Friday, March 13, 2009

Margaret England Honored As Audubon Volunteer

Margaret England Shares Her Passion For Nature

LABELLE, FL. -- Everglades restoration lands are public lands, and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has increasingly opened these properties for public recreation when compatible with their restoration purpose. Bird-watching is a prime example of low-impact public use, and thanks to Margaret England of LaBelle, few locations are more popular for bird-watching activities than Stormwater Treatment Area 5 (STA-5), a water-cleansing wetland in eastern Hendry County.

Since 2005, the LaBelle resident has shared her avian expertise as a volunteer birding tour leader at STA-5, showcasing wildlife and recreation access to lands managed by the District for Everglades restoration. On Thursday, the SFWMD Governing Board recognized England's dedicated community service with the District's first Ambassador Award.

"Margaret England's willingness to share her passion and knowledge of birds has enhanced public understanding of Everglades wildlife, which is vital to successful conservation efforts," said SFWMD Governing Board member Charles Dauray. "Her volunteer spirit and community service are as special as the Everglades itself."

The Ambassador Award was created to honor those who foster the public missions of the SFWMD, such as Everglades's restoration. England, a library media specialist at LaBelle Elementary School and secretary of the Hendry-Glades Audubon, was chosen as the inaugural award recipient from among a number of worthy candidates. The award was presented in Clewiston at the March Governing Board meeting, as part of the District's celebration of its 60th year managing and protecting water resources of the region.

While England fittingly personifies the title of "ambassador" in the partnership between the SFWMD and the Hendry-Glades Audubon, she is also a contributor to the science of environmental restoration. England and 50 volunteers recently documented 112 species ­ numbering more than 92,600 birds ­ during the 109th national Christmas Bird Count at STA-5. Known as "citizen science," bird counts are vital to studies of the long-term health and status of bird populations.

In her job as media specialist at LaBelle Elementary, England shares her knowledge and love for the environment with students and their parents.  She recently received a grant to purchase a 3-D watershed model for the school that she uses to teach about stormwater management and wetland protection.

England also serves as a vice-president for the Caloosahatchee River Citizen's Association "Riverwatch" and is a certified Florida Master Naturalist, which enhances her tour-guiding knowledge at STA-5.

Birding, a national pastime, is big business, with 48 million people observing birds both around the home and through vacation travel. A 2001 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that nationwide birding generated $32 billion in retail sales and created 863,406 jobs.

A Florida-based study showed that non-consumptive bird use (i.e., non-hunting activities) supported more than 19,000 jobs in Florida in 2006, and all wildlife viewing activities generated more than $3 billion statewide that year, according to a state report. Birding specifically generates an estimated $477 million in retail sales in Florida every year, second in the nation only to California.

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