Florida Conservation Group is proud to partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge System on the proposed Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area in Southwest Florida.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is embarking on an ambitious new effort to establish an Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area (formerly known as the Southwest Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Area). If successful, a new conservation area would allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to work with willing landowners to protect the lands most important to our water and wildlife, in one of the most biologically diverse regions in our country. The USFWS has released a draft Everglades to Gulf Land Protection Plan. The public will have 30 days to provide comments and input to help shape this monumental effort.
The Florida Conservation Group (FCG) , University of Florida Center for Landscape Conservation Planning, and the National Wildlife Refuge Association have partnered with USFWS to provide the science foundation behind this effort, as well as lead the stakeholder and outreach efforts on the ground. Our collective goal is the protection of threatened natural communities, wildlife species, and working landscapes in Southwest Florida. This landscape level conservation effort would assist and complement the state of Florida’s successful efforts to protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
What is the Proposed Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area?
The proposal identifies a 4-million-acre region in southwest and south-central Florida; USFWS could work within this area to pursue conservation easements or purchase lands from willing landowners. Conservation easements would allow landowners to keep their working lands intact and productive while precluding more intensive development. USFWS also could work with willing sellers to purchase up to 400,000 acres, which would allow opportunities for hunting and other recreational activities for the public. The conservation area will also provide wildlife-dependent recreation opportunities including fishing, kayaking, and birding, while protecting the rural watersheds that are important for recreational fisheries across the region.
Why is this Area So Important?
The Southwest Florida region faces increasing threats, including rapid population growth, land use intensification, and climate change. The proposed conservation area covers a region with over three million acres of unprotected habitat for threatened and endangered species, and unique natural communities at the heart of Florida’s unique prairie ranching landscape. The proposed boundary includes Everglades watersheds and the entire Peace River and Myakka River watersheds, which are essential for the health of Charlotte Harbor, a National Estuary and an epicenter of natural resource based tourism and economic activity in southwest Florida.
The proposed area covers a critical region for accomplishing Florida’s land and water conservation goals, and effective conservation here will have important benefits for people and wildlife across the state. The final Conservation Area boundary will be determined based on input from the public.
Complementing Successful State Conservation Efforts:
The Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area will complement successful state and other conservation efforts, such as the Florida Wildlife Corridor, the State’s Florida Forever and Rural and Family Lands Protection Programs, Natural Resource Conservation Service and other local and county programs. A conservation area will build upon existing local, state, and federal efforts by providing another way to protect important lands with willing sellers. When the USFWS partners with other organizations to protect land, they can leverage funds and resources from different sources leading to increased funding opportunities for acquiring and restoring land. This means that more money can be put towards conservation efforts to conserve water, wildlife, and Florida’s way of life.
This is a ground-breaking effort that would provide additional resources to protect our critical natural lands, our working landscape, offer additional outdoor recreational opportunities and protect habitat for the region’s unique species. Southwest Florida has a rich history of conservation planning and land protection; it is one of the fastest growing regions in the United States, but concerted, science-based, and partnership driven conservation can succeed. The Florida Conservation Group (FCG) is proud to partner in this important effort to conserve this imperiled region.
If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, be sure to attend one of the upcoming public meetings and make your voice heard.
For more information, please go to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service | Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area