Florida Wildlife Crowded by Swelling Human Population

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 3:18 PM PDT
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Florida Wildlife Crowded by Swelling Human Population

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida, August 18, 2008 (ENS) - Florida's wildlife, already displaced from much of its habitat by human activities, will face even greater pressure over the next 50 years as the human population doubles its current size of 18 million people, finds a new report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, FWC.

Issued Thursday, the report, "Wildlife 2060," shows how continuing the past patterns of urban sprawl could result in fragmented natural places that will squeeze Florida's wild species such as bears, panthers, bobcats, alligators, eagles and wild turkeys, manatees, gopher tortoises and Florida scrub-jays.

"Natural habitats could become islands in a sea of development," said Dr. Thomas Eason, conservation initiatives coordinator for the FWC. "Corridors for some animals to move about the state will be cut off by roads, subdivisions and shopping malls."

As development encroaches on what was habitat for wild animals, people and wildlife will come face-to-face more often, the report predicts. Large predators such as panthers, bears and alligators will pose great challenges for people living with them.

The commission's report is based on the data gathered in "Florida 2060: A Population Distribution Scenario for the State of Florida," a study of human growth and development issued in 2006 by the 1000 Friends of Florida, a not-for-profit organization that monitors growth in the state. The data on which Florida 2060 is based was prepared by the University of Florida's GeoPlan Center.

If Florida's population doubles during the next five decades, as Florida 2060 predicts, about seven million additional acres of land could be converted from rural and natural to urban uses.

Nearly three million acres of existing agricultural lands and 2.7 million acres of native habitat will be claimed by roads, shopping malls and subdivisions - in total an area about the size of Vermont.

"As the state agency whose mission is to manage fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being and the benefit of people, it is our responsibility to predict what could happen to the resources we have been charged to conserve. It is what people expect of us," said Ken Haddad, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Most at risk will be the hundreds of animals limited to small geographical areas, according to the FWC report. "Known as endemic species, some examples are the Florida scrub-jay, the Florida burrowing owl and a roster of lovely plants restricted to tiny habitats in Central Florida - scrub blazing star and pygmy fringe tree, among them," the FWC reports.

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. Florida burrowing owls, already a species of special concern, will lose an additional 25 percent of their current habitat.

When the 25,000 acres of habitat required to support one Florida black bear is lost to development, not only is that black bear displaced but so are 60 bobcats, 165 foxes, 580 deer, 1,250 northern bobwhites, 2,000 cardinals, and 2.5 million trees, according to the FWC report.

"Continuing the current trend clearly would be detrimental to wildlife, but it also would be detrimental to people," Dr. Eason said. "Fishing, hunting, bird-watching, all kinds of outdoor activities, which brought many of us to Florida in the first place, would be greatly diminished. This affects our quality of life and our economy."

The revenue from hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing and boating brings billions of dollars to the state annually, the FWC report points out.

Though the state faces what he calls a daunting situation, the executive director does not believe the battle is lost.

"On the contrary, I have confidence that Floridians will band together to ensure that we do the right thing for our fish and wildlife while boosting our economic growth and quality of life," Haddad said. "But, we must bring the best out in people to reach solutions, and we must bring virtually all interests to the table to make that happen."

Some of the best strategies to give large animals and sensitive species a chance to exist include acquistion and protection of large parcels of conservation lands as well as alternative protection techniques, such as conservation easements and tax incentives, the FWC report suggests.

The FWC recommends "thoughtful, large-scale land-use planning, development design" and promotion of "compatible agricultural activity such as cattle ranches and timber operations."

"In the years to come, we simply aren't going to be able to afford to buy all of the land that needs protecting," said FWC biologist Scott Sanders. "We'll be more effective if we assist folks who own key wildlife habitats to manage and protect their own land."

The agency's Landowner Assistance Program performs that function by partnering with private owners to achieve conservation benefits on private lands.

Rodney Barreto, chairman of the FWC, encourages everyone to do all they can to change what is happening. "Get involved in land-use planning and decision-making, and become good stewards of the land," he says.

"Become educated about what to vote for and encourage your policymakers to support initiatives that help wildlife, provide incentives for private land conservation and encourage smart growth," Barreto said. "I am confident the future for our wildlife is bright."

To view the 28-page report, "Wildlife 2060: What's at stake for Florida?" click here.

{Photo: Black bear in a Florida residential neighborhood by PGFP}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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