THE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES OF
“NATIVE TREES & PLANTS FOR NATIVE & MIGRATORY BIRDS AT BRUCE BEACH”
By Michael Brower
President, Francis M. Weston Audubon Society
Speaking of Bruce Beach, Francis M. Weston Audubon Society has an opportunity at Bruce Beach to join the Tanyard Community, as a brother or sister.
The myth that Communities-of-Color are disinterested in nature or birding is just “a white myth.” Bruce Beach is not just talk and flower gardens, Bruce Beach is settling the score on environmental injustice in downtown Pensacola one native tree and plant at a time.
FMWAS doesn’t have to go it alone, we have friends like Grover Robinson, Teniade Broughton and Fred and Tia Robbins and others like all the kids at the Dixon School.
We should encourage them to bird walk, tend, water the groves and elect them to the FMWAS Board of Directors. A long-time ago…August 2019…the FMWAS Fundraising Committee submitted a grant proposal to Audubon Florida’s “Plants For Bird’s” program underwritten by Florida Power & Light.
The long-pole in the tent was that Pensacola wasn’t in the FP&L service area and some bending was necessary to fund the FMWAS proposal. That’s when Gulf Power Foundation stepped-up and into the breach.
Gulf Power and FP&L are corporate relatives under NextERA Corporation and suddenly the AF “Plants For Birds” program had Gulf Power Foundation helping. So, the initial FMWAS grant application for “Native Trees & Plants For Native & Migratory Birds at Bruce Beach” was funded by Gulf Power Foundation.
All in with pledged matching funds and volunteer labor contributions the authorized package was worth $5,000.00. Grant management was assigned to the FMWAS Conservation Standing Committee Chair by the Board of Directors.
Fast-forward to June 2020, the landscape had been ravaged by the Covid pandemic since March and action on the “Native Trees & Plants For Native & Migratory Birds at Bruce Beach” grant was stalled for a variety of reasons. The recently re-elected FMWAS President presented the Zoom-assembled Board of Directors his 2020-2021 vision, mission and goals statement at the Annual Planning Meeting.
The Board of Directors unanimously approved and made bonafide, four goals declaring 2020 – 2021: A Year For Education For All About Our Birds, A Year of Renewed Avian Conservation For All, A Year of Successfully Inviting Youth and People of Color To FMWAS and A Year of Planting Native Trees and Plants Creating a ‘Center In Being’ at Bruce Beach.
Can with pride, safely confide, the Board of Directors have had these goals in sight every month as they assembled to chart the future for FMWAS. “Native Trees & Plants For Native & Migratory Birds at Bruce Beach” was simultaneously transferred to the Center Committee Allowing no moss to grow underfoot by first negotiating an extension of the initial funding for “Native Trees & Plants For Native & Migratory Birds at Bruce Beach,” and then the Center Committee in August 2020, researched, drafted, submitted and received Board of Director’s unanimous approval of the Phase 1 Bruce Beach Spending Plan. The Spending Plan required the Center Committee to only seek bids from native tree and plant nurseries in the Florida Panhandle and coastal Alabama.
The spending plan adapted the original funding proposal Florida native plant list and selected a vendor: 7 Pines Native Plant Nursery in Defuniak Springs, Florida. By September 2020, facts were clear that FMWAS needed more money to get all of Phase 1 done. So the Board approved the Fundraising Committee to develop more funds for Phase 1 and Phase 1 A.
First, FMWAS approached our long-time friends at Ascend Performance Materials/Ascend Cares Foundation to make-up an essential Phase 1 matching commitment of an unfulfilled pledge. Ascend came through with the “tip of the iceberg” funding for “Native Trees & Plants For Native & Migratory Birds at Bruce Beach,” rebalancing the $5,000.00 budget.
Next, as luck would have it, Audubon Florida “Plants For Birds” program released a 2020-2021 solicitation for proposals and the Fundraising Committee researched, coordinated, authored, and was approved for a second Audubon Florida “Plants for Birds” grant, funded by Gulf Power Foundation for “Native Trees & Plants For Native & Migratory Birds at Bruce Beach – Phase 1 A.”
Many among us complain about local government being unresponsive to community concerns, FMWAS unilaterally states in the matter of “Native Trees & Plants For Native & Migratory Birds at Bruce Beach,” the City of Pensacola from the top-down and bottom-up was 100% a partner with FMWAS. The Center Committee negotiated, coordinated and jointly drafted an enabling Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Pensacola, City of Pensacola Community Redevelopment Agency and the Pensacola City Council. At all tiers of City government there were no doors that did not open and no calls or e-mails unreturned.
