Alliances between environmentalists and ranchers don’t happen very often. But that’s exactly what’s behind the planned Florida Wildlife Corridor—a continuous stretch of wildlife preserves and passageways that extends from Georgia to the Everglades, says OnEarth (September 5, 2012). It’s also the idea behind the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, a 1,000-mile, three-month journey of naturalists through the proposed system to study the area and raise awareness.
One of the fastest growing states in the union, Florida loses about 150,000 acres of rural land every year, and only a fraction of original forest and wetland communities remain, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. What’s more, existing habitats are increasingly fragmented by roads, farms, and urban development. Habitat fragmentation can have a devastating effect on biodiversity, and is a major cause of extinction throughout the world. In Florida’s increasingly urban landscape, traffic accidents account for nine tenths of black bear deaths.
One solution is to create natural corridors that allow wildlife to bypass cars and urban residents between protected habitats. The increasingly popular idea has already impacted designs for freeways and helped protect migratory birds along their routes. One complication in Florida is that much of the corridors would pass through the state’s surprisingly large network of ranchlands. Many ranchers have long been suspicious of environmental (and government) initiatives, and this project has been no exception.
But the state has had some luck, with thousands of acres already set aside through conservation easements—including some 150,000 acres granted earlier this year. In a kind of best-of-both-worlds between agricultural and environmental interests, easements grant development rights to a government conservation program while ranchers technically retain ownership. “That means ranchlands can stay ranchlands, but wetlands in the easement must stay wetlands, too,” says OnEarth’s Jennifer Pinkowski.
And it’s catching on. It doesn’t hurt that the government pays good money for easement rights and the deal usually means a break on property taxes. Many ranchers are also enthusiastic about the fact that easements will keep their ranches from becoming shopping centers a generation or two down the line. If ranchers remain open to the idea, and if federal money continues to trickle—and that last one is a big IF—Florida’s Corridor might demonstrate a more inclusive method of fighting environmental crisis.