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Florida Just Enacted Sweeping Law to Protect Its Wildlife Corridors and Save Panthers

From the Everglades to Okefenokee, Florida legislatures just created one of the largest wildlife corridors in the developed world with a $ 400 million seed funding.

Everglades National Park, Marjory Stoneman Douglas / NPS

The Florida wildlife corridor law, enacted by Governor DeSantis, ensures that animals can travel, without seeing a car or human, from the Everglades Estuary to the Georgia and Alabama borders, while protecting existing and new conservation areas, says natural resources and more.

Between the bustle of the beaches of Miami, Daytona, Fort Lauderdale, and elsewhere, and the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on the west coast, is a mosaic of swamps, grasses, rivers, farmlands, and forests. Among these varied ecosystems, 700 endangered species They live in habitats that may be privately owned, such as state recreation areas and as federally protected wilderness areas.

Full bipartisan support for the bill, typical of U.S. conservation legislation, has secured $ 300 million to protect these diverse ecosystems, as well as to purchase new conservation areas or secure conservation easements, a subsidized incentive to conserve. a particular feature on a private area. .

Another $ 100 million went to the general conservation program. called Florida Forever, the largest state-controlled public land acquisition program of its kind in the US.

For many species, this will be a windfall, especially for the iconic Florida panther, which must roam everywhere in search of food and to ensure genetic stability.

Panther trail

NPS, Rodney Cammauf

Endangered cats nearly went extinct during the 1970s until Texas provided an infusion of genes from its cougars. The last remaining subspecies of the cougar in the eastern US It is perhaps the most endangered big cat on Earth.

National Geographic reports that a panther in 2016 was found north of Lake Okeechobee for the first time in 43 years, suggesting that the species is regaining some of its former habitat in the northernmost areas of Florida. The further north the southern panthers can travel, the better for the genetics of the species, which has been badly damaged by inbreeding.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Commission, a non-profit conservation organization that spent years developing the idea of ​​the Corridor and how to define it and make it law, was established in large part by dedicated photographer Carlton Ward. Jr. and some of his friends.

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For those who want to truly understand the magnitude of importance to Florida wildlife that the insured corridor represents, they just need to watch the excellent 17-minute documentary. The last green thread produced by the Commission, which highlights the journey through the Ward Jr. Corridor and his biologist friends Joe Guthrie and Mallory Dimmitt.

Ward Jr. also created the Panther Trail, a conservation initiative supported by National Geographic to try to save the animals of the state of Florida.

Path of the Panther highlights the dangers it poses to the cat, including genetic isolation and traffic collisions, and collected invaluable data on the number of populations and movements through camera traps.

In his documentary, Ward Jr. at one point explains that heading up the Everglades headwaters onto I-4, there is a point where the Corridor narrows to about 200 meters before being stopped dead north by the I-4, forcing any migrant animal to crawl the east-west path of the highway for miles before finding a potential crossing point.

The new Florida Wildlife Corridor Act specifically designates to do all of the following: “maintain wildlife access to habitats necessary to allow migration and genetic exchange among regional wildlife populations,” as well as “prevent fragmentation of wildlife habitats “and” provide for wildlife crossings for the protection and safety of wildlife. “

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“This gives me a lot of hope for the future of land conservation in Florida,” Ward Jr. told National Geographic..

For those who want more information, go to the Commission’s website, watch its documentaries and review its extremely detailed maps of the Corridor.

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