Green Cities Spotlight: Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer | Earth Day Network

Mayor Buddy Dyer

At a time when the world is seeing unprecedented biodiversity loss, Orlando, Florida is home to hundreds of species — including more than thirty that are threatened or endangered — that live primarily in the carefully managed and city-supported wetlands. The city has implemented a range of initiatives and community engagement opportunities to support biodiversity and protect ecosystems. Earth Day Network spoke with Mayor Buddy Dyer about the city’s work to preserve and revitalize natural habitats in the city and his plans continue making Orlando greener and healthier for all its inhabitants.

Biodiversity Projects and Initiatives

What’s the biggest success story in your city about increasing biodiversity? What is a biodiversity project that you are particularly proud of?

I am proud to say that since 2007, the City of Orlando has been steadily rising in the ranks as one of the ‘greenest cities in America’. Part of our commitment is finding a balance between the natural and built environment, including a goal of 40% tree canopy coverage citywide by the year 2040. Through the “One Person One Tree” program, we have launched an effort to provide free street trees and private trees to homeowners as a way to help expand our urban forest and provide wildlife habitat for birds, reptiles, and other species. With more than 100+ parks and 120 registered lakes, we have the fortune of being surrounded by beautiful natural resources, underscoring the importance of protecting these treasurers for wildlife and biodiversity.

One of our most iconic natural parks is the “Orlando Wetlands Park”. Spanning more than 1,200 acres, this man-made wetland treatment system was completed in July 1987 with the conversion of former pasture areas into wetlands to treat over 30 million gallons per day of reclaimed wastewater. Seventeen cells and three distinct wetland communities were created to remove residual amounts of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from the reclaimed water. The ecological communities include deep marsh areas, mixed marsh and wet prairie and hardwood – cypress swamps. The site was planted with 2.3 million aquatic plants, including 200,000 trees, to create the man-made wetlands. In recent years, the Orlando Wetlands Park has become a world-renowned bird watching destination and a regional park system visited by thousands every year.

Earth Day 2019 and Community Engagement

How does Orlando mark Earth Day?

Each year, the City of Orlando hosts a workday celebration called “Earth Day Workday”, which showcases ways that we are moving forward on sustainable initiatives through all of our departments. In addition, our Keep Orlando Beautiful Initiative hosts annual cleanups and tree plantings during Earth Month (the month of April) to engage both visitors and residents in actions that help beautify our city. We also partner with local organizations to host the annual “Central Florida Earth Day” in our iconic Lake Eola Park. This event brings more than 300 vendors and 10,000 people from across Central Florida to enjoy games, live speakers, delicious food, and engage with hundreds of organizations and companies who are working to make Orlando a more sustainable city.

The City of Orlando also just received its Community Wildlife Habitat certification from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in April 2019. The work put forth by the city to protect our green spaces creates sustainable initiatives that benefit wildlife in our parks and much more helped Orlando to earn this sought after certification.

What options are available for citizens to get engaged with protecting species locally or for supporting the city’s initiatives? How is the city partnering with local organizations or movements?

We regularly host volunteer days to plant trees, aquatic plants, and beautify parks with pollinators. The Keep Orlando Beautiful Initiative also provides volunteers with the opportunity to restore local lakes and rivers and remove unsightly trash that may have accumulated. Through our environmental education programs, volunteers also participate in efforts to plant pollinator plants to help ensure there is a food source for species like the Monarch Butterfly, which makes its way through Orlando on its journey further south for the winter.

Wildlife and Endangered Species in the City

What types of species are present in your city? Are there any endangered or threatened species living in the city? How does the city protect and support them?

In terms of animals, the swans of Lake Eola have been a spotlight species for almost a century in Orlando. Brought to Orlando by a resident in the 1920’s, the swans have flourished and there are now roughly 50 that call Lake Eola home. This beautiful bird has become such a mainstay and draw for visitors that there are now rentable paddle boats resembling large swans for visitors to tour the downtown lake.

The Live Oak is a well-known species of tree here in Orlando that has the ability to live for centuries and has sprawling branches that often dip low enough to touch the ground. The Live Oak at Big Tree Park, with an age of roughly around 350 years old, is one of the oldest trees in Orlando and draws visitors to enjoy its beautiful spread of shade.

At the Orlando Wetlands Park, the open waters of the lake and marshes attract wintering waterfowl, including blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, common moorhens and American coots. Wood storks, white ibis, black-crowned night herons, and other wading birds are common during the cooler months. Bald eagles, limpkins, and red-shouldered hawks, black vultures, and turkey vultures are year round residents in the Orlando Wetlands Park. Raccoons, river otters, white-tailed deer and bobcats can be seen along the roads and hiking trails. The Orlando Wetlands is home to over 30 species of wildlife that are listed on the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Threatened and Endangered Wildlife list.

The American Bald Eagle is the National bird for the United States but is also on the endangered list. Despite this fact, Florida has the densest population of nesting eagles anywhere in the continental US. Mating pairs of Eagles have been sighted in East Orlando and have can also be seen gracing the skies above Orlando.

What kinds of natural habitats are present in your community? Do you have a favorite natural “haven” in the city?

Wetlands are an integral part of the Floridian landscape and Lake Fran is a wonderful example of the benefits of this type of habitat. Located just west of Downtown, this Urban Wetlands provides a home to many different types of species but most importantly, it is one of the northern most headwaters of the Florida Everglades.

What might surprise some people about biodiversity in your city?

Florida is home to thousands of native species, but they have suffered significant population loss over the past few decades. The need to protect our current ecosystems and build a successful means of protection for native species is greater now than ever.

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More about the Green Cities Spotlight Series: By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Increasing urbanization without responsible stewardship is a threat to local flora and fauna. With cities growing at a rapid pace, they play a critical role in protecting biodiversity and educating the public about the importance of species and biodiversity in regard to community health and well-being. Earth Day Network’s new city series highlights the important work cities around the world are doing to support biodiversity through a variety of innovative initiatives.

More about Mayor Buddy Dyer: Having served Orlando’s residents as Mayor since 2003, Buddy Dyer has worked tirelessly to advance the community’s shared vision for Orlando as America’s 21st Century City. Through strategic investments, Orlando is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation and under Mayor Dyer’s leadership is becoming America’s new home for inclusiveness, innovation, transportation, opportunity and quality of life.

The dean of Florida’s “big-city” mayors and Orlando’s longest-serving mayor, he is also the leading civic voice in Central Florida, a dynamic region and one of the world’s premier tourism destinations.

Since his first day in office, Mayor Dyer has strived to increase cooperation and partnership between Central Florida’s many governments, its business and civic communities, and its residents. The result of this effort is a new era of collaboration that has paved the way for a string of remarkable “game-changing” accomplishments for greater Orlando in a very short period of time and setting the City on course for a more prosperous future.

Prior to being Mayor, he served for a decade in the Florida Senate. Mayor Dyer earned his undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from Brown University and his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Florida College of Law. Before he chose to serve in public office, Mayor Dyer worked as an environmental engineer. Mayor Dyer was born in Orlando and raised in nearby Kissimmee.

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This interview is part of Earth Day Network’s Green Cities interview series with local officials. The series in 2019 will highlight success stories and innovative biodiversity initiatives in cities around the world for the Protect Our Species campaign.

If you have any comments or if you are a city official interested in participating in the interview series and sharing your city’s initiatives, please contact Sebastian Rosemont, Green Cities Coordinator, at [email protected]