Habitat loss: wildlife needs wild lands
If Florida's population doubles during the next five decades, as Florida 2060: A Population Distribution Scenario for the State of Florida predicts, about 7 million additional acres of land - equivalent to the state of Vermont - could be converted from rural and natural to urban uses (see maps). Nearly 3 million acres of existing agricultural lands and 2.7 million acres of native habitat will be claimed by roads, shopping malls and subdivisions.
The addition of 18 million new residents to Florida will intensely heighten the competition between wildlife and humans for land and water resources. More than 1.6 million acres of woodland habitat may be lost and wetland habitats will become more isolated and degraded. For the most part, the animals and fish that currently live in these habitats will disappear. This is well-illustrated with a habitat pyramid.
Most at risk will be hundreds of animals limited to small geographical areas such as the Florida scrub-jay, the Florida burrowing owl. Under the 2060 scenario, Florida scrub-jays will shrink in number as their habitat dwindles by 64 square miles - a landmass more than three times the size of the island of Manhattan.
Some of our best strategies to give large animals and sensitive species a chance to exist include:
- Acquire and protect large parcels of conservation lands
- Promote compatible agricultural activity such as cattle ranches and timber operations
- Develop alternative protection techniques, such as conservation easements and tax incentives
- Ensure thoughtful, large-scale land-use planning, development design and meaningful mitigation agreements are put in place.
The Landowner Assistance Program of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) offers yet another solution. FWC partners with private landowners, providing information, technical assistance and financial help to landowners motivated to protect and improve their land.