Jason Lauritsen, chief conservation officer for Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation.

Jason Lauritsen, chief conservation officer for Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation. 

Most, if not all, of us have some appreciation for wild Florida. It is my hope on Earth Day that we can also appreciate the legacy of stewardship that has left us with such rich biodiversity and beauty, and we can rededicate ourselves to the work needed to ensure it endures.

Our state is growing fast. This year, I’ve heard more Floridians than ever voice concerns about the impacts that attend our rapid development. Individually, most of us try to make choices that will benefit our children, yet we worry about what future generations will inherit.

One source of hope is the Florida Wildlife Corridor and the growing momentum around protecting it. These 18 million acres of connected lands allow animals to migrate throughout the state, ensuring genetic diversity not only within Florida but into the Mississippi Delta and Appalachians — and beyond. Bird watchers anywhere in the Western Hemisphere should be rooting for Florida to get it right, given our strategic position in the flyway connecting Canada with South America.

There’s also a relationship between the Florida Wildlife Corridor and our water supply. The health of our springs, rivers, estuaries and drinking water depends on annual recharge of our aquifers. This requires sandy soils not covered by concrete, abundant wetlands, and our forests, prairies and

marshes responsibly managed with prescribed fire. If we want a swimmable coast, flowing crystal-clear springs, and fresh water from our tap, we need a healthy Corridor.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor represents our best chance to save biodiversity in a meaningful, sustainable, resilient way and safeguard the wild Florida we know and love. Thanks to more than a century of conservation efforts, public dollars and the 2021 passage of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, 10 million acres of the Corridor have been permanently conserved.

This leaves 8 million acres, mostly working lands, unprotected. Within them there are over 100 bottlenecks, or narrow sections in the corridor. Most bottlenecks are modest strips of poorly managed land. They don’t look like Florida’s next state park, but these green threads are often the last functional habitat connecting two treasured conservation areas.

Although all are vulnerable to development, we’ve identified more than a dozen of these critical connectors especially at risk.

Fortunately, many wonderful partners, including government agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are acting to protect wild Florida. Land trusts are working to acquire land and help landowners seek conservation easements. Other organizations are focusing on local and statewide advocacy efforts, helping to identify policies and legislation that are either problematic or helpful. Numerous universities and NGOs are doing the science to better understand Florida’s landscape.

Finally, others are leading in educating both today’s decision makers and tomorrow’s generation of Floridians.  

  So how can you help this Earth Day? Whether it’s policy, funding, science or education, I would encourage you to find a conservation organization that aligns with your interest and just get involved. Second, study a map of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. We need every county, every planner, every developer, and every citizen to understand the Corridor’s value and where it is — then consider it every time we face choices that will shape our state for future generations. 

The lands inside the Corridor — including 75 state parks and scores of local and county parks — benefit from being connected, but so do the lands that aren’t. Simply put: Wherever we sit on the beach and watch a sunset,

whenever we take a refreshing swim in a natural spring, anytime we see wildlife in the water or trees, we can credit the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

Let’s keep it connected.

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