What grew to become the San Diego County Orchid Society Conservation Committee had its genesis in 1990. Then, as now, an informal group of SDCOS members, the so-called Species Group, met monthly to discuss various aspects of species orchids. One of the members, Jerry Garner, commented that the orchid society seemed to have some money that wasn't being used, and he suggested that maybe we should give some of it away to support orchid conservation. Jerry and his wife Candy are inveterate travelers and had seen several efforts to conserve orchid habitat in Central America. However, the directors of the society, probably wisely, did not agree that the society should just give its funds away. Supporting orchid conservation still seemed like a good idea and was one of the founding principles of the society, so some members of the Species Group decided to start a fund raising effort. Our plan was simply to sell plants donated by members of the society - i.e. an orchid bake sale - at our society's annual spring orchid show. To our surprise, the first year we raised $3640, to which the society added $1000. The money that year, and for two subsequent years, was donated to the Massachusetts Audubon Society for the Rio Bravo Conservation Area in Belize. Initially, we simply selected an organization that one of us had heard of and raised money to support it. After a few years it became clear that we were not generating a very broad list of support possibilities. It was suggested by Peter Tobias, another Species Group member, that we should advertise in orchid related venues and see what sort of projects presented themselves. As so often happens in a volunteer organization, since Peter had made that suggestion, he was put in charge of pursuing it. In 1998, the SDCOS officially created the Conservation Committee as one of its standing committees and appointed Peter Tobias as its chair.
Raising the money has three simple steps: getting plants, caring for plants, and selling plants. To obtain plants we simply ask the SDCOS membership to donate them. At society meetings and through our newsletter, we let it be known that we need plants and the purpose for which we are raising money. We do this often enough that some people may donate plants just to shut us up. We receive many donations of just a few plants, which, because our society is a large one, usually generates 100-300 plants for each sale we hold. In addition, we often receive one or two large donations. These have come, for example, from the estate of a deceased member, the residual plants of an orchid nursery closure, and the extra plants from members who are orchid breeders and have more seedlings than they know what to do with. Although some donations are brought directly to our sales booth, we happily accept donations whenever offered, and these must be cared for until our next sale. Donated plants frequently require division and repotting, which provides a good excuse for a 'pot party'. Often we have 500 or more plants distributed in the back yards and greenhouses of the conservation committee by sale time. We sell plants at two events each year, the annual SDCOS show in the spring and the San Diego International Orchid Fair in the fall. In three days we dispose of 750 - 1500 plants with the aid of 15-20 volunteer salespeople. Most plants simply are sold, but we also like to raffle off several of the larger specimen plants. The raffle typically raises $1000 and the sale another $5000 - $6000. With any luck, the booth at the beginning of the sale is packed densely with plants stacked three tiers high. And, with any luck, at the end of the sale there are just a very few orphans left to be grown on for the next sale.
Grant applications are solicited and reviewed once per year. Sometime in the spring we distribute our call for applications, announcing an application deadline for late summer. The announcement generally appears in orchid magazines, such as Orchids and The Orchid Digest, through internet orchid sites such as The Orchid Mall, the Orchid Web, the Orchidguide Digest, and rec.gardens.orchids, through the Orchid Specialist Group of the IUCN, and hopefully also through word of mouth by former grantees and applicants. The ad also is posted on this web site. In our busiest year, 2001, 28 applications were received. After being received, applications are copied and distributed to the members of the Conservation Committee in advance of our award meeting. Committee members grade the applications according to their individual interpretation of our guidelines. At our award meeting the grades are averaged for each grant, leading to grants which are generally well liked, grants which are generally disliked, and grants which are in the middle. Most of the discussion then focuses on grants which are in the middle. The committee may ask for further information from the applicants or from experts in a particular field before final funding recommendations are made to our orchid society's board of directors. The society membership then is asked to vote to distribute the sums recommended by the committee. Most of our grants are in the range of $2500 or lower. This amount seems to enable several small projects each year. Successful applicants must agree to write a report for the society, publicize their results, and acknowledge our support in their publication(s). As of June 2006 we have granted over $100,000 to projects in 15 countries.
Our first concern is that orchid habitat is being lost at an alarming rate. While there are many factors that determine whether one parcel of land should be conserved over another, we feel that conserving something is better than dithering about, especially because conserving habitat always will conserve more than one orchid as well as the other organisms that inhabit the area. Our advertised goals are:
1. Protect orchids in the wild.
2. Establish and maintain organizations that protect orchids and orchid habitat.
3. Conduct studies related to orchid conservation.
4. Educate the public about conservation in general, orchid conservation in particular, and encourage public participation in conservation.
Our society has about 600 members and raises about $12,000 per year for conservation. In 2004, the American Orchid Society recognized our efforts with the AOS Conservation Award. The AOS has about 30,000 members, and it is our hope that publicity associated with the Conservation Award will bring knowledge of our program to many new people. We feel that the challenge for the future is reaching people and societies in such a way that they either mount their own operation or join us in ours. In conservation circles it is said that charismatic megafauna are a prerequisite for a successful organization. Orchids aren't fauna, but they are second to none for charisma.
This web page is based on an article by Peter S. Tobias that appeared in the February 2004 issue of Orchids magazine.