|When people compare a map of Florida as it is currently to a map reflecting predicted development by the year 2060, there is usually a gasp.|
The amount of anticipated development is stunning, and the byproduct is the loss of wildlife as the lands they inhabit become urbanized. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) tackled the challenge of predicting what may be in store for wildlife 50 years from now if growth trends continue. The results are available in the FWC publication "Wildlife 2060: What's at stake for Florida?" This document looks at the future of Florida's fish and wildlife resources in a practical and objective way.
The FWC report is based on a study, "Florida 2060" conducted by 1000 Friends of Florida (www.1000friendsofflorida.org <http://www.1000friendsofflorida.org/> ), a not-for-profit organization that monitors growth in the state.
"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 FWC. "Our scientists and managers have 'crunched' the numbers for the Wildlife 2060 report and assessed what might happen to fish and wildlife if growth continues on its same course."
The report provides specific examples of how Florida's species could be impacted by growth. Recent predictions indicate the state's human population may double to 36 million in the next five decades. The amount of urbanized land in Florida also is expected to double. To accommodate the increase in population, the report projects that by 2060, roughly 7 million additional acres of Florida land will be developed.
"The development of 7 million acres represents a substantial loss of habitat and exceeds the size of Vermont," said Dr. Thomas Eason, conservation initiatives coordinator for the FWC. "Continuing the current trend clearly would be detrimental to wildlife, but it also would be detrimental to people. 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.
Wildlife 2060 illustrates how continuing the past patterns of urban sprawl could result in fragmented natural places.
"Natural habitats could become islands in a sea of development," Eason said. "Corridors for some animals to move about the state will be cut off by roads, subdivisions and shopping malls."
Another prediction is that human-wildlife encounters will increase. As development encroaches on what was habitat for wild animals, people and wildlife will come face-to-face. Many animals will be displaced by human development, and humans will have to learn to live with those that remain. Large predators such as panthers, bears and alligators will pose great challenges for people living with them.
Though the state faces a daunting situation, the executive director of the FWC doesn't 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."
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," Barreto said. "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. I am confident the future for our wildlife is bright."
The FWC hopes the report motivates Floridians to look at growth more wisely and inspires people to get involved to keep the quality of life that diverse wildlife and healthy habitat provide.
To view the 28-page report, "Wildlife 2060: What's at stake for Florida?" online, visit MyFWC.com/wildlife2060.