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


Friday, August 7, 2015

Finding Native “Apples” in Florida

The Story of a Field Trip Leader who Just Wouldn’t Give Up

By Sande Habali

Native “Apples” in Florida!  “Apples” in Volusia County?  Thanks to the dedication of our intrepid field trip leader, Sonya Guidry, the two year search for the endangered Harrisia fragrans is over!  Pawpaw chapter members located a Prickly “apple” orchard in southern Volusia County!

Sonya and I first met Dr. Jon Moore from Florida Atlantic University, Wilkes Honor College, where he presented a paper on the Prickly Apple at the 2012 FNPS Conference in Plant City. His research paper was entitled "Transplantation of the Endangered Fragrant Prickly Apple Cactus, Harrisia fragrans, in St. Lucie and Indian River Counties." He explained the scrub habitat and conditions of its survival historically and that it exists now in St Lucie and Brevard County coastlines. He mentioned it could “possibly” be found in Volusia County and gave Sonya the coordinates. When he said it would be “hard to find”; I think that was all the challenge she needed to make it her mission to go out and locate this important cactus!

First, Sonya tried by land to find the little guys. If anyone has ever been to Castle Windy Midden in Canaveral National Seashore  (CNS), you know why the area is known as Mosquito Lagoon. Sonya and I battled swarms of mosquitoes while we traipsed through the dense foliage in search of Harrisia fragrans. And by “we,” I certainly mean Sonya!  I was too busy trying to find sunlight to relieve the buzzing noises and discomfort that follows. Of course, we realized we were a bit too far north and we were not looking in the right terrain. We needed to be in scrub-like conditions.

But Sonya was not ready to give up. She began asking anyone and everyone she met with a boat to take her by water to find the Fragrant Prickly apple.  She continued to keep the subject “alive,” by discussing her quest and speaking with Dr. Moore again at another event.

The fuzzy blooms of the endangered
Fragrant Prickly Apple Cactus (Harrisia fragrans)


Eventually, Sonya added another feather to her cap and became a tour volunteer and plant ID guide at CNS. Naturally, her enthusiasm for finding Harrisia fragrans, carried over to the other volunteers who then enlisted the help of a CNS Park Service boat with Captain Walt at the helm. The exploratory group of CNS volunteers, fellow Pawpaw members Dot Backes and Sonya, and MDC’s kayak specialist, Warren Reynolds set off in early April. Success! Not only did they find lots of cool treasures, but they found the Prickly Apple, Gumbo Limbo (Bursera simaruba), and strangler fig. Sonya’s determination paid off.

Now she wanted to share her findings with her Pawpaw Chapter folks and friends. An outing to Canaveral National Seashore became our June field trip in 2015.

Fruit of the Fragrant Prickly Apple Cactus (Harrisia fragrans)

Both the fruit and bloom of the Fragrant Prickly Apple Cactus (Harrisia fragrans)

Looking for “apples” and other treasures located in Canaveral National Seashore will be part of the field trips offered by  Pawpaw Chapter at the 2016 Conference. 

Photos by Sonya Guidry
Posted by Ginny Stibolt

Monday, July 27, 2015

Planting a Feast for Nature

By Marlene Rodak

Creating Bird and Butterfly Habitat at Middle School

A tiny butterfly on bloodberry (Cordia globosa), which is one of the native species
that will be planted at Fort Myers Middle Academy on Tuesday
The school corridor to be planted
A spectacular event will take place the morning of Tuesday, July 28 at Fort Myers Middle Academy.  Florida Forest Service employees and volunteers from the Florida Native Plant Society are planting hundreds of native plants in an outdoor corridor, which will transform the area into important bird and butterfly habitat.  This planting will demonstrate how natural, native landscaping functions in the environment by providing food and shelter to wildlife.  Best of all, the entire project is provided to Fort Myers Middle Academy and Lee County Schools FREE OF CHARGE!

