Friday, July 29, 2011

FNPS Members Show Committment

Florida Native Plant Society members right up
front, prepared to speak at public hearing
For the second time this summer, officials had to move the venue to a larger place when public response to their proposals exceeded expectations.

And who do you think is sitting  in the very front of this hall? Well, I'll tell you. FNPS members. I can see at least three members of the Florida Native Plant Society who sacrificed personal plans to make the trip over to Plant City for the hearing this afternoon. You can bet they were there early and had their comment cards filled out.

Front row, on the left, is Annie Schmidt, the Society's Conservation Chair, Daphne Lambright, Treasurer,  Anne Cox, Chair of the Land Management Partners Committee, and to Anne's left, Katy Roberts, from the FNPS Pinellas Chapter. I have just learned now, (Saturday night) that FNPS member Brooke Martin, not in photo, was present and spoke on conservation considerations at the hearing.  Kudos to all for putting your beliefs into action.

The Southwest Florida Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, had put 8 additional lands on the table to be considered for opening to hunting. Which 8 it would be was a piece of information that was revealed late in the game. However, Anne, who had records through her work on the Land Management Partnership, an FNPS group that works to help the state keep public lands cared for, rounded up bodies, got documents into their hands, and said, "Read now," ensuring that comments they made would reflect the Society's stance of "science-based" decision making. 

There are many issues involved in the hunting question, certainly too many to go into this late at night. But when this picture made the email rounds; it was taken by Audubon, it deserved to go on record right now.

I am proud to be a member of the Florida Native Plant Society. I invite you join us. Preserving and protecting Florida's native plants and native plant communities with wonderful people.

sue dingwell

Monday, July 25, 2011

Native Milkweed Seed Needed to Help Save Monarch Butterflies

The Xerces Society needs your help:
  • Monarch butterfly populations are declining, in part due to declining milkweed populations
  • Few commercial sources for milkweed seed are available for the Southeastern regions
  • The Xerces Society has funding to increase seed sources, and is collecting seed now
  • The seed of the aquatic milkweed, Asclepias perennis is scarce this year, and they are seeking our help in locating and collecting seed from this plant
Swamp milkweed, Asclepias perennis

Commonly called 'swamp milkweed' or 'aquatic milkweed,' A. perennis can be found in a variety of wetland habitats, from swamps to roadside swales. It flowers more freely in sunny locations, but tolerates semi-shaded spots as well. The leaves are bright green and lance-shaped and opposite, the height no more than two feet. The white flowers are sometimes tinged with pink.

The species is currently flowering and producing fruit.
If you can locate a plant on private land and are willing to collect some seed and donate it to the project, it would be immensely helpful!  Jeff Norcini, who is helping with the search, has provided some advice  to help determine when the fruits are mature and ready for seed collection.

Immature pod of A perennis     Shirley Denton, FNPS

Maturity checklist 
  • immature pods are grass green and gradually darken a bit as they mature 
  • pods take about 2.5 to 3.5 weeks to mature after the fruit first forms

    • mature pods will pop open when pressure is applied to the pod suture
          Unlike most of the other milkweed species, swamp milkweed seeds are not characterized by feathery white attachments to help them become airborne. Swamp milkweed seeds are hydrochorous, or dispersed by water, and have to be prepared to float to new homes.

          Swamp milkweed in water        Shirley Denton, FNPS

          Brianna Borders, who is now holding the job of Xerces' first dedicated plant ecologist, (insects do need their native plants!) spoke with us yesterday to explain the situation. Intensifying agriculture, development of rural lands, and increased use of herbicide and mowing along roadsides have all reduced the abundance of milkweed in the landscape.  Unfortunately a known source of swamp milkweed was mowed down earlier this month, preventing Dr. Norcini from obtaining seeds there. As most of our readers probably know, milkweed is an obligate host plant for Monarchs. The monarch caterpillars must hatch out on milkweed, which is the only plant they can eat.

