An Ode to Volunteers

By Cindy Liberton, 32nd Annual FNPS Conference Planning Committee

Corridor Expedition route
Here we are again, between Earth Day 2012 and Arbor Day, holidays best spent outdoors.

Earth Day was originally intended as a date to commemorate humankind's relationship with the planet. Since its start in 1970, we have seen the event evolve, wax and wane, but, to me, April 22nd means a day for celebration, reflection, and lots of community events.  Each event, in every, community, wouldn't happen without volunteers.  And that is a big thing, and something to reflect upon.

2012’s Earth Day in Florida was especially remarkable to me because of some specific volunteers, both renowned and unsung. On this Earth Day, just over the Florida state line, four intrepid environmentalists completed day 97 of the "1000 miles, 100 Days”  Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition . Their efforts to spotlight the remaining greenways and wildlife corridors of Florida have made the news throughout the state. Jeff Klinkenberg covers their journey in an article published on Earth Day in the Tampa Bay Times. 

Speaking of Jeff Klinkenberg, he will help us welcome the attendees to the 32nd Annual Florida Native Plant Society Conference on the morning of May 18. I highly recommend reading his anthologies (Pilgrim in the Land of Alligators, Seasons of Real Florida). The conference planning team (all volunteers... we'll get to that) invited Klinkenberg to our conference because of his favorite subject matter: People who make a Difference in Florida.

All of the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) members that I know are intensely interested in making a difference... after all, they joined to support the mission of preserving, conserving and restoring native plant populations. Plants certainly don't speak for themselves, always taking back stage to the charismatic manatee, panther and bear. Citizen naturalists and scientists who are interested in native plants are united in the scary belief that if we do nothing, plant populations will continue to be bombarded by human influences; only human action can change this.

Many members of the FNPS dedicate an amazing amount of their time and talents to waving the flag for Florida's native plants. They restore damaged lands, pull bad exotic plants from trees, spend endless hours at booths, and plant demonstration gardens. They give talks to whomever will listen. Whether they study, teach, draw, or photograph, they incrementally add to all that has come before. As do those who work on the annual FNPS conference,  from different Chapters each year.

On Earth Day 2012, the day after yet another conference planning meeting in the Lutz Library, I was inspired by all the people who are donating their time, money, and lots of Saturdays to support this event. This is the 32nd annual conference, and I have a renewed appreciation for the hundreds of volunteers since the first one in 1980 who have innovated, reinvented, collaborated, argued, and fretted to bring the best possible program to the Society members who travel across the state each year to attend.

Captivated audience on a guided conference field trip

The reasons they do this seems appropriate to Earth Day musings; the volunteer planners are united in the desire to show off our planet's natural wonders—in this case, the plant life and ecosystems of a particular region of our state. The conference does this in a way that remains powerful and somewhat unique; it offers expert led field trips to actually see the plants where they live in the real world. Conference planners thoughtfully recruit just the right people to volunteer to lead these trips. In a time where knowledge of native plants is often limited to digital images, urban plantings, or the rare documentary, these are experiences to be treasured, and they are.

The same care goes into recruiting the speakers for the conference. I started this discussion with the Klinkenberg example, and I would be remiss not to mention our Keynote speaker, Doug Tallamy. Although he is not from Florida, Doug does have a real handle on what citizens can DO to increase the biodiversity of their communities. Rounding out our celebrity roster, we are all thrilled to bring Hilary Swain's perspectives to those who haven't had the pleasure of meeting her. As Archbold Biological  Station's  Executive Director, she has been an inspiration to all seeking to understand the science behind conservation, and how it intersects with human use of the lands. 

These presentations will nicely frame the key messages that the rest of the invited presenters have volunteered to share with attendees, often at significant personal expense. As has been the case in each of the 31 conferences preceding this one, established and emerging researchers will talk about plant science—after all—the Society's efforts are firmly rooted in science. Of course there will also be experts in horticulture and landscaping to enchant the gardener in all of us.

Importantly, this year, in a political and economic climate unfriendly to traditional conservation methods, yet somewhat protective as development is temporarily stalled, we have invited those who can help demystify the current reality of conservation of ecosystems in Florida. Whether the topic is coastal protection, cultivation of biomass, protection of our waters, or the policy machinations that influence all of this, we can guarantee that these talks will be evocative.

So, as I sit here on the banks of the Withlacoochee River wrapping this up on my IPad, I find myself somewhat passionate about the potential for cumulative effect from all these volunteer efforts, large and small. Each Earth Day, I try to be optimistic that we will find ways for people to reconnect to the natural world. The complexion of that connection will continue to evolve—we can capture a butterfly's flight on a smart phone, and identify it with an App — and still I hope. The volunteers I meet provide the basis of hope, and I believe whatever their skills or interests, they will continue to be relevant.

If you haven't decided whether to come to Plant City May 17-20 for the FNPS conference, "Preserving the Natural Heart of Florida," I suggest you do. Better yet, come and volunteer. Every contribution makes the experience better for all, and brings us together in a collaboration that may having lasting effects for, as Jeff Klinkenberg help coined it, the "Real Florida." See


drew said…
Good to hear that Florida, with the rest of the world, is starting to restore its lands!

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