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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

2013 Energy Symposium hosted by Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project

This FREE 3 hour symposium will feature a keynote address by Dr. Jennifer Languell, award-winning green building engineer with 15 years experience. 
Expert panel discussions will focus on water and energy efficiencies and improvements inside and outside the home.  From irrigation to PV panels, appliances to native plants, you'll get information first-hand from Duke Energy, Florida Yards and Neighborhoods, Tampa Bay Water, and much more!
Each registered participant will receive an insulated tote bag with manual powered LED flashlight, solar calculator, and educational information from UF/IFAS and our partners.
Please arrive early for check-in.  Refreshments will be provided.
Saturday September 14, 9a.m.–Noon. Pinellas County Extension, 12520 Ulmerton Rd., Largo
Seating is limited and pre-registration is required at

Call 727-582-2097 for more information.
Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age. Disability, religion or national origin.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Free class to save energy and money

Sign up for the FREE Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project (PEEP) class at Pinellas County Extension’s Largo office this Saturday. You will learn how to reduce your home energy bill and receive free energy saving devices, including a new LED light bulb!

Saturday July 27, 10:30–11:30 a.m.

Register at

While you are there, stroll through the adjacent Florida Botanical Gardens and tour historic homes at Heritage Village, free to the public.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Taking Ecosystems for Granted

Lara Miller, 
Natural Resources Agent

As promised in my last posting about fire, today I will discuss the benefits of ecosystems as a whole. Many of us enjoy recreating in nature, but are we missing out on something bigger and better? Is there more to the environment than we think? The answer is probably yes! As consumers of natural resources, it is important to understand the true value of ecosystems. By applying a monetary value to the services provided by nature, we may begin to view the world differently. Ecosystem services are benefits that people obtain from natural systems. Placing a monetary value on these services allows economists to compare the value of undeveloped land such as a park or preserve to developed land such as a shopping mall or apartment complex. In other words, we can now compare apples to apples instead of apples to oranges. The idea of assigning a value to ecosystem services is relatively new and still being developed, but it represents a big step for folks trying to conserve lands around the world.

There are four main categories of ecosystem services:

  • Provisioning services are the physical benefits nature provides such as: food, fuel, fiber, wood, biochemicals such as sap, rubber or glue, medicines, and fresh water.
  • Regulating services are the benefits we receive from supporting a healthy ecosystem, including: better air quality, a comfortable climate, water storage and purification, erosion prevention, disease control, decomposition by bacteria, and pollination by bees and other insects.
  • Cultural services are non-material benefits we receive from nature such as: cultural heritage and identity, aesthetic beauty, learning through interactions with nature, recreation, and creative hobbies such as art and music.
  • Supporting services make provisioning, regulating and cultural services possible. These benefits include natural cycles such as: the process of photosynthesis; nutrient cycling allowing the sharing of important elements between plants and animals; water cycling such as the natural filtration of ground water; and soil formation.

Some ways trees specifically benefit us include:

  • Preventing Soil Erosion - Trees reduce soil erosion by catching rainfall on leaves, branches, and bark, slowing the flow of water as it hits the ground. This allows the water to seep into the soil and enter the aquifer or the tree’s root system.
  • Reducing Energy Costs – As trees shade buildings in the summer and block cold winds in the winter, the need to use cooling and heating systems is reduced.
  • Improving Air Quality - Trees reduce the impacts of air pollution by absorbing pollutants through their leaves, intercepting particles in the air such as dust, ash or smoke, and releasing oxygen we need to breathe.
  • Increasing Property Value –Research indicates that home buyers are willing to pay more for a home with more trees versus few to no trees.1
  • Reducing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - Trees help to reduce atmospheric carbon by sequestering (locking it up) in their roots, trunks, stems and leaves. Trees retain this carbon even after being harvested for lumber to build homes and furniture. CO2 is a greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change.

These are just a few of the ecosystem services provided by our natural systems. To learn more, click here or visit the source link below. Pinellas County Extension also developed the Traveling Tree Walk, an educational tool focused on the ecosystem services of trees. This tool can be reserve for your community online at: .


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Free energy-saving classes in July

Would you like to learn more ways to consume less energy without sacrificing your level of comfort? Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project (PEEP) is offering FREE classes in various area of Pinellas County. You will learn how to reduce your home energy bill and receive free energy saving devices that will help you to save money, including a new LED light bulb. 

Register at for these classes coming up next week.
Classes for Spanish speaking groups can be scheduled by request.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Join Us at 2013 Tampa Bay Home Show!

The Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project and other Pinellas County Extension programs will be on display at the Tampa Bay Home Show this Friday and Saturday.

Visit the PEEP booth (#455) to receive a free insulated, zippered tote bag. (Supplies are limited, so come early!). Spin the trivia wheel to win a hand-powered flashlight or solar-powered calculator. Register for hourly door prizes (check back by the end of the day).

PEEP provides free information on simple ways to lower your home energy bill. Learn more at and click on Sustainable Living.

