NAL 2019

 

The Garden Club of America (GCA) held its 2019 National Affairs & Legislation (NAL) Conference on February 24-27 in Washington D.C.  This year the GCA was 300 strong, with 31 Zone III representatives attending.  The PGC was represented by members Krystal Ford and Linda Lange, shown right with GCA  delegate Karen Ertl. 

 

Highlights included:

  • On March 12, 2019, S.47 was approved by Congress.  The reauthorization includes permanent authorization  and funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF was established by Congress in 1964. Using zero taxpayer dollars, the fund invests earnings from offshore oil and gas leasing to help protect our national endowment of lands and waters.The GCA has long been supportive of permanent authorization and funding at full levels.

 

Zone III photo op with Senator Chuck Schumer and a meeting with his aide to bring to their attention the GCA’s support of:

  • The Botany Bill, which encourages the use of native plants in restoration and other projects and promotes: the hiring of more botanists in federal agencies,a loan payment program for students, the use of native plants in federal restoration projects and the protection of endangered plants; 

 

  • The Americas Scenic Byways Act S.349 limits highway billboards and supports the use of native plants; 

  • Restore Our Parks Act, S.500. This bill is working to establish, fund, and provide for the use of amounts in a National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund to address the maintenance backlog of the National Park Service.

A District 18 delegation meeting with Senator Gillibrand’s staffer and

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s staffer to discuss issues important to our

area; 

 

  • Oceans’ introduced as the GCA’s newest position paper; and  

 

  • At the Conference’s concluding evening dinner, a presentation by Dr. Roger Parks, a coral specialist, who offered a dire warning about the health of our oceansvis a viethe health of the world’s coral.  The title of his presentation was “Corals:  Orchids of the Sea and Why This Matters.”

 

The following is a report of the activities and presentations offered at the NAL conference:

 

Upon arrival on Sunday, February 24th, first-time attendees were offered a training session on advocacy.  Everyone was encouraged to research their representatives and be prepared to discuss GCA talking points with them.  The importance of building a relationship with the representatives was strongly emphasized.  

 

On Monday, February 25th, we heard from seven presenters.  The first was Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Professor of Climate Science, Texas Tech University, who stated that in the past the climate was remarkably stable and a great predictor of weather trends, but that is no longer true today.  The average weather patterns and temperatures are changing, which will affect agriculture, phenological events, bird migration, growing seasons, the spread of invasive plants and the list went on.  Hurricanes aren’t more frequent, but they are stronger, bigger, slower moving and their rainfall is much more intense than it used to be.  She stated the importance of conversations around climate change.

Karen Ertl, GCA Delegate with Linda Lange and Krystal Ford

Karen Ertl, GCA Delegate with Linda Lange and Krystal Ford

Meeting Senator Schumer

We next heard from David Yarnold, President and CEO of the National Audubon Society, who reported that there are 314 bird species on the brink of extinction because 50% of their habitat is at risk.  Several things that we can do is be sure to

turn out the lights at night (confuses migrating birds), keep your cats inside, plant plants for birds, and vote for an environmental candidate.  He also told us about a Native Plant Listing by zip code on the Audubon web-site. 

 

Toddi Steelman, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University provided a list of the major fires occurring around the world, which brought home the fact that there is an upward trend in occurrence and severity. "It’s

no longer a fire season; it’s considered a fire year”.  Steelman cited better land use planning as a way to protect people and their homes.

 

Mark Bittman, famed author and chef (and Philipstown resident) talked about the impact of climate change on food production and what we can do about it.  Bittman provided a brief history of farming and diets. He explained that in the last couple of generations, however, grains have become more relied upon and can feed more people per acre, more than animal products.  Sustainability will give us the capacity to endure, Bittman added. He suggested that we work to change the US diet by making it more plant-based, thereby reducing CO2emissions produced by animals and replace current practices with biodiverse and multi-cropping strategies.  

 

Sarah Fleming, of the Rumson Garden Club, spoke about Partners for Plants, (P4P), which is a joint program of the GCA and the Horticulture Committees to monitor and conserve rare plants, restore native habitats and remove invasive weeds on federal, state and local public lands. P4P has partnered with Doug Adelmo, Chief of the Natural Resource Stewardship Division, Gateway National Recreation Area of Staten Island, who discussed the status of the 26,000 acres of parkland under his jurisdiction, which includes Sandy Hook.