          Here in the Southeast, we are somewhat behind our neighbors in the mid-Atlantic and mid-west, where commercial sources of milkweed seed are readily available. In order to increase the commercial availability of milkweed seed, Xerces has obtained funding from several sources, including the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service). They also have joined with the Monarch Joint Venture, a partnership of federal and state agencies, NGOs and academic programs that are working together to support and coordinate efforts to protect the monarch migration across the lower 48 states.

          Fall migration of Monarch butterfly
          There is only one species, but it is divided into an eastern
          and a western population

          The Monarch population is divided into two populations, although they are just one species; the eastern and the western. It is the eastern population that breeds in and migrates through Florida. In addition to Florida, Xerces is also conducting the milkweed seed increase project in Arizona, California, Texas, Nevada, and New Mexico. Brianna tells us that in each state different arrangements and coalitions have been formed. In California and Texas, Xerces is working with private native seed producers to develop new sources of milkweed seed.

          Brianna emphasized that it is extremely important to obtain true Florida ecotype seeds.  If you purchased your plants or seeds from an online vendor, they may not have originated here and would be unsuitable. After the seeds are collected, in Florida they will be grown out by the NRCS Plants Material Center in Brooksville. I had never heard of the NRCS' Plant Materials Program, which Brianna explained as an organization working on developing plants to solve conservation problems. And thank goodness for that!!

          As the seed base is increased, the first recipients will be agencies and organizations that are conducting large scale restoration endeavors, to ensure that the greatest amount of land is covered by the new milkweed plants. Brianna says, "We have a small amount of Asclepias perennis seed that we will use to initiate seed increase for the species, but to maximize our efforts, we could really use some additional seed."

          Here is regional, county-level map from the Florida Atlas of Vascular plant for swamp milkweed:
          Regional map for Asclepias perennis

          You can search Craig Huegel's blog for more ID photos, and other types of milkweed:

          Read about ecotypes:

          Time is short, collecting on public lands requires lengthy permitting processes; please look around and see if you can help. Seed should be saved at room temperature in a paper bag, no plastic, and contact Brianna for instructions on where to ship. She can help reimburse mailing costs if needed.

          Monarch caterpillars MUST have milkweed!
          Toll free: 1-855-232-6639

          Be a part of the solution!

          Monarch migration
          sue dingwell

          Thursday, July 21, 2011

          Keeping a Visual Nature Journal

          The grace to be a beginner is always the best prayer for an artist.  The beginner’s humility and openness lead to exploration.  Exploration leads to accomplishment.  All of it begins at the beginning, with the first small and scary step.”  ~ Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way)

          I wish I could draw.  This is what most people tell me when they avoid putting pencil to paper.  My answer?  You can, but your expectations are in the way.  Too often we focus on the product – what we want to create.  Our culture values the end result: the finished item, the goal reached, the happy ending.  Think instead, about the process of drawing.  A few pencil marks can reflect an observation and a connection.  For me, the process of keeping a visual journal is a pathway.  Every time I sketch something, I create a new connection to nature; I get to know my subject on an intimate level, I ask questions, I reflect, I explore.

          My first journals were like written notes to myself – about what I planted and where, about the butterflies that visited my nectar and larval plants, and the birds I saw in my yard.  When I visited parks or hiked in the woods, I’d write down the plants I was able to identify, and what flowers were blooming.  Then I started to add small sketches and photos, maps, and pressed leaves.  I also kept a separate sketchbook for ideas, studies, and color mixes, because I painted in watercolors. 

           At some point, my separate books blended into a nature journal composed mainly of artwork, with notes and observations added as the mood struck me.  My subject matter varies – one day it might be a flowering shrub, the next day a snail shell.  I particularly enjoy drawing our native plants and wildlife, and observing them through the seasons.  I find it helpful to add the date, weather, and temperature information, sometimes incorporating it into my art.  Other artists’ works have inspired me to add calligraphy and poetry to my images occasionally.