FNPS Coccoloba Chapter President
Martha Grattan shoveling mulch
at Fort Myers Middle Academy
Florida Native Plant Society is coordinating the planting with Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Florida Forest Service, Covanta Energy, Lee County Solid Waste, All Native Garden Center, Deep South Native Nursery, Hickory Hammock Native Tree Farm, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Nursery and others.  Costco, Bass Pro Shops, and Estero Community Park Recreation Center donated the cardboard and newspapers that volunteers placed over the entire 105' x 20' area. This will both recycle these materials and help prevent weeds for about a year. After laying the cardboard and newspaper, they covered it in mulch. Subsequently, they will install about 340 one-gallon plants in openings they make through the cardboard, with the mulch moved to the side then returned under the plants' dripline. Volunteers have already driven to Sweetbay Nursery in Parrish, Florida to acquire plants for the project that were not available at local nurseries.

After the planting is finished, the school will be provided with a plant maintenance manual . Monthly visits will also take place to monitor the new landscape's progress.

Fort Myers Middle Academy, located at 3050 Central Avenue, Fort Myers, FL 33901, was in the news in March when student Jeffery Thompson won the Lee County Spelling Bee by correctly spelling the word ESCARGOT. The school, which celebrates its 60th year anniversary this year, is in one of the most economically challenged areas of the city.

Would you like to learn more about native plants and landscaping in southwest Florida?  Do you want to help a school that deserves our attention?  Call (239) 273-8945 to learn how you can participate.  Visit for more information about the Coccoloba Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.

Below are some work-in-progress photos. Looking great, Coccoloba Chapter!

Already an improvement!
posted by Laurie Sheldon

Monday, June 1, 2015

2015 FNPS conference: Native Yard Tour

A conference field trip

by Donna Legare with photos by Lilly Anderson-Messec

On Thursday, May 28th Native Nurseries led a tour of native yards in Tallahassee for the Florida Native Plant Society's 35th Annual Conference. The tour featured three yards.

1) A rain garden and more...

The first illustrated what could be done with a blank slate in a neighborhood that was previously a cow pasture with scattered large live oaks. Landscape designer, David Copps designed the native landscape for Mark and Linda Powell, whose home is certified as LEED Platinum. The native landscape helped them earn this designation. David described how he implemented his design, beginning with very heavy mulching of existing vegetation. He included a rain garden in a natural depression and created a future forest of mixed hardwoods in one section and a small longleaf pine grove in the back yard. Jody Walthall, owner and landscape designer at Native Nurseries talked about what is involved in maintaining this type of landscape.

The group gathers to discuss the creation of this native landscape, just beyond the rain garden of bluestem palmetto, senecio, blue eyed grass, loblolly bay and other native plants that fills a natural depression on the property.

Field trip participants admire one of the largest sweetbays
in the state at Eleanor Dietrich's.

2) A large sweetbay magnolia

The second site visited was the home of long time Magnolia Chapter member Eleanor Dietrich. Eleanor's house is perched above a beautiful ravine with huge sweetbay, American beech, blackgum and other hardwoods. Over the years the woodland had become crowded with invasives - nandina, ligustrum, ardisia to name just a few. Inspired by Doug Tallamy's book, Bringing Nature Home, Eleanor embarked on a long term and intensive project to remove the invasives and replant with natives with the help of two professional gardeners.

3) Invite the birds

The last stop featured a typical in-town house and yard, the home of Native Nurseries' owners, Donna Legare and Jody Walthall. When they purchased the house in the early 1990s, 100% of the landscape plants were non-native, except for the large trees. This landscape illustrates what two busy people, running a business and raising a family, can do over time to convert to mostly native with the goal of increasing diversity for wildlife.

We gather at the the bird-window to watch birds up close among the native plants in the backyard at the Legare/Walthall residence.

And to top it off... 

The tour ended with home-made oatmeal cookies and iced tea at Native Nurseries, where participants had fun shopping for native plants, perusing the nature gift shop and getting a close-up view through a spotting scope of two baby red-shouldered hawks in a nest, high in pine tree over the parking lot.

In addition to the people mentioned above, I would like to thank Lilly Anderson-Messec, manager of Native Nurseries and Vanessa Crisler of Trillium Gardens Nursery for their assistance during the tour.

Posted by Ginny Stibolt

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Conference Highlights: Burning and so much more...

FNPS Conference, Born to Burn: May 28 - 31 in Tallahassee

Last day to register online is May 22. Onsite registration will open on May 27th.
(The online registration fee is $85/day. Onsite registration is $120/day.)  

