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Proposed Southwest Florida wildlife conservation area renamed, size reduced

At left is the original Southwest Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Area. At right is the now reduced in size and renamed Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area.
At left is the original Southwest Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Area. At right is the now reduced in size and renamed Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has nearly halved the acreage involved in its plan to establish a large conservation area in Southwest Florida first detailed this summer.

In June, the federal fish and wildlife agency announced an ambitious 7-million-acre “Southwest Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Area,” which is home to roughly 74 threatened and endangered species within the western Everglades and Fisheating Creek, as well as the watersheds of the Caloosahatchee, Peace, and Myakka rivers.

Now the “refined and renamed” proposal totals 4 million acres and is known as the “Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area.”

“It is all the same planning effort and project,” Laura Housh, the lead planner for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said this week in an email to WGCU. “With input from our planning team, the proposed ‘Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area’ became the name we wanted to present on our draft document, which better described the efforts in our proposal.”

Housh said the smaller conservation area aligns better with the ecological priorities, opportunities for land protection, and current threats to the environment.

Public input was also a considerable factor in these modifications, she said.

The region, known for its biodiversity, is adjacent to the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge & Conservation Area.

These protected species include the Florida panther and the Everglade snail kite.

The plan employs a dual strategy: outright land purchases, and conservation agreements with current landowners.

The first is an outright purchase of land. A conservation easement is an agreement with landowners where they receive money for legal promises to never develop their land, and in exchange, the farmers still own it.

Housh said her agency plans to buy up to 10% of the land for public use, such as hiking, hunting, and fishing.

Beyond the preservation of wildlife, the corridor also seeks to improve water quality and storage capacity, which may benefit not only the smaller conservation area but also the Greater Everglades and the watersheds that feed into Charlotte Harbor.

The timeline for the smaller vision remains uncertain; the planning and approval process could span over a decade.

And there are financial hurdles to consider. The government needs to determine how much to compensate local administrations for lands that will transition from being taxable properties to conservation areas.

Yet the plan's success appears promising due to a history of strong community involvement from environmental groups and nonprofits in the region.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

Sign up for WGCU's monthly environmental newsletter, the Green Flash, today.

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Copyright 2023 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Tom Bayles
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