so you know which ones are most vulnerable and need protection and which ones are invasive and need to be removed to protect the native habitat. She encourages other landowners to get involved with their local native plant society chapter and begin learning the plants on their property. The more you learn, the more you will enjoy your property.

If you would like to visit Spring Canyon and see this beautiful property for yourself, there will be a Forest Stewardship tour scheduled for Spring 2015. Details will be an upcoming issue of the Florida Land Steward newsletter.

---
posted by Laurie Sheldon

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

November Board and Council Meeting at Disney Wilderness Preserve


By Laurie Sheldon


We got lost on our way, but finally made it to the Disney Wilderness Preserve late Friday afternoon. A quintet of wild turkeys ushered us in as we navigated along Scrub Jay Trail en route to the Conservation Learning Center. Petra Royston showed us the lovely room that the Board and Council would be using on Saturday for our meetings, then handed us a map and pointed out where our accommodations were, noting the trails nearby. After dropping off what we'd brought for the business portion of our trip, the eight of us piled into the two vehicles capable of driving on the unpaved road to the "dorm" we were staying in without getting stuck. "Dorm," as it turned out, was code for a double-wide trailer that had once served as the Preserve's offices. It had several rooms of beds, some bunked, a small kitchen, two bathrooms at the end of the hallway (one labeled "ladies" and one labeled "guests"), and two gathering areas with kitschy and unusual knick-knacks (among these were a centrifuge, a plastic horse statuette, and a candle carved into a tiki man). It was no Four Seasons, but for $20 a night we were more than satisfied.

We entered the trailer and called dibs on beds then went about getting settled in. A few people went to the grocery store, and the rest of us remained at the Preserve. I decided to make the most of the remaining hour of sunlight and headed out to the red trail loop, along which I was told I might see some scrub jays. The trail was not lengthy, but the sand under foot made a brisk walk nearly impossible. As I plugged along, however, one of the positive attributes of sand became quickly apparent: its ability to record tracks! Over the next two days I found wild turkey tracks, raccoon tracks, deer tracks, and the tracks of what looked like a large cat. Exciting!


I meandered through a landscape of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) and  bluestem (Andropogon sp.) freckled yellow and purple with goldenrod (Solidago sp.), silkgrass (Pityopsis sp.), gayfeather (Liatris sp.), and chaffhead (Carphephorus sp.) until it got dark. Suddenly, a voice shouted out from just behind me. It belonged to Richard Brownscombe, who seemed to appear out of nowhere. I waited for him to catch up and we walked the main grade back to the dorm together, both of us visibly excited to be staying in such a beautiful place.

Back at the dorm, the whole gang stuffed their faces, chatted about everything from politics to plants and pop culture, and, one by one, wandered off to bed.

By 10 o'clock the next morning the Education Center had filled up with members from all over the state. Anne Cox, F.N.P.S. President, pointed out a poster that I had drawn by hand and pinned up on one side of the room. It depicted our organization graphically - as composite flower - and will be featured in the upcoming Sabal Minor (so keep your eyes peeled). "It is the first org chart we've had in a long time," Anne said, "and isn't it beautiful!?"
Next Marlene Rodak shared some exciting outreach news. After noticing that the staff at most big box nurseries were unable to identify which of the plants on their shelves were native, she enlisted the financial help of the Lee County I.F.A.S. Extension office and had Mastertag produce native plant tags. With the nurseries' permission, Marlene has regularly gone in and placed a tag in each of the native plants they have in stock. Nice work!

Richard Brownscombe spearheaded
Initiative Group 1's meeting
Our guest speaker, Russ Hoffman, then took the floor with a presentation about Ecopsychology. For a detailed account of his lecture, click HERE. We broke for a fabulous potluck lunch at around noon, then started the business portion of the day.

While the Board met inside of the Educational Center, Council members broke out into their initiative groups: (1) promoting landscaping with native plants, (2) enhancing educational field trips, and (3) developing strategies & advocacy for land use planning to address habitat loss. Several hours later, the Council and Board adjourned for the day, and Nature Conservancy staff member Petra Royston took us on a guided swamp buggy tour of the Preserve.

The buggy placed us just high enough to see over the scrub and truly take in the magnificent landscape. Petra gave us some background about the Preserve while we rode. Apparently it encompasses 12,000 acres, the initial portion of which was donated by Disney to mitigate for expansion. With the help of the Nature Conservancy's team of ecologists, the property has been restored to what is believed to be its original state. Non-native, invasive species have been eliminated, fire-dependent habitats are maintained with controlled burns, and excessive scrub and trees are removed mechanically.

View from the swamp buggy
Petra with the artificial nesting box
We passed by a few atmospheric monitoring stations, all of which looked like giant erector sets, and several active Red-cockaded woodpecker nests. These birds are endangered in Florida, partly because of their very specific habitat requirements: they make their cavities in old growth longleaf pines, which were logged here extensively for many years. Petra also showed us an artificial nesting cavity that has been used successfully in areas without older trees.

We caught the beginning of sunset from the buggy, then winded our way back to the Education Center. Everyone but the overnight crew hurried back to their respective homes throughout Florida. Those of us who were sleeping on site ate potluck leftovers for dinner and enjoyed each other's company for another evening.

Sunset from the swamp buggy
After a short hike Sunday morning, we all pitched in and returned to dorm to the state it was in when we arrived. Then we said our goodbyes and got on the road. After dropping off Marjorie Shropshire, Anne and I spotted a gopher tortoise in the middle of a busy south Florida intersection. I hopped out of the car and grabbed it, then started walking and looking for a burrow to return it to. With no hole in sight, I got back into Anne's truck and put the tortoise at my feet, where it promptly crawled under me and hit the bar to move my seat backwards, then defecated several times on the floor. Oy! Anne drove to a nearby natural area and pulled over to the side of the road, at which point I carried the tortoise across the street and into the woods while it urinated on my leg. I'll end this story on the following note: you can take a F.N.P.S. member out of a Preserve, but you can't take the preservation instinct out of a F.N.P.S. member.