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Florida Wildlife Corridor Act Passes Unanimously

 A Florida Panther is captured in a camera trap
Carlton Ward Jr.
Courtesy National Geographic
A Florida Panther is captured in a camera trap

Florida lawmakers have unanimously passed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act. It is considered a milestone in efforts to preserve migration paths for animals such as the Florida panther, keeping them from becoming isolated and inbred.

The bill passed by a rare 115-0 vote in the House and a 40-0 vote in the Senate — and they passed a budget that includes ways to pay for it. Lawmakers doubled to $100 million funding for Florida Forever, which preserves environmentally sensitive lands.

Jason Lauritsen is executive director of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a group dedicated to helping connect the state's natural places.

"It puts in front of lawmakers, planners, and the public this inspirational and aspirational vision of a connected landscape that captures the value of connectivity that individual, isolated 'postage stamps' — no matter how wonderful they are — don't," he said.

The act was a last-minute amendment to an existing bill advocating protection of the Wekiva River watershed near Orlando inserted by Jason Brodeur, a Republican from Seminole County who chairs the Senate's Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

Lawmakers also agreed to put $300 million from federal stimulus funding toward land conservation.

"I was really surprised about the funding," Lauritsen said. "Is this something might be sustainable — could we expect this to happen more in the future? I would think that any legislature that would vote for it once might see value in it. I'd like to think that this could be repeated."

It is the most significant spending on land conservation since voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment in 2014 aimed at restoring funding to historic levels.

The Act includes numerous provisions:

  • Securing access to habitats for wide ranging wildlife, including the endangered Florida panther, and preventing fragmentation of critical lands
  • Protecting the headwaters of major watersheds (including the Everglades and St. Johns)
  • Helping to sustain working farms, lands and forests, and
  • Preserving lands and waters to protect coastal estuaries.

One of the founders of the Florida Wildlife Corridor is Carlton Ward Jr., a noted wildlife photographer from Tampa.

“I applaud the Florida Legislature’s leadership in passing the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act. The overwhelming bi-partisan support speaks to the shared commitment for conserving Florida’s land and water, and the Act itself provides a clear framework for achieving a lasting conservation legacy,” he told National Geographic, which features his photographs of the Florida panther in its April edition.

“A broad coalition of Florida’s farmers, ranchers, environmental groups, and coastal communities came together to support the effort and have worked together for a decade to see this day.”

If the bill is signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, it will take effect on July 1.

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Steve Newborn