Increases in development in southwest Florida threaten wildlife

Cleared land and construction sites are common in southwest Florida.

According to United States Census data, Lee County is the second fastest growing county in the state. The increase in population leads to the need for further development, which raises the question of how to preserve the wildlife that makes this region so unique.

“Development and the methods that come with development simply eliminate animals if they are in that area and force them to relocate,” said Meredith Budd, director of regional policy for the Florida Wildlife Federation.

Budd said the whole process from clearing the land, to building, to when there are solid structures where the habitat used to be, is causing a change in how wildlife uses the area.

She added that although there are no people living in an area, there is potential for wildlife to use some of the edges and areas around the construction. But the clearing of the land will certainly affect whether animals and birds choose that area.

“Once construction is done and there are rooftops and there are people and companies, this is no longer viable in any way, shape or form,” Budd said.

Some believe that overpopulation and the impact of development on wildlife may eventually prevent people from moving to southwest Florida.

“Ultimately, it will be more harmful to the community and residents the less wildlife we ​​have,” said Newcomer Nicole Phillips. “Because then it reduces the diversity of the ecosystem in which we live.”

Phillips moved to southwest Florida from Tennessee a year ago. As someone who has moved out of state, she said, the wildlife and nature make this area attractive.

Longtime resident John Trotman agrees. Troutman has lived in southwest Florida for the past 25 years and spends his spare time in nature and appreciates wildlife.

“Look at the ads they’re doing for Florida,” Troutman said. “It’s heaven. He’s coming down and seeing dolphins. Come down and see the alligator. He’s fallen and you’ll probably see a wild leopard in Florida. That’s our heritage here in Florida and we’ve always been blessed with a lot of wildlife.”

Animals and birds were present here long before widespread development. Now, the increase in population is eliminating habitat and threatening wildlife in other ways.

“You can’t talk about development without talking about scattered roads and habitats,” said Budd of the Wildlife Federation. “Vehicle collisions are actually one of the leading causes of wildlife death globally.”

We need to make sure that we not only connect conservation areas with other protected areas, but we need wildlife crossings and underpasses so animals can cross roads safely, Budd said.

As development increases, more wildlife will continue to be removed from their habitats or eventually forced to interact with people.

“We are pushing into areas that have historically been wilderness areas and when that happens you start to have human-animal conflicts,” Troutman said.

He said education about the coexistence of wildlife is important when moving to and living in an area with such diverse flora and fauna.

Florida wildlife and residents are facing each other more than ever, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Especially with extensive housing development encroaching on wildlife habitats in this area, education is an important tool to help reduce human-wildlife conflict, according to the Florida Wildlife Federation. Their website describes a project called “Share the Landscape,” a wildlife coexistence initiative to educate Florida residents on the importance of protecting wildlife and their habitats.

“If we’re going to live here, we have to learn how to share our space and that means respecting wildlife and being smart about how we do our work,” Budd said.

Budd said people here should remember the wildlife when doing everyday tasks. This may mean walking dogs on leashes, and making sure dogs don’t interact with wildlife. She also said that people should secure trash cans, clean grills, and put them away.

“The first part is planning accordingly and making sure the connections and buffers are put in place to have a significant buffer between human habitation, development and wildlife habitat,” Budd said. “But then when we live on the edge of the prairie, be attentive; understand what is around you, understand what the wildlife might be around and take precautions to avoid conflict.”

Development will always be a factor when it comes to developing cities like those in Lee County and other parts of this region. But there are ways to help conserve wildlife even when development is occurring.

“As with many issues around development, it is all about location, location, location,” said Nicole Johnson, director of environmental policy at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

The conservation organization advocated the direct development of areas that are less ecologically sensitive and away from vital natural resources.

Johnson said mismatches arise when a development project is inappropriately located in key habitat areas, when it fragments corridors of wildlife movement, when it leaps out of the urban area into rural and agricultural land, and when new and expanded ways are needed to service this new growth. habitat connection.

Meredith Budd of the Florida Wildlife Federation said that when you look at undeveloped landscapes, there needs to be an understanding that there are many factors surrounding land use and land ownership.

“When you talk about land that needs to be protected, this may not necessarily be government or people-owned land or rather ours, so we have to understand the diversity of stakeholders involved in protecting our landscapes,” Budd said. “Working with these stakeholders to ensure that when development does occur, it is done in a coordinated manner.”

There are several ways to balance population growth with wildlife conservation, according to April Olson, chief environmental planning specialist for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

“One way is to have a development plan that pools homes in the right areas for development, while also maintaining on-site those areas that are important for wildlife,” Olson said. “Other ways to protect wildlife are to direct development away from wildlife travel corridors, maintain landscape buffers that separate homes from important habitat areas, and by providing wildlife crossings so animals can travel safely under roads.”

Olson added that coordination between wildlife advocates and developers is essential to ensuring wildlife conservation.

“Another simple way to protect wildlife is to ensure developers are accountable for the goals, policies, and objectives within the Local Growth Management Plan and Land Development Act,” Olson said. “Many local governments, including Lee and Collier County, have policies in place to protect natural resources and wildlife, but sometimes projects that don’t meet the plan’s goals and objectives are approved.”

Wildlife and habitat loss seem to be an afterthought to some when announcing a new development.

Nicole Phillips, the new resident, said she rarely thinks of wildlife forced to move when she sees development or construction sites. However, she says, not thinking about the impact of development on wildlife raises a problem.

“It kind of stems from a bit of selfishness where it’s like, ‘Oh, but we have this new apartment building or we have this new restaurant that we didn’t have before’ and we’re only concerned about ourselves and not about the wildlife that was already there before we were Here,” Phillips said.

When living in southwest Florida, the ability to coexist peacefully with wildlife and nature allows residents to continue to enjoy the quality of life they now enjoy.

“The abundance of wildlife that we enjoy in southwest Florida is a huge quality of life advantage,” Johnson said. “There is an inherent responsibility for us to coexist with the wildlife that existed before us. We need to be good neighbours.”

Wildlife conservation not only benefits those who live here year-round, but also makes the area attractive to tourists.

“Wildlife can only be pushed so far,” said resident John Troutman. “Eventually they will run out of space and then what are we going to get? We are basically destroying Heaven.”

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