Born to Burn is our theme and we'll offer a good variety of presentations, workshops and panel discussions on the importance of fire for Florida's ecosystems.
Of course, we are offering field trips in Florida's Panhandle. Several still have openings on both Thursday and Sunday. (You must register for one day of the conference in order to participate in a field trip,)

But wait, there's more... 

 3 social events: (Fees apply.)

- Thursday evening: Welcome to the Capital. Dinner on the 22nd floor of the capital building
- Friday evening: Dinner and optional boat ride at Wakulla Springs
- Saturday evening:  Dinner at Tall Timbers Research Center & Land Conservancy. a fitting end to the conference.

William Bartram (aka Mike Adams) will make an appearance at the Saturday evening social event at Tall Timbers.

- Dr. Austin Mast (left), Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, will lead the group through a transcription blitz at FSU's Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium.
- Sue Mullins, FNPS's lobbyist will present, Speaking for Florida: learn how to support Florida’s ecosystems.  The workshop will address all forms of communicating to lawmakers, including:Audience research, Coalition building,.Grassroots & grasstops mobilization, Issues management / public affairs, Media relations, Partnership development, Social media, Strategic communications, How to effectively communicate to elected officials, and What not to do.

A Saturday presentation by  Eleanor Dietrich and Robert Farley. Learn how to request Wildflower Areas in your area, with examples of how this program is being implemented in northwest Florida.

Florida needs more wildflowers and less mowing, so let's all work with our local officials to make this happen now that there are new regulations for doing so.

 Native Florida Plants for Shady Landscapes

A Saturday presentation (and the book will be for sale on Friday and Saturday) by Craig Huegel.

Living in Florida makes shade extremely desirable, but landscaping in shade creates its own set of challenges.  Plants do not respond to shady areas the same as they respond to sun.  Understanding how shade affects plants and knowing which native species perform adequately under these conditions is important if you are create an ecologically vibrant landscape in shade.  

 The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape

A Friday presentation (with pre-orders for the book taken on Friday and Saturday) by Ginny Stibolt

When native plant enthusiasts talk to people who are familiar with high maintenance lawns, instant landscapes, seasonally planted beds, and the pretty-on-the-shelf plants, we have a lot of talking to do. We can explain how the native plants provide specific habitat services in their natural ecosystems such as supplying food to birds or insects. But when we say natives need less water, no pesticides, and no fertilizer, are we over stating our case? 

 2015 FNPS Conference

So we'll see you in Tallahassee! 

Written and posted by Ginny Stibolt

Friday, May 8, 2015

F.N.P.S. President's Statement on Proposed Surplus Lands

The mission of the Florida Native Plant Society is to
promote the preservation, conservation, and restoration of
the native plants and native plant communities of Florida.

April 12, 2015

Robert Beltran, Executive Director
Southwest Florida Water Management District
2379 Broad Street
Brooksville, Florida 34604-6899

Subject:  Comments on Proposal to Surplus District-held Conservation Lands

Dear Mr. Beltran:

The Florida Native Plant Society (Society) recognizes that the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is a critically important participant in Florida’s land conservation efforts. We hope you recognize the Society to be an especially supportive and engaged stakeholder given our regular participation on land management review teams, the assistance several of our local chapters have provided by conducting plant surveys on District lands, and the various other forms of support we have provided over the years.

We have evaluated the lands proposed for surplussing as part of the ongoing Biennial Assessment and disagree strongly with inclusion of a number of the parcels. The District has not shared any information on the assessment process that was used to assemble the list, and we believe such information must be shared with the public before a well-conceived proposal can be submitted for consideration by the Governing Board.

While we believe the surplussing of lands that truly lack conservation value is a responsible course of action, we also believe surplussing decisions must be based an expansive interpretation of what constitutes conservation value, and the adoption of a long-range view. The tremendous investment the public has made in funding these acquisitions, and will continue to make to ensure the lands are properly managed, demands nothing less.

The following discussion summarizes the results of our evaluation for several project areas. The comments are representative of the expansive interpretation and long-term view we espouse, and that we believe is lacking from the District’s proposal. We conclude the letter with a table that summarizes our position on each of the parcels identified in the District’s proposed list.

Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve (GSWP)

The GSE-1, GSE-2 and GSE-3 parcels (left) are proposed to be surplussed with a conservation easement retained over them. Decisions on whether relinquishing fee title ownership is justified should be based first and foremost on whether the natural and societal values of a subject parcel can be conserved effectively through less-than-fee ownership. “Working landscapes” that provide income for a fee-title owner while conserving natural resources that benefit the public will be an essential part of the “mix” in Florida’s efforts to create a viable, sustainable network of conservation lands. The upland portions of GSE-1 have been converted to improved pasture, it is contiguous with other lands protected through easements, and is within an approved Florida Forever project area that has identified easements as a suitable mechanism for protection. We believe it may be appropriate to sell fee-title to GSE-1, provided a highly restrictive easement is retained that would preclude conversion of unaltered areas, logging in wetlands, extractive uses or subdivision, and that limit future uses to agricultural or silvicultural uses that would be compatible with conservation objectives for the Green Swamp. It should also include a requirement that invasive plants be controlled and any fire-maintained habitats be subjected to burns.

However, the District should not consider GSE-2 and GSE-3 as surplus parcels given their size (111 and 227 acres, respectively), relatively unaltered condition, contiguity with the main body of the GSWP, frontage on the Van Fleet State Trail (>1.5 miles total) and exceptional habitat values. Both parcels include pine flatwoods habitat and isolated wetland systems. Flatwoods have been designated an Under-Represented Natural Community by the Florida Forever Conservation Needs Assessment (FFCNA), and both parcels are within a Priority 2 Ecological Greenway. Listed species that are potentially present on these lands, based on available data, include the Eastern indigo snake, celestial lily, red-margined zephyr lily, swamp plumed polypody, cutthroat grass and gopher tortoise. The forested wetland serves as potential nesting or roosting habitat for swallow-tailed kites. And finally, GSE-3 encompasses a portion of main stem of the Withlacoochee River in the uppermost headwater reaches of the river. If these lands were not already protected through fee-title public ownership, they would be outstanding candidates for such protection. It is difficult to fathom how they could be identified as possible surplus parcels. 

We applied the same basic evaluation criteria to the GSW-3 and GSW-4 parcels (left). Although pine plantation accounts for much of the GSW-3 land area, the parcel supports a diverse mix of habitat types and maintains a linkage between the GSWP and Colt Creek State Park. The plantation area should be targeted for future habitat restoration and fee-title ownership of this 326-acre parcel should be retained. Much of GSW-4 has been converted to improved pasture and it represents a transitional zone between the core habitat of the GSWP and the surrounding working landscapes (i.e., ranches) that supplement the habitat conserved under public ownership and buffer it from surrounding land uses. It could be appropriate to consider surplussing GSW-4, provided it would continue to be conserved under a highly restrictive easement. However, the value of land encumbered by such restrictions may be extremely limited in the private market. It could be more cost-effective for the District to lease large, modified parcels like GSW-4 for cattle grazing or haying, or engage in revenue-generating silviculture in the pasture areas, rather than relinquish ownership and the control it provides. Such a cost-benefit analysis should be part of the District’s assessment, yet there is no evidence that such factors received any consideration.

Annutteliga Hammock

“Mega-Parcel” projects like Annutteliga Hammock are incredibly challenging. They require a long-term commitment and patience. We believe a decision to surplus the large number of small and largely disjunct parcels acquired through this project is premature. There is also a 160-acre parcel in the northwest corner of the project area that has superlative stand-alone conservation value, yet it is proposed for surplus. As illustrated by the series of maps below, the Annutteliga Hammock project seeks to conserve a land area with extraordinary natural significance. Recharge rates are as high as any recorded in the state. The corollary of this is that the vulnerability of the Floridan aquifer to contamination equally high – with the main headwater springs of the Chassahowitzka River less than 2 miles to the northwest. Minimizing development in this area, and the threat of groundwater contamination that it poses, should be factored into any decisions to surplus lands here. The Priority 2 Ecological Greenway ranking of the GSWP parcels discussed previously is significant; this project is a Priority 1 “Critical Linkage” and represents the last viable opportunity to maintain functional connectivity between the Chassahowitza complex of conservation lands along the coast and the Withlacoochee State Forest to the northeast. 