          Here’s what I’ve discovered that makes these journals valuable to me:  my drawing skills have sharpened, especially when I draw on a weekly basis.  My observation skills are much better.  I find myself specifically looking at details in order to capture them on the fly or to write them down after my sketches.  My knowledge base has become more dimensional.  I don’t know exactly how to explain this statement, but not only have I learned more, my emotional connection to nature has become more specific.  I also have a deeper sense of how individual parts fit into the whole.

          On the practical side, to keep a journal is simply to record information and/or explore inner thoughts.  Some people like to keep two journals, one with and one without images.  Some (like me) combine media.  Journals can be as organized or as creatively arranged as desired.  Think about how you might want to use the information in the future, or how you might organize the material for future reference.  My journals tend to be time-based, like a diary, but I’ve been considering journals based on a theme: perhaps by season, by location, or by habitat. 

          I like to incorporate other disciplines and different art techniques in my journal.  I’ve always loved the written word, and have been inspired to write my own Haiku poetry.  Historical connections add meaning and sometimes explain present day circumstances.  Photos and maps can be added easily.  Leaf and bark rubbings, leaf prints, or pressed flowers make interesting additions.  Sometimes math enters the picture in the form of distances, patterns, and dimensions.  Many plant lovers are familiar with the Fibonacci sequence, which manifests in the spiral patterns of pinecones, pineapples, and sunflower heads.

          I’d like to encourage you to keep a visual journal as your personal journey of exploration.  It might start with simple drawings of your garden or hiking adventures, with photos and descriptive words.  It might be a chronicle of the wildlife that visits your backyard.  It might be reflective of your day-to-day explorations. 

          Remember to keep in mind the process, and not get over-involved with the outcome of each page.  As you practice, you’ll find your skills improving in every area.  Don’t be discouraged if you start and then stop.  When you’re ready, you’ll pick up your journal again and the words and pictures will flow onto the page.  This is your exploration of the beauty of life around you!

          Themes for journals:
          Specific groups:  wildlife, medicinal or edible plants, flowers, butterflies
          Location: your own backyard or garden, park or preserve, your town, your state
          Habitat: the beach, swamp, scrub, pine flatwoods, tropical hammock
          Event: vacation trips, family get-togethers, holidays
          Time: day-to-day diary, seasonal changes, historical events

          Books that may be helpful to you:

          How to Keep a Sketchbook Journal” by Claudia Nice.
          She explores types of journals, the whys and wherefores, themes, and gives examples of entries.  There is also a chapter on materials and one on drawing basics.  Many of her subject are outdoors themes.  Her specialty is pen and watercolor, and she gives some nice basics on drawing and how to create textures.

          “Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You” by Claire Walker Leslie and Charles Roth. 
          The authors explore the value of nature journaling, giving examples of different styles, ideas for themes, basic equipment, drawing basics, ending with chapters on teaching and sharing nature journaling, including a suggested scale for assessing journals.  A great tool for educators or home-schoolers.

          The “Watercolourist’s Nature Journal” by Jill Bays. 
          If you are interested in using watercolor paints, this is a nice book to browse.  The author assumes you have some basic watercolor skills, and briefly discusses materials and procedures at the beginning, adding other materials and techniques throughout the book.

          And a website with lots to explore about nature journals.
          Donna Long uses photographs in her journals, and she has some great suggestions for inspiration.

          Elizabeth Smith

          Monday, July 18, 2011

          How to Fill a Native Plant Class

          Renee Stambaugh has organized a series of classes on native plants in St. Augustine. She decided there was a need because at her speaking engagements, she could see the crowds and the crowds themselves growing. At the annual Flower and Garden Show at the agricultural center in April, where the crowds were the largest, she decided that a series of classes just covering native plants could work. She was right--her first class in June attracted 120 people on a Thursday afternoon!

          Renee Stambaugh asks a question at a standing-rooming only native plant class in St. Augustine.
          She engaged three other speakers and secured a room at the St. Johns County Agricultural Center (out near Rt. 95--nearly nine miles from St. Augustine's town center), and began the publicity. Two of the speakers (Gail Compton and Keith Fuller) write regular columns for the local paper, so they both gave the class coverage.

