Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Major report proposes corridors connecting Florida panther & bear habitat

On January 4, 2011, the Babcock Ranch Steering Committee released a comprehensive report, four years in the making, on wildlife corridor protection for panthers, black bears and other endangered species in southwest and south central Florida.  It provides clear direction and options on how environmentalists, landowners and state, local and federal officials can reach common ground to preserve and protect wildlife habitat and farmland in southwest and south central Florida.  Included in the report are a study and detailed maps of proposed wildlife corridors prepared by two leading Florida wildlife biologists, Reed Noss, Ph.D. (University of Central Florida) and Tom Hoctor, Ph.D. (University of Florida).  Here's a link to the full report:
http://www.babcockranchflorida.com/downloads.asp

Sierra Club staff and volunteers played a major role in developing this report.  Developer Syd Kitson agreed to fund the wildlife corridor study as part of a settlement agreement with the Sierra Club on our 2006 lawsuit challenging Charlotte County's approval of permits for the new city of 50,000 planned for a portion of Babcock Ranch. A copy of that settlement agreement can be found here:  
http://www.babcockranchsteering.com/pdf/feb20/06SierraClubSettle.pdf

The press release below provides additional details.

Frank Jackalone
Sierra Club Senior Field Organizing Manager/ FL Staff Director


For Immediate Release                                                       Contact: 
January 4, 2011                                                                      Lisa Hall 850.681-3200

Babcock Ranch Steering Committee Releases Final Report
Collaborative effort establishes foundation for regional conservation planning

Punta Gorda, FL –Over the past four years, members of the Babcock Ranch Steering Committee have worked together to develop strategies for connecting wildlife corridors and conservation planning.   This broad-based group presents today its consensus recommendations to guide future conservation planning with the goal of creating a system of connected wildlife corridors to protect and enhance Southwest Florida’s environmental and wildlife assets.

Babcock Ranch developer Kitson & Partners, together with the Sierra Club, established the Steering Committee in 2006 to study ecological connections between the Babcock Ranch Preserve and surrounding lands, analyze future growth patterns, and develop strategies to protect critical wildlife corridors.   The diverse group of environmental advocates, community planners, economic development leaders, government agencies and wildlife conservation experts made a commitment to discuss difficult policy issues in a productive and respectful manner and search for common ground.

Many of the state’s leading environmental organizations have been engaged in planning for Babcock Ranch from the very beginning.  The Steering Committee expanded the collaboration and provided a forum for civil discussion about conservation and land use planning.

“We feel very fortunate to be able to draw expert guidance from the environmental and community leaders who have volunteered countless hours to this effort,” said Syd Kitson, Chairman & CEO of Kitson & Partners.  “They have opened up a valuable and productive dialogue that will benefit the entire region for generations to come.”

The Babcock Ranch Steering Committee began meeting in January of 2007.  A regional connectivity study, funded by Kitson & Partners as part of an agreement with the Sierra Club, provided sound scientific data that served as a foundation for extensive discussion and debate.   A wildlife connectivity study conducted by Dr. Thomas Hoctor of the University of Florida and Dr. Reed Noss of the University of Central Florida identified the best potential ecological connections between the Babcock Ranch Preserve and other regional conservation areas so that biodiversity and functional ecosystem processes can be maintained and enhanced.

“We found that options for maintaining connectivity for three focal species –Florida panther, Florida black bear, and Sherman’s fox squirrel – between Babcock Ranch and other existing and potential conservation areas within the regional landscape are still relatively abundant and intact,” concluded professors Hoctor and Noss. 

“We can create permanent wildlife corridors to connect important parks and natural lands throughout southwest Florida, using Babcock Ranch as an important central nexus connecting several corridors.” said Frank Jackalone, Florida Staff Director of the Sierra Club.  “Government leaders, landowners and environmental leaders must continue to work together as they did on the Babcock Ranch Steering Committee to develop a multi-county plan with a regional map of wildlife corridors, natural areas, and farm land to be protected that everyone agrees to.   Once we have a consensus map, federal, state and county governments will have a green light to acquire or place conservation easements on missing links in key corridors.”

Over the course of 16 meetings, steering committee members developed consensus recommendations detailed in the final report released on January 4, 2011.  The group identified a number of strategies for securing wildlife corridors beyond public purchase, including:
·         Incentive programs that provide real economic value to landowners for private conservation of important natural areas
·         Payment for Ecosystem Services as a potential cost-effective alternative to large public works projects
·         Conservation easements as an alternative to land acquisition
·        Land swaps for platted (but undeveloped) lots – with an initial focus on Lehigh Acres
·        Coordination with state, federal and local governments on implementation

The group concluded that the Babcock Ranch Community sets a positive precedent and demonstrates the potential for a continuing link between conservation and responsible development. 

“One of the most encouraging discoveries is that, despite coming at it from so many different perspectives, there are numerous points of mutual agreement,” said Pete Quasius, past president of Audubon of Southwest Florida and environmental advocate for Collier County.  “We’ve evolved into an unlikely coalition, working together to pursue common objectives and take a significant step forward in conservation policies and planning.”

While the final report marks completion of the assignment – the dialogue will continue.  The consensus opinion of this unlikely coalition is that by continuing to work together, they can be part of a proactive regional strategy to move conservation and land use policy forward.  Many members of the steering committee will continue their involvement with a pilot project of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Cooperative Conservation Blueprint, to take place during the remainder of 2011.

To download the full report, go to http://www.babcockranchflorida.com/downloads.asp

###