Lastly, it should be noted the sandhill habitat of the project area is another Under-Represented Natural Community. Listed species known to inhabit the sandhill habitats of the Annuttliga Hammock and adjoining public lands include the Sherman’s fox squirrel, gopher tortoise, Florida mouse, gopher frog, giant orchid, Chapman’s skeletongrass, Florida pine snake, small-tailed snake, and pine pinweed.

Little Manatee River Corridor Southfork Tract

The 57-acre parcel at the southeastern end of the Little Manatee River Corridor project supports a mixture of pine flatwoods, scrubby flatwoods, wet flatwoods and wet prairie habitat. This area of high habitat diversity is contiguous with the eastern boundary of the South Fork State Park and is proximate to a segment of the Little Manatee River. A surplus sale of the parcel would degrade the value of the neighboring lands that the District proposes to retain. Given the parcel’s contiguity with the state park, proximity to the river, and ease of access from the adjoining road, it would make more sense to incorporate the entire tract into the state park. If this parcel was not already publicly owned, it would be logical to pursue its acquisition; as such, there is little apparent logic in proposing to surplus it.

The parcels discussed above, and many others on your list, merit a much more in-depth discussion than we have provided here. For example, we are also especially concerned by the proposal to surplus two parcels within the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve, where the District’s history of habitat restoration and effective land management are achieving great success. That success is clearly illustrated by an observed expansion of the local Florida scrub jay population. These parcels provide an excellent opportunity to expand the population even more through habitat restoration given the xeric soils that underlie them. Indeed, if jays already inhabit these parcels, any actions that exclude them could be considered a taking of a federally-listed species and a violation of the Endangered Species Act. A federally listed plant species – the endangered longspur balm – may also occur on these xeric soils. The Preserve, in combination with the neighboring Ross Prairie State Forest, constitutes the only area of significant core habitat along the entire Cross Florida Greenway, from the Ocala National Forest to the Gulf of Mexico. We believe virtually every acre now under public ownership should be retained.

The District has the staff and other resources to conduct a comprehensive assessment of these lands you hold in trust for the public. The Society does not enjoy the benefit of such resources, yet there is little evidence to indicate that you have conducted an assessment as discerning as ours. We ask that you conduct a scientifically rigorous and transparent evaluation before you finalize the Biennial Assessment. We stand ready to assist you in any way we can, and look forward to continuing our constructive relationship with the District. Thank you for considering our concerns.


Anne C. Cox, President
Florida Native Plant Society

full-size map images can be viewed on the FNPS Flickr page

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Learning from California

By Devon Higginbotham

Despite Governor Brown's pleas to conserve during the
ongoing severe drought, California's water use continues to rise.
Today, because of the drought in the southwest, the City of Palm Springs, CA (long considered a desert oasis) is returning to native plants. According to the New York Times, “Palm Springs has ordered 50 percent cuts in water use by city agencies, and plans to replace the lawns and annual flowers around city buildings with native landscapes. It is digging up the grassy median into town that unfurled before visitors like a carpet at a Hollywood premiere. It is paying residents to replace their lawns with rocks and desert plants…”   (See link at bottom for the entire article)

It’s too bad it takes an event as drastic as a drought to bring attention to the benefits of native plants, but once people realize the rewards to wildlife and the state’s water system, it becomes obvious, both in California and Florida. Hopefully California will learn and adapt to their climate and 20 years from now will “look” like an arid landscape should look.

Property surrounded by desert in Palm Springs. The state's current
landscape norms face an uncertain future as severe water shortages
have prompted a mandated a 25% reduction in non-ag water use.
Photo credit: Damon Winter/The New York Times
No doubt, the California Native Plant Society is revving into high gear, promoting the use of native plants in desert habitats. Every homeowner should be learning how to convert their yards to natives and conserve water, not just for a year but forever. Unfortunately there will be naysayers, like the man in the Times article that said, “I’m not going to stop watering,” said Matthew Post, 45, referring to the gardens around his Benedict Canyon home. “The state does not know how to arrange the resources they have, and so we have to pay for it….”

What can we learn from California?  Don’t wait for a crisis to change our concept of what is beautiful. We must be actively promoting and speaking out.