 

Janis Searles Jones is CEO of the Ocean Conservancy.  Jones began by stating that gardens and oceans are linked by climate.  Our oceans cover 70% of the globe and serve as a buffer for climate change by absorbing the sun’s rays.  Noticeable changes have been documents as the water temperature increases: 

  • lobsters are migrating further north to Canada for cooler waters 

  • An 80% reduction in the 2016 Pacific Cod catch in 2016 

  • Massive sea ice loss between 1990-2015.

  • DC’s cherry blossoms are blooming three weeks sooner 

  • Ocean acidification has made it more difficult for crabs (and other arthropods) to develop their shells thereby threatening their survival 

  • and 60% of the world’s corals are dying because of increased water temperatures which is causing “bleaching”  

 

What we can and must do?  Reduce CO2emissions; tell Congress there is an urgent need for climate action – provide funding for research; decrease our CO2footprint; and recycle and reduce runoff of fertilizer rich ingredients from our homes, industries, and farms.

 

Our own Krystal Ford made a great suggestion. She proposed the idea that ocean temperatures be included with daily online or telecast weather reports so that people become more aware of the trends.

 

Alison Whipple Rockefeller, founding chair of the National Audubon Rachel Carson Award and National Audubon Women in Conservation Program, provided a history of women’s involvement in environmental conservation and preservation.  

 

Next was a panel discussion of the Botany Bill: [update:  previous HR 1054.  This bipartisan bill was reintroduced on March 12, 2019 as H.R. 1572)

 

Leslie Fogg, Board Member of the Naples Botanical Garden and Member of the Garden Club of Mount Desert, ME, reported that the current Botany Bill being co-sponsored by Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL, 5thDistrict) and Congressman Francis Rooney (R-FL, 19thDistrict) will foster botanical research and careers in Botany. Fogg served as the panel moderator.

 

Kayri Havens, Ph.D.  Medard and Elizabeth Welch Director, Plant Science and Conservation, Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago, IL.  Havens stated that most seed used in restoration projects by the government is not native.  The Botany Bill addresses this and increasing the number of botanists.

 

Carrie Rebora Barratta, Ph.D., President, New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY, said that the NYBG is already doing what the Botany Bill is calling for. The NYBG is made up of 250 acres and she has 50 scientists on staff who are working on disaster preparedness and climate change.  In addition, NYBG is supportive of 350 garden corner plots in the city. Dr. Novy supports the Botany Bill and recognized the importance of forgiving Botany students their educational debt.

 

Ari Novy, Ph.D. President and CEO of the San Diego Botanic Garden, San Diego, CA, informed attendees that public gardens have more visitors per year than the top 3 major sporting events.  Dr. Novi explained that the federal government is the majority owner of land in the west and she stressed the importance of locally sourced, native plants in restoration efforts.   Novy discussed the Bonn Challenge, launched in 2011 but the German Government & the International Union for Conservation, which is a global effort to bring 150 million hectares (370,000 acres) of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares (865,000 acres) by 2030.  The effort has been endorsed and extended by the New York Declaration of Forests at the 2014 UN Climate Summit.  Its aim is to restore ecological integrity at the same time as improving human well-being through multifunctional landscapes.  She mentioned Pinelands Nursery in New Jersey and Tree of Life in California as sources of native seeds.

 

Mark Falzone, President of Scenic America based in Washington, DC, discussed the problems faced with billboards and their proliferation.  Route 66 has been designated as a scenic highway.  

 

Rich Innes who is a legislative consultant to the GCA concluded the day’s sessions by presenting GCA’s legislative priorities and talking points. He advised that if any GCA members were asked about the Green New Deal, the GCA had yet to discuss this proposal. 

That evening Jackie Quillenonce again opened up her beautiful home to Zone III attendees where the opportunity to talk with and get to know fellow garden club members was provided.

 

On Tuesday, February 26, we went to the Congressional Auditorium and heard from fourteen congressional representatives on their climate change position.  It was interesting to observe and witness the sincerity (or not) elected officials had for doing something about climate change. What came through repeatedly was the importance of people needing to become more involved in making sure the politicians are aware of the public’s position.  It can be more powerful than one might think.  The following representatives spoke: 

 

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR, 3rdDistrict) – a real fan of GCA; explained that we must start with agriculture if you care about CO2  levels.  He is a supporter of not providing subsidies for people who chose to live in places prone to harm’s way.  

Senator Boozman (R-AR) spoke about the importance of recycling, agriculture and forestry.

Representative Lee Zeldin(R-NY, 1stDistrict) spoke about the Bird-Safe Building Act (HR-2542).  This bill requires each public building constructed, substantially altered, or acquired by the General Services Administration (GSA) be constructed in a manner that will deter bird strikes and limit interference with migratory routes. 

