By Jenny Welch, Member of Kissimmee Valley Audubon Society and Volunteer with EagleWatch
My appreciation of natural Florida grew from my childhood living on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Using saw palmetto as swords, pokeberries as paintballs, climbing trees, listening to the wind blow through the pines, feeling the house shake when an Apollo launch went up. We played outside from dawn until the mosquitoes came out at dusk.
I never saw an alligator or Bald Eagle growing up because, at that time, they were almost extinct. Now, I never tire of seeing them today. I am fortunate that my childhood home is part of a wildlife refuge to be preserved while much of Florida is being developed. With so many special places disappearing from our state, I have made it a personal mission to curb the negative environmental impacts of development where I live.
It all started by asking developers some simple questions...
When I learned a school close to me would be rebuilt, I contacted the architect for the project. I asked a few questions. Can native plants be used? Can additional longleaf pines be planted for the resident nesting Bald Eagles? Can their roost tree be preserved? Can the new retention pond have a littoral shelf to reduce harmful nutrients in the water?
He not only said yes to all my questions, but he also planted an additional 58 longleaf pine trees and landscaped the new pond! In fact, the resident eagles now nest in that rescued roost tree.
When a college decided to build a new campus in Osceola County, I asked to meet with their president to discuss site designs. We met, and the president agreed to landscape with native plants, build bird-friendly windows, use wildlife-proof garbage cans, and not use rodenticide baited rodent boxes.
And finally, when Dollar General decided to build near my home, I reached out to them. I asked if they would use Florida native plants and preserve some of the existing plants by not clear cutting the whole lot. Just like that, they changed their landscape plans to all Florida native plants and did not clear-cut the whole lot.
I have learned to work with developers, businesses, and schools just by asking simple questions. It’s really that easy. In most cases, people are willing to make simple updates to their plans that benefit birds and people. You can make the same thing happen in your community! Join your local Audubon chapter and get involved by taking on leadership roles. Praise those who are doing good things. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask the right questions.