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 www.flsenate.gov and www.myfloridahouse.gov

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 delnsb.com.

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?