Representative Kilmer(D-WA, 5thDistrict) spoke about the importance of saving our national parks and bodies of water, such as the Puget Sound. 

 

Representative Suozzi (D-NY, 3rdDistrict) spoke powerfully about the need for people to get their politicians to listen to them.  He supports the Green New Deal.

 

Senator Capito (R-WV) addressed the need to restore existing parks.  He is also working with Senator Cory Booker on a waste water treatment bill.  Capito stated that there is a way to use fossil fuel while capturing the CO2 and that there is the technological know-how to make it economically beneficial. 

 

Senator Toff Young (R-IN) announced that his state has the latest national park – the 61stpark, which is called the Indiana Dunes Lakeshore Park.  He advocates taking action for environmental conservation.

 

Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA, 2ndDistrict)  promotes sustainable fisheries and protecting the health of threatened landscapes and the ocean.  He encourages smart water use.  Huffman introduced the “Still in Paris Resolution”, which states that our Congress is still connected to the Paris environmental agreement.  He is working to protect the arctic coastal plain from drilling and believes in sustainable land management and agriculture.

 

Congressman Garrett Graves (R-LA, 6thDistrict) supports the Scenic Byways Bill.  He stated that the greatest threat right now is the divisiveness in government.

 

Representative Donald McEachin (D-VA, 4thDistrict) stated that protecting the environment is his top priority and that he is opposed to new drilling.

 

Congressman French Hill (R-AR, 2ndDistrict) spoke about the importance of outdoor recreation.  Did not discuss climate change.  

Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)  talked about his Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill, which would provide funding to conservation partners and agricultural producers to work together to reduce pollution and improve water quality. 

 

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) discussed his Blue Globe Bill-Part 2.  Thefirst part was signed in late 2018 and will serve to strengthen the federal response capabilities to marine debris disasters, combat land based marine debris resources, and encourage interagency coordination in stemming the tide of ocean trash.  It providesencouragement to the Trump administration to pursue international agreements with regard to this challenge.

 

Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL, 5thDistrict) is a co-sponsor of the Botany Bill, along with Representative Tom Rooney (R-FL), which will soon be introduced.  This legislation is requesting:

  • the use of native plants for federal projects, whether they be new or restoration.  

  • In addition, the bill promotes the hiring of more botanists in federal agencies in order to combat invasive species.  

  • It also requests that students of botany be forgiven their school loans in order to encourage a more active enrollment into the field.  

 

After meeting with our representatives, some of us got the opportunity to go to the Congressional Auditorium to witness the beginning of the S.47 vote, which includes the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It was very exciting.

 

The final evening of the conference was held at the historic Willard Hotel where we were fortunate to hear from Dr. James Porter, the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Professor of Ecology from the University of Georgia.  The title of his presentation was “Corals: Orchids of the Sea and Why This Matters.”  The plain truth is that our oceans’ corals are dying due to pollutants but more dangerously, to the rise in water temperatures.  As the world’s glaciers disappear, the oceans are absorbing the sun’s heat which is resulting in rising water temperatures.  If this warming trend continues and the oceans’ temperatures rise by only 2 degrees Celsius, ALLcoral will die and so will the sea life that depends on it to spawn, feed and survive. 

 

Upon conclusion of all the sessions and seminars, one can feel overwhelmed and saddened by the state of our planet, but one also comes away feeling inspired.  Not only by the politicians, but especially by our fellow GCA members. There are many who are deeply committed to and involved in making change happen.  The GCA has earned the respect of Washington and if each of us plays a part in helping to get the attention of our local politicians and making them aware of their constituents’ climate change concerns, we can make a difference. 

 

Here’s what PGC members can all do – simple and easy. 

 

l. Make your voice heard.  Sign up for GCA’s ‘Call to Action’.  This will provide you with GCA notifications so that you can stay informed and advocate.  GCA makes it simple and easy for you to lend your voice to making sure we are heard. 

2. Turn the thermostat up 1 degree in summer, and down 1 degree in winter;

3. Switch to more efficient light bulbs (LED or fluorescent);

4. Turn off unused lights;

5. Unplug home appliances (like TVs) when you go on long trips;

6. Plug leaks in your home insultation;

7. Consolidate car trips or use public transportation;

8. Buy local foods;

9. By a hybrid or fuel-efficient car;

10. Install solar panels; and

11. VOTE for sustainable policies.

 

We can and must make a difference because we have been warned about being on the cusp of irreversible climate disaster.   This is our opportunity to take action!