For the first time since 2007, FNPS is poised to top the 3,000 mark in membership. This is a monumental point in our growth which was diminished by the drop in the US economy.

Because of the graceful stewardship of Jonnie Spitler, FNPS now has a very capable Membership Chair who is uniting and supporting all the chapter chairs. We have a new FNPS brochure on the way to the publishers, smaller chapters are getting support and membership is growing.

This home in California's Yucca Valley is surrounded by native plants.
Hopefully more people will recognize its beauty as well as its functionality
and enviro-conscious appeal.
Also this year, thanks to the careful guidance of Karina Veaudry, we have a new chapter, The Villages, in Sumter Co which has grown in just a few months to over 60 members. Interest in Florida Native Plants is sparking in homeowners, politicians and governmental officials. But we need to continue growing and that means more members, more feet on the ground, more neighbors talking to neighbors!

Over the next few months, FNPS is poised to surpass our all-time high of 3145 members. This is not the end of our goal but merely the beginning.

Heather Cooley, water program director for the Pacific Institute, an environmental research group based in Oakland said,  “This will change what Californians see as beautiful”. Let’s not wait for a drought or dried lakes and streams or murky springs to change what Floridians see as beautiful.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

April 2015 Legislative Update

From the F.N.P.S. Policy Team...

Dear Native Plant Advocates and Environmental Stewards:
Thank you for speaking up for more land acquisition funding through Amendment 1. You made a difference and an impression on legislators. They told our lobbyist that callers who identified themselves as FNPS members were both polite and well-informed. There is more work ahead for us on Amendment 1 funding - that Alert remains active on our website - but there are other issues of importance to conserving native plants and native plant communities. Please consider acting on one or more of the issues discussed below and be prepared to act in the near future on an Alert that will demand meaningful funding for land conservation. To find contact information for your legislator, go to and

Growth Management

Without good growth management, it’s hard to conserve habitat for native plants and wildlife. The Senate is getting ready to discuss SB 1216, which is a companion bill to HB 933. The House passed HB 933 on April 9. SB 1216 is a much better bill. Please ask your Senator to MAINTAIN the following provisions that we support:
  • The pilot “connected city corridors” program for Pasco County that supports innovative mixed use, high-tech employment and multi-modal developments via linear transportation and development connections (a new “sector plan” approach)
  • Sector plan language on data and analysis, conservation easements, and authority for long-term water consumptive use permits for DRI master development orders.
  • Keeping counties in regional planning councils
What we want to keep OUT of SB 1216 includes:
  • Confusing concurrency language
  • The “constrained agricultural parcels” language
  • Making private property rights a required element of local comp plans


We continue to support SB 918, sponsored by Senator Dean, because it includes a number of provisions that would benefit Florida springs and should be maintained in any final water legislation, including:
  • Designation of all 1st magnitude springs and five 2nd magnitude springs as Outstanding Florida Springs and requiring priority focus areas for protection of these springs.
  • Adding protective criteria for establishing minimum flows and levels for Outstanding Florida Springs and creating “interim minimum flows and levels” for any OFS that does not already have an adopted minimum flow and level.
  • Creating the Florida Water Resources Advisory Council to recommend projects for funding to the Legislature
  • Establishing guidelines for recovery strategies for springs that do not meet an adopted minimum flow and level.
  • Establishing guidelines for Basin Management Action Plans that restore water quality in Outstanding Florida Springs.
  • Requiring local governments in priority focus areas to implement urban fertilizer ordinances.
  • Requiring local governments in priority focus areas where septic tank systems are identified as a source of nitrogen pollution to create remediation plans.
  • Prohibiting certain future activities such as new wastewater treatment facilities, new facilities for hazardous waste disposal, spreading of biosolids and new agricultural operations that do not implement BMPs or conduct water quality monitoring.

