A pos­i­tive look at wildlife con­ser­va­tion in Florida

Tampa Bay Times - - Opinion - BRIAN YABLON­SKI Brian Yablon­ski is the chair­man of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion.

Earth Day ought to be a day to cel­e­brate con­ser­va­tion and the nat­u­ral world — to in­spire, en­cour­age and talk about con­ser­va­tion that works. True to its ori­gins, Earth Day has been char­ac­ter­ized over the years by Malthu­sian ob­ser­va­tions of the dire state of the planet, due to swelling growth and hu­man pop­u­la­tion. For a change of pace, I thought we could all use a lit­tle in­fu­sion of op­ti­mism into our con­ser­va­tion con­ver­sa­tion here in Florida.

Not only is Florida the na­tion’s third most pop­u­lous state, but it also func­tions as a wildlife par­adise. We have a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of over 20 mil­lion res­i­dents and 100 mil­lion vis­i­tors a year — a lot of ac­tiv­ity within 58,500 square miles of land and 1,350 miles of coast­line. Yet Florida’s wildlife con­tin­ues to re­bound and re­cover, with ma­jor con­ser­va­tion suc­cesses for a num­ber of key species. The tra­di­tional view is to see growth and wildlife con­ser­va­tion in conflict — as pop­u­la­tion grows, wildlife de­clines. Yet Florida is show­ing they can thrive to­gether.

What is the se­cret sauce? Fore­most, it helps that peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate what makes Florida beau­ti­ful and unique, and want to keep it that way. That is a credit to the con­ser­va­tion ethic of Florid­i­ans and vis­i­tors, and the many part­ner­ships among gov­ern­men­tal and non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions. Pri­vate landown­ers, in­clud­ing ranch­ers, con­serve wildlife habi­tat, and Florida in turn sup­ports its pri­vate landown­ers. Ro­bust pub­lic lands and wa­ter­ways, in­clud­ing Florida’s 6 mil­lion-acre Wildlife Man­age­ment Area sys­tem, also pro­vide valu­able pro­tected habi­tat.

En­gaged cit­i­zens en­cour­age laws and pro­grams like Florida For­ever and restora­tion of the Ever­glades ecosys­tem. A mul­ti­tude of ac­tive sports­men’s and con­ser­va­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions also pro­vide sup­port and re­sources for our wildlife pop­u­la­tions. And Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion bi­ol­o­gists and law en­force­ment of­fi­cers are us­ing state-of-the-art sci­ence and tech­nolo­gies to bet­ter per­form their jobs. All these in­gre­di­ents to­gether are making a dif­fer­ence in con­serv­ing wildlife pop­u­la­tions.

What does wildlife con­ser­va­tion suc­cess look like? The sta­tus of our iconic Florida species tell the un­told story:

• Sur­veys of Florida man­a­tees in re­cent years show their num­bers at over 6,000, up from 1,200 back in 1991, and the high­est num­bers since the sur­veys be­gan. Just last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice re­clas­si­fied the man­a­tee as a threat­ened, and no longer en­dan­gered, species.

• Florida hosts one of the largest nest­ing ag­gre­ga­tions of log­ger­head sea tur­tles in the world, and has seen a 32 per­cent in­crease in nests since 1989. The num­ber of green sea tur­tle nests on our beaches has in­creased from less than 500 in the early 1980s to a record num­ber of over 37,000 in 2015.

• The Florida black bear, no longer listed as a state threat­ened species, now has an es­ti­mated pop­u­la­tion of over 4,000, com­pared to 300-500 bears in the 1970s.

• Florida has one of the high­est pop­u­la­tions of breed­ing bald ea­gles in the lower 48 states, with 1,499 ac­tive bald ea­gle nests in 2014, the last of­fi­cial es­ti­mate. This com­pares to only 88 bald ea­gle nests in 1973.

• Fi­nally, the Florida pan­ther, our state’s of­fi­cial an­i­mal, is an­other sign of progress. Num­ber­ing as few as 20 to 30 in the 1970s and 1980s, there are now an es­ti­mated 120 to 230 adults. And the big news: Bi­ol­o­gists re­cently doc­u­mented a fe­male pan­ther and kit­tens north of the Caloosa­hatchee River, a nat­u­ral bar­rier to pan­ther habi­tat ex­pan­sion. Just days later north of the river, trail cam­eras iden­ti­fied an­other fe­male pan­ther. This one en­gaged in mat­ing be­hav­ior with a male pan­ther. These are ma­jor mile­stones on the road to re­cov­ery for the Florida pan­ther, with the kit­tens pre­sumed to be the off­spring of the first wild fe­male pan­ther doc­u­mented north of the Caloosa­hatchee River since 1973.

This is not fake news, and good news does not al­ways make the best news. But the trend lines are up, in many cases dra­mat­i­cally. Florid­i­ans, old and new alike, should take a mo­ment on this Earth Day to think about what we are ac­com­plish­ing to­gether for the ben­e­fit of wildlife even as our state pop­u­la­tion has grown by 7 mil­lion peo­ple in the last 25 years.

Con­ser­va­tion is hard, nev­erend­ing work. We are still keenly aware of the on­go­ing chal­lenges in con­serv­ing wildlife and their habi­tats. We need to keep mov­ing for­ward and adapt in how we pro­tect our wildlife.

Florida is a bal­ance — the in­ter­sec­tion of growth and preser­va­tion. Even our great­est con­ser­va­tion pres­i­dent, Theodore Roo­sevelt, un­der­stood this when he said, “Con­ser­va­tion means de­vel­op­ment as much as it does pro­tec­tion. I rec­og­nize the right and duty of this gen­er­a­tion to de­velop and use the nat­u­ral re­sources of our land, but I do not rec­og­nize the right to waste them, or to rob, by waste­ful use, the gen­er­a­tions that come af­ter us.”

With an eye look­ing for­ward to the gen­er­a­tions to come, the state of our fish and wildlife species is strong. And for that, we thank you Florid­i­ans on this Earth Day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.