Recent news about Pasco County’s largest-ever conservation purchase may have given readers the sense that the county was taking a positive step toward conservation. The reality is murkier.
In the late 1990s a group of citizen activists sued the county over development of the Oakstead subdivision. Part of the settlement agreement required the county to conduct a wildlife corridor study and create critical linkages between conservation areas. The study concluded that a 2,200-foot-wide ecological corridor was needed to connect the Cross Bar Ranch area in the north to the Pithlachascotee River floodplain. The width requirement is especially important for larger species like deer and the Florida black bear.
Fast forward to today, and the county is patting itself on the back for conserving 843 acres. But a close examination of the map shows the predetermined wildlife corridor has been shrunk significantly — in some places its width reduced to just 200 feet. It amounts to less land for wildlife to travel, and more land to be developed in the likely event the property owner, Bexley, sells its remaining acreage to the developer, Lennar. That means wildlife populations in the two connected areas have a greater chance of becoming isolated and find it more difficult to interbreed, thus putting much greater stress on their viability.
Pasco was once proud of its motto “Open spaces, vibrant places.” Today it feels like they’re intent on developing much of these open spaces, evidenced by their push for a road through the 6,500-acre Serenova preserve, the development of thousands of acres for Project Arthur, or any of the myriad development construction projects under way at the expense of undeveloped areas. Yes, our state’s population is growing, but we should develop smartly and conserve what we can. As we face so many severe impacts on the overall health of our environment, we should be doing whatever we can to protect remaining natural areas like the one we have in Central Pasco.
Tim Martin is the Conservation Committee chair for the Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club.