          Meanwhile Renee sent an email announcing several native plant events in June events out to all her local email contacts. The events included a dinner, sponsored by FNPS Ixia chapter with Craig Heugel as speaker (ed. note: see our coverage of this event here:, a native landscape tour put on by FNPS Paw Paw chapter, a native plant sale at a local nursery that was renovating, a local Sea Oats FNPS chapter meeting and this class:

          Here’s the rest of her email with the description of the class:

          Hello Friends,
          Having just returned from the Florida Native Plant Society Annual Conference, I am excited about sharing great information with you. By popular request, a number of events are planned for your education and enjoyment. Please clear your calendar now for powerful, can't-miss events listed below.
          Please do not hesitate to reply if you wish to be removed from this elist.
          (other events listed here)

          Thursday, June 16, 2-4 PM
          SJC Windstorm Training Center, 3111 Agricultural Drive, St. Augustine

          Because native plants are becoming mainstream, experts in the area are teaming-up to provided information regarding sustainable gardening and landscaping. Instructors include Beverly Fleming, Florida Master Naturalist Instructor; Gail Compton, Columnist and Naturalist; Keith Fuller, SJC Horticulture Agent; and myself. Topics are relevant to the day. Free and open to the public. Landscapers, nurserymen and those in public office are encouraged to attend. Bonus: Feel free to stay afterwards for the Energy Efficiency Education Series featuring Low Impact Development (LID).
          (other events listed here)
          Please feel free to forward this information. I look forward to seeing you soon.
          Keith Fuller, IFAS extension agent for St. Johns County addresses the room.
          Wow, Renee and her crew's efforts were well rewarded, but now we'll see whether the enthusiasm carries over into July's class and future classes. In the next email, which was sent to the orginal list plus all of those who sign up at the class, Renee included this:
          "At our first class, we accomplished our goal of creating enthusiasm. We listened to your comments and are now going to give you lots of native plant names.
          Instructors and topics are as follows:
          Beverly Fleming, Florida Master Naturalist Instructor, “Using Natives for Color”
          Gail Compton, columnist and naturalist, “Native Hummingbird Attractors”
          Renee Stambaugh, native plant consultant, “Landscaping Tips”

          Free and open to the public.
          Bonus: Feel free to stay afterwards for the Energy Efficiency Education Series featuring Green Roofs."

          Renee  observed, "Being a Master Gardener, Florida Master Naturalist, Florida Butterfly Monitor, Florida Native Plant Society member, I just wanted to spread the word about Florida native plants. We are fortunate, in St. Johns County (SJC), to have a very cooperative local newspaper and it helps to have the support of the two nature columnists. The SJC Agricultural Center is a great venue and the Ag. Agents want to see something like this succeed. Nay sayers said, "The Ag. Center is too far out of the way" and "Afternoons will never work". Well, you can see that there is quite a hunger for this information, as 120 people attended. I encourage someone in every neighborhood to do this. If not you, then who? Finding a need and filling it is very gratifying.

          Renee Stambaugh

          "If not you, then who?" Have you run a good outreach event? We'd love to include a “how-to” here in the FNPS blog. Please share so others may learn from your experiences.

          Ginny Stibolt

          Friday, July 15, 2011

          Plum Delicious and Native, Too!

          The tart edible fruits of Prunus angustifolia and Prunus umbellata are ripe and ready for wild foraging. P. angustifolia, commonly called “Chickasaw” plum after the native people that favored their use (Austin), and P. umbellata, known as “flatwoods plum” are members of the Rosaceae family. Most people are familiar with the spring bloom of white flowers that form before the leaves, offering one of the earliest floral displays after the winter frosts in north Florida.

          The prolific trees and shrubs of the Prunus genus were widely used by native people for everything from medicines and food to wood products and ceremonial objects. More than 400 species can be found throughout the United States, Europe, and China; there are two native species in Africa. The genus includes plums, cherries, peaches, apricots, and almonds. The Prunus species native to north central Florida grow in woodlands, flatwoods, along roadsides and fence rows, and in open pine areas.