Tampa Bay Home Show
Tropicana Field

Friday, July 19, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Saturday, July 20, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. 
Free admission and parking.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Energy Savings = Money Savings

Ramona Madhosingh-Hector,    
Urban Sustainability Agent    

Saving money is important to every household and saving energy is easier than you might think. This week, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in collaboration with the University of Florida’s Program for Resource Efficient Communities launched a new tool to help homeowners identify ways to save energy.

The interactive energy tool ( allows users to search for and identify energy saving information for different areas of the home e.g. living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. The “Dollars & Sense” Tips provide specific energy saving strategies while the “Financing” and “Incentives” tools allow homeowners to identify and select specific, local information.

For more information on how to save energy and money, join the Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project (PEEP) for the upcoming Pinellas Home Energy Symposium at Pinellas County Extension in Largo. PEEP utilizes information published by the Program for Resource Efficient Communities and the Florida Energy Systems Consortium in its classes. The symposium is scheduled for September 14 and registration for the event is available here –

Saving energy saves money and is good for the environment! 


Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Program for Resource Efficient Communities

Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency

Florida Energy Systems Consortium

Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project

Friday, July 5, 2013

People are Prescribed Medicine, Ecosystems are Prescribed Fire

Photo Source: 
Lara Miller,
Natural Resources Agent

Certain ecosystems need fire to stay healthy just as people need medicine to stay healthy. Fires make an ecosystem healthier? Yes! Prescribed fires and some wildfires have a variety of benefits for the plant and animals within a natural system, and fire benefits us too. What good could come from a fire? Let’s find out!

Benefits to Plants

Many plants are adapted to survive fire, but some plants actually need fire to survive. Unlike most other pine trees, the Sand Pine (Pinus clausa) retains its lower branches which serve as a “fuel ladder” attracting fire up the entire tree to ensure it reaches all of its cones. The cones of the Sand Pine are sealed shut with a resin which is melted by the heat of a fire. Following a fire, the parent tree may die, but all of the freshly opened cones will shed seeds on bare ground and be ready to sprout and grow into new Sand Pine trees. Fires are also beneficial to plants because they open up the tree canopy, allowing more sunlight to reach the understory plants. Native plants benefit because of their unique adaptations to survive fire which their invasive or exotic counterparts may not. A fire may kill off many unwanted competitors of these native plant species, allowing natural Florida species to thrive. Fires are also important for maintaining a particular ecosystem type. For example, pine flatwoods ecosystems, dominated by pine trees and saw palmettos need fire on a 2-5 year cycle to thrive and remain healthy. When fire is suppressed or removed from this ecosystem, other unrepresentative plants will start to take over, such as oak trees. As oak trees mature, they slowly shade out the understory plants and over time will transform the ecosystem from pine flatwoods to an oak hammock. This transformation, while natural, is detrimental to the plants and animals that depend upon the pine flatwoods habitat.

Benefits to Wildlife

The Florida Scrub-Jay, an endemic species found only in Florida, is a perfect example of an animal species that needs fire (indirectly) in order to survive. This bird is a habitat specialist, found only in scrub habitat which is the most endangered ecosystem type in Florida. The key to maintaining scrub habitat is fire. Regular prescribed fires maintain the scrub oaks (3-10ft in height), bare patches of sand, and other low growing vegetations such as palmettos which the Florida Scrub-Jays prefer. Without fire, the scrub habitat is lost and the Florida Scrub-Jay struggles to survive. Most animals within fire-dependent ecosystems are well adapted to survive fires. For example, over 350 species find shelter in gopher tortoise burrows during a fire. For this reason the gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species. Following a fire event, the remaining nutrient-rich ashes are absorbed into the soil and become available for new plant growth, a benefit for the plants and animals. The fresh and tender shoots of these seedlings are a favorite for a variety of wildlife including deer, turkey, gopher tortoises, bobwhite quail and many more. Fires also clear out densely vegetated areas to allow for easier movement of wildlife through the area.

Benefits to People

It is often difficult to consider how fire could be beneficial to us when it is often portrayed as a natural disaster, but allow me to explain. Land managers actually fight fire with fire. In addition to the benefits mentioned above, land managers may conduct regularly scheduled prescribed burns to reduce future fire hazard by reducing burnable fuels (dead leaves, branches, trees, etc.). In other words, prescribed fires help to burn off the buildup of dead and dry wood before these fuels accumulate to a dangerous level and pose a serious threat in the face of a future wild fire. Fire needs three elements to occur: fuel, oxygen and heat. By conducting regular prescribed burns, the amount of fuel is kept low, preventing a future wild fire from becoming a major threat to us.

We may not directly connect the health of our ecosystems to the quality of our lives, but we could not survive without them. It is critically important for natural resource managers to maintain healthy ecosystems for the benefit of plants, animals and people. Prescribed fires and manageable wildfires are an extremely valuable tool which keeps natural systems functioning in a way that benefits all life. Find out more from my next blog about ecosystem services.