The Pensacola Community Redevelopment Agency unanimously approved the “Native Trees & Plants For Native & Migratory Birds at Bruce Beach” Memorandum of Understanding and project both Phases 1 and 1 A on November 9, 2020.
Three days later, the City Council unanimously approved the “Native Trees & Plants For Native & Migratory Birds at Bruce Beach” Memorandum of Understanding and project both Phases 1 and 1 A, and shortly later Mayor Robinson signed the “Native Trees & Plants For Native & Migratory Birds at Bruce Beach” Memorandum of Understanding both Phases 1 and 1 A.
We had the money to buy the Phase 1 plants, we had the governmental authorizations, we ordered the plants, but could we pull a planting event off in the midst of a Covid pandemic? We could because of the volunteer spirit that the notion of “Native Trees & Plants For Native & Migratory Birds at Bruce Beach” inspired.
On November 21 & 22, 2020, the Center Committee recruited, coordinated and mustered 99 volunteers, all masked and social distanced, from all walks of life to plant over 200 native trees and plants. We did not do it alone, we had a great contribution of volunteers from Mr. Robbins Neighborhood, a youth development organization, thanks to founders Fred & Tia Robbins.
FMWAS only bought 150 native trees and plants, but volunteers brought and donated 50 more trees and shrubs, mostly Bald Cypress and Yaupon Holly that they had grown from seed, so we planted them too. The volunteer spirit continues from November 2021 toMay 2021, when an average of 18 volunteers for four workdays, all masked and socially distanced from all walks of life turned out to water, weed control, and cultivate over 200 native trees and plants in three groves at Bruce Beach.
On February 27, 2021, the Center Committee led a planned effort to plant over donated 60 native palms and ground cover plants mostly Sabal Palms, Elliot’s Love Grass and Frogsfruit. The crew also watered the now 260 native trees and plants. Thanks to Kate Kasten for the native Sabal Palms. What does this planting mean to FMWAS? One might think that the habitat and the birds it will attract is the goal we wanted to achieve, but you’d be wrong.
The planting of the Bruce Beach Phase 1 Live Oak and Sand Live Oak, Bald Cypress and Mulberry/Persimmon groves was totally successful, but the ultimate goal was getting the community and people involved. This was the youngest average age and most diverse in terms of race, gender and gender-orientation that Francis M. Weston Audubon Society ever organized and conducted.
Most importantly, 22% (22 of 99) of planting volunteers were from our Communities of Color, 35% (6 of 17) of inaugural Bruce Beach Bird Walk participants were from our Communities of Color, 14% (15 of 99) of planting volunteers represented themselves as being from the LGBTQ and others community, 20% (20 of 99) of planting volunteers were estimated to be 35 or younger. 55% (56 of 99) of planting volunteers were estimated to be women.
To amplify these steps, FMWAS earned media from the Pensacola News Journal (11/12/20), WEAR-TV (11/21 and 11/22), Studio 850 (11/21 and 11/22), Ballinger Publishing (Pensacola Today 12/5/20) and received 105 social media praiseworthy comments including 36% from non-planting participants.
Since then, FMWAS has been working closely with BeverleyBoy Productions to direct, assist and film the production of a grant stipulated “Francis M. Weston Audubon Society, Bruce Beach & the Community” outreach video. The Center Committee anticipates that this community outreach video will be valuable based on the articulation of the goals therein.
Expect the video to premiere at the May 27, 2021, Annual Meeting and Election of Officers and Directors. FMWAS plans to plant the Phase 1 A Sand Live Oak grove and associated understory in November 2021, after the pedestrian bridge across Washerwoman Creek and waterfront connector pathway is installed.
We intend the hardy and salt-tolerant Sand Live Oaks to help shade the pathway and protect the other groves from salt-wind and spray. Thanks to the generosity of Ascend Performance Materials/Ascend Cares Foundation ($8,000), Gulf Power Foundation ($5,000), individual donors ($3,000) and FMWAS cash match and volunteer labor valued at $29,660.00 ,the entire “Native Trees & Plants For Native & Migratory Birds at Bruce Beach” project including Phase 1 and 1-A” is presently 100% paid for to completion.