Photo Credit: Key deer by Valerie Preziosi
Every year, the third Friday in May is recognized as Endangered Species Day. The Florida Wildlife Federation celebrates Florida’s rich biodiversity every day, but Endangered Species Day is a reminder that species in Florida, and across the globe, are at risk of extinction, largely due to human activities.
Florida has seen its fair share of development over the years and continues to experience unprecedented growth. But, Florida did not start out that way. The state remained largely untouched by humans throughout the 19th century. However, beginning in the late 1800s and early 1900s, massive logging operations destroyed mature cypress, longleaf and slash pine forests across the state. These old-growth forests were some of the last-known habitat areas for the Ivory-billed woodpeckers and Carolina parakeets in Florida. And by the 1920s and ‘30s, Florida’s once abundant wildlife species had started to suffer the impact of people moving south to find their little piece of paradise.
Photo Credit: Florida Scrub Jay by Bonnie Masdeu
In the mid-1930s, people from across the state who loved the old, wild Florida fought back against this rampant growth with a goal to preserve wildlife and their habitats. In 1936, with this burgeoning interest in conservation, the Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF) was founded.
Since then, FWF has been integral in the passage of a multitude of conservation measures that protect coastal and marine habitats and secure the purchase of land for both wildlife use and public recreation. To this day, FWF works with government agencies and stakeholders across the state to conserve and restore wildlife habitats, as it is critical in protecting species against extinction.
However, many of Florida’s wildlife species are still at risk. Let’s take a look at Florida’s most iconic threatened and endangered species that still need our help.
Photo Credit: Florida Panther by Max Freund
The endangered Florida panther is the only species of puma east of the Mississippi River. There are only between 120-230 left in the wild and the species is limited to only 5% of its historic range. While panthers have seen some conservation success over the years, there is still so much more work to be done to fully recover the species.
The federally threatened Florida manatee is one of Florida’s most iconic native species. These gentle giants are found throughout our coastal waters and rivers. Clean water and habitat are critical to the survival of the species, which is why the Florida Wildlife Federation is fighting for stronger water quality standards and habitat conservation.
Photo Credit: Florida manatee by Bryant Turffs
Photo Credit: Gopher tortoise by Tracy King
Gopher tortoises are a state-threatened species. They share their burrows with more than 350 other species that also depend on the burrows for shelter and predator protection. The primary threat to the gopher tortoises is habitat loss and fragmentation. It is essential to preserve and manage remaining upland and wetland areas as part of a complete ecosystem, and to restore habitat that has been degraded. FWF continues to promote habitat conservation and appropriate land use and management practices to benefit gopher tortoises.
Every single Floridian can take action in their daily lives to help better protect wildlife. Sharing the landscape with wildlife is essential to recovering threatened and endangered species. Learn more about how people and wildlife can coexist responsibly by checking out the Florida Wildlife Federation’s Share the Landscape program and don’t forget to watch FWF’s award-winning film, Wildlife in Our Backyard. People can also contribute to native habitat –from potted native plants on a windowsill to a native garden, gardening for wildlife helps to provide the essentials needed to support declining species of butterflies, bees, birds, and other wildlife. Learn how you can garden for wildlife here.
About the author: Meredith Budd, FWF’s Regional Policy Director, has extensive experience leading wildlife conservation initiatives. Her expertise is in imperiled species policy, habitat conservation planning, and wildlife conflict resolution.