Florida is a state rich in a natural diversity of plants, animals, and ecosystems. Our panthers, bears, birdlife, and the entire suite of native species requires proactive steps to ensure their long-term viability. Encompassing nearly 66,000 square miles, this state is home to an enormous diversity of species that live in varied land and water habitats.
Threatened, endangered, and at-risk species in Florida
In our rapidly growing and developing state, permanent land protection is critical to our quality of life, economic vitality, recreation, and environmental sustainability. Since the 1960s, FWF has advocated for the state’s land conservation programs; today approximately 28% of our land base is under some type of protection. These include our three national forests, our military bases, our Wildlife Management Areas, parks, and preserves. Local and county programs have also saved their special places for their citizens. Even with this success, we must continue this effort as new developments and roadways arise and isolate existing natural areas.
FWF is a strong proponent of the use of conservation easements. These voluntary easements permanently protect the land but keep it in private ownership.
We were the principal organization in changing the Florida Constitution to give financial benefits to private landowners who conserve their land with an easement, and several hundred thousand acres across the state are now protected in this manner.
When our present statewide program, Florida Forever, which was once the most ambitious such enterprise in the world, was de-funded by the Legislature we supported the successful Water and Land Legacy Constitutional Amendment to increase funding. Even as 75% of voters approved of this Amendment, the Legislature did not do as their constituents directed. FWF is therefore in court over this important source of funding. Florida Forever and its predecessors have saved over 2.5 million acres to date.
Scientific Partnerships and Research Projects
The Florida Wildlife Federation has a science-based policy approach to securing wildlife habitat and crossings. Over the years, we have partnered with technical experts to conduct wildlife movement and monitoring studies throughout Southwest Florida.
To determine candidate sites for wildlife crossing structures to maintain/restore large scale functional landscape connectivity for Florida panthers and other wildlife by monitoring and analyzing wildlife movement patterns along the SR 29, CR 846, and CR 858 highway corridors adjacent to designated stewardship areas.
Keri Road, between SR29 and CR833, is the only major east/west road between Collier County and the Caloosahatchee River that has not been studied for wildlife crossings. In 2017, the Federation contracted with Dr. Daniel Smith, University of Central Florida, to conduct an assessment of Hendry County wildlife habitat and the travel corridors used by Florida panthers, black bears, and other native wildlife. In addition to Keri Road, Dr. Smith’s study included Corkscrew Road from the existing Lee County wildlife crossing east to the intersection with SR82 in Collier County. The Keri Road and Corkscrew Road studies complement the 2006 Eastern Collier Wildlife Movement Study, also funded by the Federation and conducted by Dr. Smith. Together the studies will provide a regional strategy to ensure safe wildlife movement across Southwest Florida.
The area surrounding Corkscrew Road in Lee and Collier Counties is not only an important area for surface water storage, but also for wildlife habitat. It is commonly used by Florida panthers, black bears and other wildlife. Understanding that there will be future development of this area, it is essential that a viable habitat conservation and connectivity plan be created and implemented. As such, the Florida Wildlife Federation engaged with transportation ecologist, Dr. Daniel Smith, to produce a data-driven and landscape ecology-based final report to guide development in remaining lands that is compatible with conservation goals and allows for continued panther use and functional habitat connections between the current state, county, and private conservation lands on both sides of Corkscrew Road.
Once again, the Federation recently contracted Dr. Daniel Smith, noted Transportation Ecologist at the University of Central Florida, to undertake a two-year initiative to determine wildlife crossing needs and priorities for the state. Dr. Smith was the lead scientist on the Federation-funded 2005-2006 Eastern Collier Wildlife Movement Study as well as the Keri and Corkscrew Roads study which both identified wildlife crossing needs. The new initiative is the next step in finding the best-designed crossing at the most reasonable price. This project will develop a model to identify wildlife crossing needs and priorities as well as produce a statewide inventory of existing wildlife crossing infrastructure. The project will also include productions of a wildlife crossing manual that can be a one-stop guidance tool for transportation planners, engineers, and designers.