Unfortunately, SB 918 was amended two weeks ago to include some of the troubling provisions of its House counterpart, HB 7003. The language now in SB 918 that we OPPOSE includes:
  • Weakened water quality regulations for Lake Okeechobee
  • A reduction in water management district authority for allocating water
  • Use of public funding for private water projects without requiring mandatory conservation measures

Land Application of Septage

We OPPOSE bills that will continue to allow raw sewage to be dispersed on Florida’s landscape. HB 687 by Rep. Drake, is moving forward on the House Floor. The bill would repeal the ban on spreading of effluent pumped out of septic tanks, which is set to finally go into effect on January 1, 2016. Further delays in banning this practice will allow the devastating impacts on Florida’s rivers, lakes and springs to continue that much longer. Representative Drake filed an amendment last week that would delay the ban on the land application of septage from going into effect until 2018, but would not repeal it.

 Senator Evers’ version, CS/SB 648, would outright eliminate the ban on this third-world practice. It was passed by the Senate Environmental Preservation committee and will be heard next in the Senate Health Policy Committee. Tell your Senator and Representative that you want the 2016 ban to remain in effect.
posted by Laurie Sheldon

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Secretary Jewell's Big Announcement Shows Success of South Florida Community Partners

By Audrey Peterman, with an introduction by Laurie Sheldon

I have to give credit to Aimee Leteux, FNPS Naples Chapter Rep, for sending me this article. As soon as I read it I knew that it needed to be shared with the members of FNPS. I believe that it highlights one of the most critical elements involved in keeping an organization relevant - creating partnerships with a diverse group of stakeholders and fostering a sense of organizational stewardship in our communities' young people, as they will take the baton into the future. I applaud Audrey Peterman for the outstanding example she has provided, and thank her for emphatically granting me permission to relay her words...

A beautiful vision of the 21st Century National Park System is unfolding in South Florida. When Department Of Interior Secretary Jewell, a member of President Obama's Cabinet, arrived in Miami on the first day of spring to announce a federal initiative to get millions of young people into their national parks, participants on stage and in the audience looked like the face of Miami. The leadership involved was as much Black, Hispanic and young as it was White.

Supt. Pedro Ramos kicks off the announcement with from left, Congresswoman
Frederica Wilson, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and YMCA CEO Sheryl Woods.
"Miami is blessed with parks and national public lands close by, and a strong network of public and nonprofit leaders committed to getting kids outdoors, active and connected to nature. Through the 50 Cities Initiative, with the financial support of American Express and community connections of the YMCA, we are nurturing a movement to foster the next generation of leaders and outdoor stewards while helping people connect to the public lands in their community - particularly in urban areas like Miami," said Secretary Jewell.

Flanked by Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos, formerly Superintendent at the Big Cypress National Preserve who is Hispanic; US Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who is black and whose district includes parts of the Everglades, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, who is Hispanic and President and CEO of Southern Florida YMCA Sheryl Woods, who is white, the event clearly illustrated our country's changing demographics and the power that resides in diverse communities. Members of the audience were equally diverse by ethnicity, age, city and national parks staff and other community members. The event truly reflected the face of a community united in one common goal.

 This shining spectacle was aided by the efforts of local leaders from the African American, Hispanic and national parks communities that have been working closely together since the 1990s to connect urbanites and the parks. It illustrated the effectiveness of the South Florida Community Partners organization formed in 1997 "to increase community awareness and participation in South Florida's National Parks and Preserves among underrepresented and culturally diverse segments of the population particularly in regard to park accessibility, park use, park programs, park protection, employment and decision making."

Secretary Jewell took time to interact with members of the Everglades Wilderness
Writing Expedition, (left) and young parks stewards from Greening Youth Foundation.

As the Park Service, other federal land management agencies and conservation organizations look for ways to become more "relevant, inclusive and diverse," the South Florida example is a gleaming illustration of what can be accomplished. It shows the myriad ways that the parks get embedded in communities once the diverse grassroots leadership is engaged and a relationship of mutual trust and respect is developed.

We share the genesis of this story in our book, Legacy on the Land published in 2009, but the movement has accelerated since then. We could not have anticipated this big national event happening here when we formed the Community Partners group all those years ago. The group grew out of the national Mosaic in Motion diversity conferences spearheaded by the National Parks Conservation Association in the 1990s. For more than 15 years we worked in lock step with the parks, raising funds and partners to transport thousands of urban families to the parks around Earth Day each year. Many formed lifelong connections, and in places such as Little Haiti and Little Havana a reservoir of love for the national park exists.

