NEW PORT RICHEY — When it comes to wildlife corridors, size does matter.
That's what an expert scientist told a skeptical County Commission at a workshop Tuesday to learn more about spaces used to link conservation lands.
"Bigger is better," said David Sumter, a wildlife ecologist who served on a team that developed a 2002 report by consultant Glatting Jackson. "We feel that what we came up with is defendable."
At issue were corridor widths of 2,200 feet recommended by the study. The report laid out the swaths of land, called critical linkage areas, needed to allow wildlife to move between conservation areas.
Commissioners heard more about the study Tuesday but did not make a final decision on the corridors.
The science behind the study was called into question last month, when representatives of the Brooksville-based Bell Fruit Co. pushed for cutting in half the portion of the wildlife corridor on its Shady Hills property, near the Suncoast Parkway.
After some discussion about whether commissioners would create a precedent by shrinking the corridor before hearing from their own consultants, commissioners unanimously granted Bell Fruit's request.
Commissioners wondered why the corridors needed to be so wide (Indiana's wildlife agency says corridors can be just 50 to 200 feet wide) and whether a reference to Minnesota whitetail deer was relevant to Florida. They also asked why the corridors included areas that already have houses.
Jay Exum, director of environmental services for Glatting Jackson, said that their report referenced a number of other studies, and that the deer in Florida were pretty much the same as the deer in Minnesota and "only one piece of the puzzle we used."
He said the committee had no way of knowing about houses to be built years later and didn't want to know about existing properties so as to remove any perception of favoritism.
He also said commissioners should have a long-term, bigger picture perspective.
To further defend the study, he read parts of a letter from Tom Hoctor, director of the Center for Landscape and Conservation Planning at the University of Florida.
"This report does a solid job identifying ecosystem and wildlife conservation priorities and is a good foundation for developing defendable conservation policies and programs in Pasco County," Hoctor's letter said.
But Commissioner Michael Cox reminded Exum that scientific theory must be balanced with reality, and that includes property rights.
"So far you're not hitting the button for me," he said.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri said the county is trying to do right by animals, "but we've got to balance."
Lisa Buie can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4604.