In the next 50 years …
What's at stake for Florida?
By FWC Staff
The economic downturn has changed the speed of
development in Florida from that of a hare to a tortoise.
Nevertheless, like the storybook tortoise, development plods on.
And as the hare did, Floridians could learn a lesson from the
resolute, slow-moving turtle. Determination also may work to the
advantage of Floridians.
The current development lull may be the opportunity
to put careful and purposeful thought into creating a plan on how
the state is developed, with a better future for Florida's people
and wildlife on the winning side of the finish line.
A few years ago, 1000 Friends of Florida released a
report that indicated how Florida's landscape would look 50 years
from now, based on the trend at that time of booming development
and growth. The report predicted that in 50 years, Florida's
population would be 36 million residents - double what it is now.
About 7 million additional acres of land, equivalent to the state
of Vermont, would be converted from rural and natural uses to urban
uses. Nearly 3 million acres of agricultural lands and 2.7 million
acres of native habitat would be claimed by roads, malls and
"It was predicted that natural habitats could
become islands in a sea of development," said Dr. Thomas Eason,
deputy director of the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation
for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
"Corridors for some animals to move about the state would be cut
off, and there might not be enough land for some species to exist
without direct management actions."
Source: Florida 2060: A Population Distribution Scenario for the
State of Florida.
According to the predictions made in 2006, the
areas where black bears, deer and wild turkeys live could decrease
by more than 2 million acres. Gopher tortoises, a threatened
species, could lose a fifth of their existing range. Burrowing
owls, a species of special concern, could lose an additional 25
percent of their current habitat.
"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," Eason said.
Through good and bad times, Floridians have
demonstrated a growing concern for the state's wildlife. Because it
ultimately benefits people, conservation is a common denominator
for many Floridians - even those who do not consider themselves
Since 1972, residents in 30 Florida counties voted
to tax themselves to preserve important local habitats, raising
more than $2 billion to purchase approximately 375,000 acres of
Even now, with a weakened economy, 67 percent of
Floridians support continued funding of Florida Forever - a plan
that established a state-funded conservation and recreation lands
Due to the determination of so many Floridians,
species that were once in jeopardy have rebounded. There are more
bald eagles, peregrine falcons, Florida black bears and Florida
panthers than there were 50 years ago.
"This is a chance to take advantage of our current
situation and make lasting changes in how we develop as a state and
interact with our natural world," Eason said.
Prior to the downturn, predictions indicated a grim
future for Florida's wildlife, but like the unforeseen foreclosures
and bank bailouts, nothing is for certain. Florida has bounced back
from past recessions and experienced rapid growth that far exceeded
previous expectations. It is Floridians who will determine if, at
the end of the road, there will be a continuous expanse of
subdivisions spread from coast to coast, or vibrant communities,
linked by a green infrastructure that protects open space, farmland
"No matter what is happening with our economy, we
must remember to remain diligent and determined in our efforts to
conserve fish and wildlife for ourselves, and for future
generations. In the end, we'll come out better on the other side if
we do what is right for people and our natural resources," Eason
Some of Florida's best strategies to give wildlife
a chance to thrive include:
- acquisition and protection of large parcels of conservation
- promotion of compatible agricultural activity such as cattle
ranches and timber operations;
- development of alternative protection techniques such as
conservation easements and tax incentives;
- ensuring thoughtful, large-scale land-use planning, development
design and meaningful mitigation agreements are established.