          Both species are small deciduous trees (8 to 20 feet) and enjoy partial shade, but will tolerate full sun.  P. angustifolia produces ground runners and forms thickets.

          oblong leaf
          lanceolate leaf
            The lanceolate to oblong or oval leaves vary from 1½ to 3 inches long, ¼ to ¾ inches wide, and may be slightly curved upward.

          elliptical leaf

          P. augustifolia berries
          The fruits are less than ¾ of an inch, reddish-yellow, and form in the early summer. P. umbellata is less likely to form thickets; has elliptic, oval or oblong leaves that are 1 to 2 inches long and ½ to ¾ inches wide. P. umbellata mature to a dark purple or red, which is specific to a coastal dune variety (Kurz and Godfrey).

          P. angustifolia and P. umbellata are difficult to distinguish, even by the experts. Confounding identification is the fact that these sister trees hybridize readily. Both are apt to have thorny branches. Kurz and Godfrey offer this advice for differentiating the trees: look for glandular leaf tips on new leaves that form on lower branches when the plant flowers. These red or yellow tips are indicative of a Chickasaw plum.

          Most wild foragers agree that the fruits of P. angustifolia are sweeter than those of P. umbellata. But both are initially tart followed by a slightly sweet flavor—so don’t be in a hurry to spit one out if you venture a taste. Although taste buds vary, try to get through the bitter bit before forming an opinion. Be sure to sample the fruit at several stages of ripeness to determine the optimal time for picking. The fruits are high in beta carotene and potassium and contain vitamin C and B-complex as well as phosphorous, calcium, iron, and magnesium.

          You can make Chickasaw plum jellly
          Jams are the most common modern preparation of the berries, but copious amounts of sugar can negate the refreshing tartness. Use your favorite plum jelly recipe. {Editor's note: here is a excellent explanation of the jelly making process, along with recipes:}  The berries also can be carefully pressed or squeezed and made into a sour and rather astringent juice. Be careful not to nick the pits, which are high in a form of cyanide (called “prunasin”) that is converted to hydrocyanic acid when it comes in contact with water or digestive juices. See caution notes. Making juice is rather labor intensive as the fruits are small and the pits are large in comparison!

          However, native people used the berries of various Prunus species as food. The berries of
          P. angustifolia were mashed, seeds and all, made into small cakes that were left sitting out for several days to dry, and then baked. This “fermentation” process purportedly allowed the break down of the potent glycosides (amygdalin) and also reduced bitter tannins. There is some ethnobotanical evidence that mashing, cooking, or exposing the seeds to sunlight destroys the toxic effects. But be safe and avoid eating the pits! (Austin, Peterson). Herbal preparations from Prunus species are contraindicated during pregnancy because of tetragenic cyanogenic glycosides (Holmes).

          Chickasaw plum available at The Natives in Davenport   

           Landscape Tips: P. angustifolia and P. umbellata are native many parts of the United States including Florida. These trees are easily maintained and some people consider them “weedy.” As mentioned, both can form thickets, which is helpful for soil stabilization.

          Zebra swallowtail on Chickasaw plum, photo by Will Stuart

          They make wonderful additions to any Florida landscape, providing exquisite color in the late winter and one of the first nectar sources for early spring butterflies. The beautiful blooming is followed by abundant fruit in early to mid-summer. Birds love the thickets formed by P. angustifolia and cardinals readily appropriate them for nesting. If you set a bird feeder nearby birds will often nab their seeds and fly back to the tree to consume them under the camouflage. Both trees are easy to grow, are not susceptible to pests, and tolerate dry sandy soil. P. angustifolia is mildy salt-tolerant, grows quickly, but is not long lived. P. umbellata can live up to 40 years. Both are best grown from cuttings or seeds and do not transplant well.

