On this blog most of us focus on our own properties with ideas and success stories of how our mostly native landscapes have attracted wildlife. But anyone who is concerned about the environment can also become an advocate for Mother Nature.
It’s a pleasant experience to write for people like myself who also believe that creating more wildlife-friendly habitat is a good idea, but isn’t one of our goals to reach out to wider audiences who might not have thought that their landscaping decisions are important?
I live in Florida, a swing state, where the din of election advertisements and flood of tree-killing political mailers was nerve-racking to say the least. But now that the elections are over, I decided that it was time to talk to my local representatives. I knew my new Florida state senator from my work as board member for the special taxing district to support our lakes–he was our lawyer. So I called. I congratulated him on his win and quickly expressed my opinion that preserving Florida’s natural ecosystem is not anti-business and offered to be his go-to person for environmental issues. He agreed with many of my points. The next week I received an invitation from his assistant to speak before the Clay County Delegation (all Republicans) on December 12th. The delegation consists of all the senators and representatives that represent the county in the Florida legislature. Thanks to weirdly drawn districts, there are several.
So now it was time to prepare my three-minute presentation and my handout with information on with links for further information. I’ll print copies of the handout on green paper so they will stand out. (See below to for a copy of my prepared talk and my handout.) I’m including my own information here to provide you with a starting point for dealing with your local representatives or the workers under them. Your situation, local issues, your stories, and your passions will be different.
Rule of Ps
When talking with politicians and with the people who work for government agencies, I follow the rule of Ps.*
1) Be Prepared. Have your materials and handouts ahead of time. Your time may be severely limited, so this preparation can make the difference between making your point or not.
2) Be Polite and respectful, even if you disagree with a policy. Getting angry or antagonistic means that you may not be welcome to come back in the future.
3) Deliver Praise for policies, laws, or actions that are steps in the right direction.
4) Be Punctual. If you’ve set up a time to meet someone, make it easy by meeting at his or her office (or other designated place) and be early for the meeting. Things can be a whirlwind of activiy in government or agency offices, so don’t be a hindrance to their operations.
5) Be Persistent. If your contact initially rejects your ideas but puts a date out there when you can come back, don’t let it slide call back and be there. Or try talking to a different person with a slightly different responsibility.
6) Be Patient. Changing government policies can be a cumbersome process, so it may be a long time before anything happens even if your ideas are accepted.
Reaching Decision Makers
No matter how you feel about government and whether it should be larger or smaller, the governments (local, state and national) and their agencies are the deciders about the fate of huge tracts of land. Developers and big industry have paid lobbyists working for them at all levels of government. Sometimes they even participate in developing regulations that apply to their own business interests. It may not be fair, but it’s the reality. While there are a few eco-activist organizations with money to lobby on behalf of Mother Nature, your voice as an individual taxpayer and constituent may be more effective. You don’t have anything to gain personally, so your sincerity may ring a little truer.
The actions we take in our yards to benefit wildlife are important, especially if we can convince others to make changes as well. But the government footprint on Mother Nature is huge in comparison. Let your voice of reason with logical green solutions be heard out there in the vast government wastelands.
Go beyond your garden gate: maybe a politician or bureaucrat will be listening.
My speaking notes for a three-minute presentation
I’m Ginny Stibolt and live at XXX. I have a master’s degree in botany and have written two gardening books published by Univ. Press of Florida. I’m active in the Florida Native Plant Society and am a member of the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy. In fact 50% of the royalties for my first book, “Sustainable Gardening for Florida”, go directly to the Nature Conservancy. Also, I blog for 3 environmental blogs. So yes, I’m a tree hugger, but I have also owned and managed 3 different computer-oriented businesses over the years and I know what it’s like to make payroll.
I firmly believe that Preserving Florida’s environment is NOT an anti-business policy. Before my husband and I moved here, we drove to Florida several times as tourists. We camped, hiked and kayaked at many state parks. We especially love the Everglades and Florida’s amazing springs. We like to paddle a mile up to the edge of the Rainbow River State Park, jump in the water and snorkel back to our put-in place. We laughingly call these outings “Swimming with Anhingas” because those water birds are below us looking for fish to spear.
But.., our springs and our main aquifers are in trouble. Big bottlers have been allowed to pump millions of gallons of our water to sell. New developments are being allowed in areas where there are already water shortages. But the Water Management Districts budgets have been severely cut. The few dollars we save as homeowners is an insignificant amount, but it has adversely affected the districts. Restore those fees to former levels.