The relationship between communities and the parks is one of deep love, trust and collegiality that has spawned untold benefits. For example, our community partner Ranger Alan Scott at Everglades National Park was quick to act on our recommendation for Greening Youth Foundation as a source for diverse young interns. Consequently, many of the newest park employees who had the opportunity to meet Secretary Jewell are interns from the Foundation.

Similarly, a group of young people that we took to Everglades in 2013 to hike 10,000 steps in support of the Denali Expeditioners inspired Ranger Sabrina Diaz to develop the Everglades Wilderness Writing Expedition program. The Wilderness Expeditioners have developed an unquenchable passion for the parks and were in awe of Secretary Jewell's willingness to spend time thinking about and answering their questions.

I saw Supt. Ramos being interviewed by a Hispanic reporter, in Spanish, for a Spanish-focused TV station.

"I bet it's the first time that ever happened," he observed.

Secretary Jewell is flanked by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed who is deeply involved with the
outdoors along with DEL speakers Evonne Blyters and James King, II, right, front and back rows.

Our many friends among the audience included Congresswoman Wilson, whose "500 Role Models of Excellence" young men loved the Everglades when we took them to the park yea rs ago. Since then the Congresswoman has often expressed the desire that all the young men should have that opportunity, and I am encouraged that this new initiative will help make that happen.

As Frank and I were walking to the parking lot, I turned away to compliment a young lady on her beautiful outfit. She turned out to be a reporter for the Miami Herald, and included me in her story here. As she included, Secretary Jewell and I served together on the board of the NPCA for years, part of our focus being how to engage urbanites with our national parks.

When Secretary Jewell went on to Atlanta the following day to announce the initiative, she was joined by many members of Keeping It Wild, the outdoors-focused organization we helped establish there, along with Greening Youth and leaders who are part of DEL's network of speakers.

This morning we received this ecstatic note from a DEL speaker who went out on our first contract assignment last week:

"The main thing I really want the world to know is that DEL is out there WORKING, getting contracts with agencies. And that our presentations and programing are receiving great reviews. To me this is a family effort, one person's success is everyone's success.  So telling our speakers we hit our first home run will make them all proud and eager to go for more."

So far we've been swamped with people who want to be part of DEL, and have had to create a waiting list while we seek out more speaking and training opportunities. If you or your organization or someone you know is planning an environmental conference or other meeting, please check out our team at

Members of the SF Community Partners Program were an active part of Vintage Day
celebrations in Everglades National Park, March 7. Glenn Gardner photo.
For years we've been advocating that it's easy and productive to develop a relationship between the public lands and grassroots community leaders, and that it's the only way to keep them relevant and viable. I think we've amply illustrated that. Don't you?

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 President Andy Gardiner (Orlando)
Capitol: (850) 487-5229
District: (407) 428-5800

Senate Budget Chairman Tom Lee (Brandon)
Capitol: (850) 487-5024
District: (813) 653-7061

Senate General Government Appropriations Committee Chair Alan Hays (Umatilla)
Capitol: (850) 487-5011
District: (352) 742-6441

Senate Budget Vice-Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto (Ft Myers)
Capitol: (850) 487-5030
District: (239) 338-2570


House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (Merritt Island)
Capitol: (850) 488-1450
District: (321) 449-5111

House Budget Chairman Richard Corcoran (Lutz)
Capitol: (850) 717-5037
District: (813) 792-5177

House Ag and Natural Resources Appropriations Chair Ben Albritton (Wauchula)
Capitol: (850) 717-5056
District: (863) 534-0073

House Budget Vice-Chairman Jim Boyd (Bradenton)
Capitol: (850) 717-5071
District: (941) 708-4968

Other Important Contacts:

Senator Joe Negron (Stuart)
Capitol: (850) 487-5032
District: (772) 219-1665

Senator Denise Grimsley (Sebring)
Capitol: (850) 487-5021
District: (863) 386-6016

Senator Charlie Dean (Inverness)
Capitol: (850) 487-5005
District: (352) 860-5175

Senator Wilton Simpson (Trilby)
Capitol: (850) 487-5018
District: (352) 540-6074

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

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

Rep. Greg Steube (Sarasota)
Capitol: (850) 717-5073
District: (941) 341-3117
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.


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