          Eleanor K. Sommer
          Paynes Prairie Chapter

          Austin, D. 2004. Florida Ethnobotany. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
          Holmes, P. 1997. The Energetics of Western Herbs. Boulder CO: Snow Lotus Press.
          Kurz, H. and Godfrey, R. K. 1993. Trees of Northern Florida. Gainesville FL: University Press of Florida.
          Moerman, D. E. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland OR: Timber Press Inc.
          Peterson, L. A. 1977. Edible Wild Plants. New York: Houghton-Mifflin.

          Monday, July 11, 2011

          Award Winning Landcape

          Here is a landscape that is an award winner in so many ways! John and Nancy Henkelman received this year's Award of Excellence in the Residential-Amateur/Homeowner division from the Florida Native Plant Society at the Annual Conference this May. 

          From the very beginning of their adventure in landscaping, the Henkelmans  knew they wanted to be able to share their home with friends, Boy Scouts, and garden lovers of many kinds. They wanted to provide space for the Scouting activities of their three sons, and they wanted as much habitat as possible for wildlife. They worked over many years to protect and maintain the existing scrub, wetland and lakefront ecosystems on their land,  while building a home and striving to to showcase the beauty of wild and natural Florida.

          The Henkelmans were fortunate to have a three acre parcel to work with, and their first decision was to clear an area that was only twice the footprint of the house. After construction, elm, oak, cypress, water and pignut hickory, cabbage palm and sweet gum trees were used to complement the pine shade canopy. Increasing the diversity of native trees was also a cornerstone in their goal to provide habitat for wildlife. Trees were carefully placed to give shade from the southern exposure, and protection from the prevailing winds. Native shrubs, bushes and flowers were used to fill the understory and to landscape near the house. 

          The landscape was designed to be a full use, interactive, garden setting using primarily, but not exclusively, native plants. They wanted to have a focal point for scouting and other activities, but they also wanted to retain a distinctly wild and natural look; showing a viable alternative to the typical lawn and garden so commonly seen in many neighborhoods.

          A vegetable garden with native vines, inclding coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

          John and Nancy wanted to avoid a large turf grass lawn, but obviously, with three boys they needed some open area. They carefully choose a variety of grasses and combined them with flowers and ferns for year long color. Interestingly, one of the most invasive plants they had to battle was the St. Augustine grass belonging to their neighbors. One trick they used successfully was to place layers of palmetto fronds to kill the grass intrusion. Native ferns and some gingers formed another suitable blockade. 
                                                                                                                             A native meadow

          Dune sunflowers and saw palmettos
           Long term management had to account for the usual variety of invasive plants, and also control of the native muscadine grape and cat briar. They found that the most effective method was a bi-annual 'search and destroy' session, clipping the plants before they managed to propagate. Controlled burns were also used - and bets are that those were popular with the Scouts! The combined forces of muscadine and cat briar were nearly overwhelming after the triple hurricane wallop. In response, the Henkelmans formed trails through the vines, and kept going with continued cutbacks and burns to help the young, emerging native trees reach adulthood. Composting and vermiculture are practiced, too, helping with soil regeneration, and rain barrels are used for watering as needed.
           John and Nancy are long term members of the Boy Scouts of America, associated with Pack 37 and Troop 37. All three sons achieved the Eagle Scout rating. The landscape they created was the home site for many scouting activities, beginning with the First Class Emphasis requirements for identifying plants and animals, and continuing into Environmental Science and Gardening merit badges. In addition to scouts, visitors have included school and church groups, master gardeners, and lots of happy wildlife. This beautiful, sustainable landscape, seen here supporting scouting life,will continue to be an award-winning destination for years to come.

          Congratulations, John and Nancy!