I’m not against cutting out bureaucratic bottlenecks and was not upset to see the breakup of the Department of Community Affairs, but we do need some statewide oversight over developers. Using wildlands for new developments when there is so much already developed land (like abandoned strip malls) is just not right. I think special incentives to redevelop land that has already been spoiled is a much better idea.
I think the governor’s idea last year of spoiling our state parks with golf courses would have been not only devastating for the parklands, it would also have inserted state-sponsored competition for existing golf courses, many of which are struggling. I’m glad this was defeated.
In addition, our waterways are being polluted not only by big industry, but also by millions of people’s over-fertilized lawns. I congratulate the Florida Senate for passing the SB 2080 in 2009, the Florida-Friendly law. But people who’d like to replace their lawns (and therefore decrease their own pollution footprint) are still having to fight their HOAs, even now. Please continue to support the Florida-Friendly law.
Recently,a white paper “Value of Florida’s clean waters” was released. This research finds that algae and red tide outbreaks caused by water pollution cost Floridians between $1 and $10 Billion each year. As one small example, Florida Today reported that an algae outbreak in the Indian River Lagoon caused the commercial fishing industry to lose more than $300 million.
On the day this report was released, state officials opposed the EPA’s water quality requirements as “too costly.” Just remember that if our waterways become less attractive, then the whole state loses–as fewer tourists will come, fewer snowbirds, and fewer companies would wish to locate here. Protecting our waterways and springs are an investment for future generations.
Quite often energy-saving, and money-saving strategies for state and local governments will also be good for the environment. Rain gardens can be installed next to parking lots to absorb the sotrmwater runoff and reduce the amount of lawn to care for. Planting more trees will cool the area and sequester more carbon. The state could mow the roadsides only once a year and plant native wildflowers instead.
I have provided a green handout to you with resources that might be useful to you. If you have an environmental question please do not hesitate to call. If I’m not the best person to answer your question, I will find the best person for that topic. Thank you for your time.
My handout for the delegation
Preserving Florida’s environment is NOT an anti-business policy
Ginny Stibolt; firstname.lastname@example.org; 904 xxx-xxxx; www.GreenGardeningMatters.com
It’s not easy being green, but it’s the right thing to do. When Florida’s wild spaces are preserved, when the springs and waterways are unpolluted, then people will want to visit as tourists and they would love to live here. And when people would love to live here, more businesses will locate in Florida without an inordinate amount of incentives paid for with public money.
Resources: (Note: I’ve activated these link for this post, but obviously on a sheet of paper, the urls are spelled out so they can be typed on their computers.)
∙ Valuing Florida’s Clean Waters: In the first comprehensive review of its kind, the Stockholm Environment Institute, released this white paper, which finds that algae and red tide outbreaks caused by water pollution cost Floridians between $1.3 billion and $10.5 billion each year. http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/ValuingFloridasCleanWaters.pdf
∙ EPA has settled on clean water regulations for Florida: Work with the DEP and Water Management Districts to implement them. It’s an investment for the future so our children will be able to enjoy Florida’s many resources. www.seattlepi.com/news/science/article/Feds-impose-tough-water-pollution-rules-on-Florida-4081990.php
∙ Encourage developers to reuse previously developed properties instead of destroying wildlands. Here’s a piece on a developer in Daytona who has a successful business doing so. www.news-journalonline.com/article/20121202/BUSINESS/311299991/1024/BUSINESS
∙ Resources for the Florida-Friendly Law (SB 2080 now Florida Statutes 720.3075(4)): www.flcommunityassociationlaw.com/2011/04/articles/articles-on-tannenbaum-scro/understanding-the-florida-friendly-landscaping-law/
∙ Florida Native Plant Society has model ordinances to reduce roadside mowing and information on appropriate native plants by county: www.fnps.org
∙ Florida Natural Areas Inventory is a non-profit organization thatserves as the primary source for information on Florida’s conservation lands. The Inventory database includes GIS boundaries and statistics for more than 2,000 federal, state, local, and private managed areas. The database also includes information on Florida Forever environmental land acquisition projects: www.fnai.org
∙ Florida Forever is a successful program that needs to continue and lands that have been set aside “forever” should not be sold off as surplus: www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/fl_forever.htm
∙ Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council is a non-profit organization that researches and determines which and when pest plants have caused enough problems in our wildlands are list as invasive: www.fleppc.org/
∙ The Lawn Reform Coalition website provides many ideas and resources both for lawn replacements and more sustainable lawn care: www.lawnreform.org
∙ Rain garden information: www.rightasraingardens.com.
* The rule of Ps is a loose translation of ideas I learned from my friend and fellow FNPS member, Eleanor Dietrich, when she made a presentation at a Florida Wildflower symposium a couple of years ago.
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