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Future of Florida wildlife won't be so bright if we wear blinders

Illustration by John Corbitt   |   Times

Illustration by John Corbitt | Times

Fifty years from now, I hope to be on a dock, fishing rod in hand, being wheeled around by a gaggle of grandkids, eager to share my expertise on all things piscatorial.

Sure, I'll be pushing 100, but with advanced medical technology, a sound diet and rigorous fitness regimen, I should still be able to pull in a linesider or two.

That is, if there are any snook left to catch in 2058.

Our fishing future is not a given. A recent report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission entitled "Wildlife: 2060" provides a sobering wake-up call to those among us who think wildlife and habitat preservation is somebody else's responsibility.

While anglers and hunters whine about regulations, developers methodically destroy the land and water, or habitat, upon which all commercially and recreationally valued species depend.

Consider the following from the report: the state's population may double to 36-million in the next 50 years. If the development trend holds, as much as 7-million acres of land, an area about the size of Vermont, could be converted to shopping malls and subdivisions. This development will have a major impact on everything from sea grass beds to coral reefs.

These 18-million new residents will compete with the current residents (four legged ones included) for the remaining land and fresh water. As woodlands vanish, the adjacent wetlands, and the animals and fish that live in them, will also disappear. At the greatest risk are those "niche" species that depend on unique habitats, such as the Florida scrub jay and the burrowing owl.

While this scenario may sound gloomy, there is hope.

For starters, Floridians are lucky to have a forward-thinking state agency such as the FWC working for the future. The very fact that the agency responsible for protecting and preserving the state's fish and wildlife has published such a comprehensive report is a major step in the right direction.

But "Wildlife: 2060" does more than just explain the problem. It offers a systematic action plan, a veritable grocery list of what sportsmen (and their elected representatives) can do to change the future.

For example, in the area of habitat loss, the "Wildlife: 2060" report suggests the collective "we" do the following:

• Acquire and protect large parcels of conservation lands.

• Promote compatible agricultural activity, such as cattle ranches and timber operations.

• Develop alternative protection techniques, such as conservation easements and tax incentives.

• Ensure thoughtful, large-scale land-use planning, development design and meaningful mitigation agreements are put in place.

This might seem like a "no-brainer" to those among us who spend time on the state's wild lands and waters, but you would be surprised how many Floridians have no connection whatsoever to our natural landscape.

It is hard to convince somebody who goes from an air-conditioned home to an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned office that they should be concerned about a few mangrove trees being cut down to make way for a new luxury hotel.

History has proved that you can't stop "progress." Growth is inevitable. But one thing we can do as Floridians is make sure that it is done responsibly, with not just humans in mind but those residents of this great state that have no voice.

Don't take my word for it. Go to www.myfwc.com/wildlife2060, read the report and make up your own mind. I have been through the 28-page booklet several times, and each time I do, I get madder and madder.

But then I stop, look again at the final chapter, entitled "Florida's Future & You," and realize that we don't have to fight harder, we need to fight smarter.

Sportsmen, instead of viewing the FWC as an authoritative body bent on telling us what we can and can't do, should see the agency as an ally in the battle to preserve what we all love so dear.

I've got my action plan and will start picking off the topics, one by one, because my future grandkids and I have a date with a big ol' snook 50 years down the road.

Terry Tomalin can be reached at (727) 893-8808.

Future of Florida wildlife won't be so bright if we wear blinders 09/04/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 4, 2008 5:00pm]
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