          Each year at the Annual Conference, FNPS gives awards for high quality native plant landscapes. If you have a home, business, or school site landscaped primarily with native plants, you can apply for one of the landscape awards.There are also categories for Mitigation and Restoration projects. Here's a link from the homepage with contact information:

          Size is not a factor in judging, a tiny yard can win big!

          sue dingwell

          Wednesday, July 6, 2011

          Park Camping Plan Draws Large, Noisy Crowd in Dunedin

          The prospect of adding 45 camping spots at Honeywell Island State Park in Dunedin—including spaces for RVs—drew several hundred boisterous opponents to the plan. Originally the meeting was to have been held at the Dunedin Library, but as word spread throughout the community, the city and the Florida Park Service (FPS) scrambled to find a space that would accommodate a larger group. The crowd that turned out at the Hale Senior Activity Center filled the auditorium, an adjacent room, the foyer, and spilled out into the parking lot. It included local residents, park volunteers, city officials, legislators, and environmental activists. Perhaps they should have booked the Blue Jays stadium across the street!

          The crowd was raucous, waving signs, chanting, and cheering the bearers of a “Save Our Park” banner. A number of state legislators and city officials spoke eloquently against the camping plan, as did a man whose family gave land for the park. He had with him the key to the city his mother was given by Dunedin officials on that occasion. The crowd gave warm applause to the park’s rangers and its superintendent Peter Krulder, who said he learned of the camping plan only two weeks ago. Of the dozens of people who got up and spoke, one wanted tent camping and one suggested a boat ramp (vetoed several years ago) as a more environmentally-friendly alternative. Neither idea was positively received by the crowd. Everyone else spoke against the plan, for some excellent reasons. Several news stations were there with cameras, as well as a reporter from the Palm Beach Post who was interviewing the more interesting speakers.

          There are a host of reasons why camping, with or without RVs, does not belong in Honeymoon Island State Park. Among them are that the park is already very heavily used and adding 300 more visitors a day (FPS estimate) just increases the already significant human footprint there. The presence of campers 24 hours a day 7 days a week removes the possibility of prescribed burning, an important management tool. Honeymoon is one of only three coastal islands in Pinellas—along with Caladesi Island and Shell Key—that is not developed. None of the other 20 barrier islands in the county is available to shorebirds and sea turtles for unmolested nesting. Adding campers, with their noise, lights, food waste and the predators it would draw, would unnecessarily stress these creatures. The park is small, and the footprint of the proposed campground and supporting infrastructure obliterates some of the best habitat in the park, effectively cutting it in half with no wildlife corridor between the two halves. The Park Service’s ostensible reason for adding camping to state parks is to “enhance the visitor experience by adding family camping” and they say that they receive many requests for more campsites. The crowd at the meeting was not anti-camping—many were campers and some said they had RVs—but they sensibly recognize that the size and character of Honeymoon Island dictate that it should remain a day-use park. By its own admission, the FPS has not calculated whether the camping plan would result in a net positive cash flow, and their paltry 9-page plan reflects this deficiency in financial analysis, as well as a lack of environmental planning.

          Honeymoon Island is the state’s most-visited park in the state’s most densely-populated county. According to the Florida Park Service, the park took in revenues of $2.2 million and netted $1.6 million, profit which went into the Florida Park Service foundation account to be used to help run all state parks. Volunteers contributed 27,000 hours of service last year, equivalent to the labor of 13 full-time park employees.

          Showing up and speaking our minds may be one of very few avenues we have left to stop projects we don't want, since during the most recent session the Florida Legislature scrapped many of the environmental regulations that used to protect our wildlife and natural communities. Popular opinion can be very powerful when people stand up in large numbers to those in power. I believe that many employees of the Florida Park Service, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Water Management Districts, et cetera, disagree with the direction they receive from Tallahassee but can't protest for fear of losing their jobs. If the public rises up in vociferous opposition it gives bureaucrats with a conscience the political cover they need to do the right thing. Seeing the crowd tonight speak out to protect a beautiful place that they dearly love—which is also a valuable natural resource—was very inspiring and gives me great hope for the future of this state!

          This plan affects not just Honeymoon, but 55 other parks. You can speak up too! Here’s a link with the email address to do so. Write your local legislators, too!

          Links for contacting DEP at:

          Article by Craig Pittman about the meeting in the St. Petersburg Times: