By Dr. Richard Baker, President,

Pelican Island Audubon Society, Vero Beach, FL.

Vero Beach is considering how to develop the Three Corners Property along our dying Indian River Lagoon.  Should they promote businesses – more hotels, houses, restaurants, and other commercial opportunities – or should they restore the trees and wetlands that were there before the powerplant and wastewater facility?  

Or at least provide a unique and innovative venue to attract artists, poets, musicians, and actors and showcase local creativity.  Perhaps the plan could incorporate educational parks, recreational opportunities, and stormwater ponds to clean up the storm water and wastewater that is flowing into the lagoon killing the seagrass, starving the manatees, fishes, and other animals.

Plan for the future!   

If our cities and county upgrade their landscape and tree ordinances. we can enhance our communities to be “national parks.” We need to reduce our exotic turfgrass sod (whose 2-inch roots require frequent watering) to only 10-15% of the lawn and plant the remainder in Florida native plants and trees. This will save 64-88% of our drinking water and will stop fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides entering our Lagoon. Lawn care wastes cash on gasoline for mowers and blowers, leading to noise and air pollution. 

Stop clearcutting and killing our beautiful trees that provide cooler temperatures and oxygen while removing C02 from the air we breathe.  Hurricanes like IAN are getting bigger, affecting wider areas, destroying homes and possessions, and causing deaths. These severe storms are affecting our pocketbook as insurance rates keep going higher.  

Mangrove swamps and our forests protect us from hurricanes. A Chesapeake environmental team found that one inch of rain over an acre of forest land generates 750 gallons of runoff.  One inch over an acre of pavement generates 27,000 gallons of runoff. Natural areas provide free services to us if we maintain them!

To save our waters, our septic tanks (glorified outhouses) must he removed and replaced by sewers countywide. Even the solid poop in sewer systems, after the liquid is removed, can be used to produce electricity and pure N and P instead of being dumped on agricultural lands or in Indian River County on top of our tallest mountain: the County dump!

What can we do at the state and national levels? The Clean Water Act was passed 50 years ago with the goal that all U.S. waters be fishable and swimmable. It has been “watered down” over the last few years.  Polluting industries have just asked the Supreme Court to remove Clean Water Act protections from wetlands, opening them up to more development and toxic waste. A decision is expected in early 2023. Complain!

A 2022 State of the World’s Birds report published by 33 leading science and conservation organizations and agencies, including National Audubon, found that over half of the U.S.’s bird species are declining. “The rapid decline in birds signal the intensifying stresses that wildlife and people alike are experiencing around the world because of habitat loss, environmental degradation and extreme climate events,” said Dr. Amanda Rodewald, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

“Taking action to bring birds back delivers a cascade of benefits that improve climate resilience and quality of life for people. When we restore forests, we sequester carbon, reduce fire intensity, and create habitat for plants and animals.”

Why can’t our local cities be Bird Cities like Fort Collins, Colorado? In a collaboration between Environment for the Americas and the American Bird Conservancy, they are taking on-the-ground conservation action to help birds recover and then recognize those achievements. Their program is designed to foster innovation and connections that Iead to advances for birds in natural areas, parks, gardens, main streets, and backyards to make these places better for birds and people.

City Councils – Let’s make helping birds species recover a priority.  Let’s write letters to our leaders and newspapers and speak out at city council and county commission meetings, expressing our concern for the future.  

Take Action!

Dr. Baker is currently Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida, researching entomology and genetics; Director of the University of Maryland Entomology Research Lab in Pakistan for 13 years before moving to Florida where he continued his research on mosquito born diseases as Director of the University of Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Indian River County. 

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