Cleared land and construction sites are commonplace in Southwest Florida.
According to US Census data, Lee County is the second fastest growing county in the state. With the increase in population comes the need for more development, raising the question of how to preserve the wildlife that makes this area so unique.
“The development and the roads that go with it just extirpate the animals if they were in that area and force them to move elsewhere,” said Meredith Budd, director of regional policy for the Florida Wildlife Federation.
Budd said the whole process, from clearing land, to building, to when there are hardened structures where habitat once existed, results in a change in how wildlife use the area. .
She added that although there are no people living in an area, it is possible that wildlife is using some of the edges and areas around the construction. But the clearing of the land will certainly have an impact on the choice of animals and birds in this area.
“Once construction happens and there are roofs and there are people and businesses, it’s not viable in any way,” Budd said.
Some believe the population is growing and the impact of development on wildlife may eventually deter people from moving to Southwest Florida.
“Ultimately it’s going to be more detrimental to society and to the residents that we have fewer wildlife,” said new resident Nicole Phillips. “Because it decreases the diversity of the ecosystem we live in.”
Phillips moved from Tennessee to southwest Florida a year ago. She said as someone who left the state that wildlife and nature make this area attractive.
Longtime resident John Troutman agrees. Troutman has lived in Southwest Florida for 25 years and spends his free time enjoying nature and wildlife.
“Look at the commercial they do for Florida,” Troutman said. “He came to heaven. Went down to see the dolphins. Went down to see the alligators. He’s come down and maybe you’ll see a wild Florida panther. It’s our heritage here in Florida and we’ve always been blessed with lots of wildlife.
Animals and birds were there long before large-scale development. Today, increasing human population is destroying habitat and threatening wildlife in other ways.
“You can’t talk about development without talking about roads and habitat fragments,” Budd of the wildlife federation said. “Vehicle collisions are actually one of the leading killers of wildlife around the world.”
Budd said we need to make sure that not only do we connect preservation areas to other preservation areas, but we need to have wildlife crossings and underpasses so that animals can cross roads by completely safe.
With increased development, more wild animals will continue to be driven from their habitats or possibly forced into interactions with humans.
“We’re pushing into areas that have always been wilderness areas and when that happens you start having human-animal conflict,” Troutman said.
He said education about wildlife coexistence is important when moving and living in an area that has such diverse flora and fauna.
Florida’s wildlife and human populations are coming together more than ever before, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Especially with expansive residential development encroaching on wildlife habitat in this region, education is an important tool to help reduce human-wildlife conflict, according to the Florida Wildlife Federation. Their website describes a project called “Sharing the Landscape,” a wildlife coexistence initiative aimed at educating Floridians about the importance of protecting wildlife and their habitat.
“If we’re going to live here, we have to learn to share our space and that means respecting wildlife and being smart about how we do business,” Budd said.
Budd said people here should remember wildlife when doing daily tasks. This would mean walking dogs on a leash and ensuring dogs do not interact with wildlife. She also said people should secure trash cans and clean and put away grates.
“The first part is to plan accordingly and ensure the connections and buffers are put in place to have a meaningful buffer between human residences and development and wildlife habitat,” Budd said. “But then, when we live on the edge of a wild land, be careful; understand your surroundings, understand what wildlife may be around, and take the necessary precautions to avoid conflicts.
Development will always be a factor when it comes to growing towns like those in Lee County and other parts of this region. But there are ways to help preserve wildlife even in the face of development.
“As with so many development issues, it’s all about location, location, location,” said Nicole Johnson, director of environmental policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
The Conservancy advocated for direct development to less environmentally sensitive areas and away from critical natural resources.
Johnson said incompatibility arises when a development project is poorly sited in key habitat areas, when it fragments wildlife travel corridors, when it skips beyond the urban area into rural and agricultural land, and where new and widened roads are needed to service this new growth. habitat connectivity.
Meredith Budd of the Florida Wildlife Federation said when you look at undeveloped landscapes, you have to understand that there are many factors surrounding land use and land ownership.
“When you talk about the lands to be protected, it’s not necessarily lands owned by the government or the people or rather by us, so we need to understand the variety of stakeholders involved in protecting our landscapes,” Budd said. . “Working with these stakeholders to ensure that when development happens, it happens in a coordinated way.”
There are several methods to balance population growth while preserving wildlife, according to April Olson, senior environmental planning specialist at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
“One way is to have a development plan that groups homes in areas suitable for development, while preserving in place areas that are important for wildlife,” Olson said. “Other ways to protect wildlife include keeping development away from wildlife travel corridors, maintaining landscaped buffers that separate homes from important habitat areas, and providing wildlife passageways so that animals can move safely under the roads.”
Olson added that coordination between wildlife advocates and developers is necessary to ensure wildlife preservation.
“Another easy way to protect wildlife is to ensure developers are held accountable to the goals, policies and objectives of the local growth management plan and land use code,” Olson said. “Many local governments, including Lee and Collier County, have policies to protect natural resources and wildlife, but sometimes projects are approved that do not meet the plan’s goals and objectives.”
The loss of wildlife and habitat seems like an afterthought to some when new developments are announced.
New resident Nicole Phillips said she rarely thinks of wildlife that has been forced to relocate when she sees development or construction sites. However, she says failing to consider the impact of development on wildlife raises a problem.
“It sort of stems from a bit of selfishness where it’s like, ‘Oh, but we’re getting this new building or we’re getting this new restaurant that we didn’t have before’ and we’re just worried about ourselves. and not on the wildlife that was already there before we got here,” Phillips said.
When living in Southwest Florida, the ability to coexist peacefully with wildlife and nature allows residents to continue enjoying the quality of life they now have.
“The rich abundance of wildlife that we enjoy in Southwest Florida is a huge benefit to quality of life,” Johnson said. “We have an inherent responsibility to co-exist with the wildlife that was here before us. We must be good neighbours.
Not only does the preservation of wildlife benefit those who live here year-round, it also makes the area attractive to tourists.
“Wildlife can only be pushed so far,” said resident John Troutman. “Eventually, they’re just going to run out of space and then what are we going to have?” We are ruining paradise.
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