Increase in Southwest Florida Development Threatens Wildlife

Cleared land and construction sites are the order of the day in southwest Florida.

According to data from the US Census, Lee County is the second fastest growing county in the state. The increase in population leads to the need for more development, which raises the question of how to conserve the wildlife that makes this area so unique.

“Development and the pathways that come with development simply wipe out animals if they were in that area and it forces them to go elsewhere,” said Meredith Budd, regional policy director for the Florida Wildlife Federation.

Budd said the whole process, from clearing the land to construction, to when there are paved structures where habitat once existed is changing the way wildlife uses the area.

She added that while no people live in an area, there is potential for wildlife to use some edging and areas around the structure. But clearing land will certainly affect whether animals and birds choose that area.

“Once construction has taken place and there are roofs and there are people and businesses, there’s no way it’s viable anymore,” Budd said.

Some believe that population growth and the impact of development on wildlife may ultimately dissuade people from moving to Southwest Florida.

“Ultimately, it will be more harmful to society and to residents because we have less wildlife,” said new resident Nicole Phillips. “Because then it reduces the diversity of the ecosystem we live in.”

Phillips moved from Tennessee to southwest Florida a year ago. She said as someone who moved out of the state that nature and wildlife make this region attractive.

Long-term resident John Troutman agrees. Troutman has lived in southwest Florida for the past 25 years and spends his free time enjoying nature and appreciating wildlife.

“Look at the ads they make for Florida,” Troutman said. “It has come to paradise. It’s coming down and seeing the dolphins. He has come down and sees the alligators. It has come down and you may see a wild Florida panther. This is our heritage here in Florida and we have always been blessed with lots of wildlife.”

Animals and birds have been here long before large-scale development. Now, the increase in human population is taking away habitat and threatening wildlife in other ways.

“You can’t talk about development without talking about roads and patchy habitats,” said Budd of the wildlife federation. “Vehicle attacks are actually one of the leading causes of death for wildlife worldwide.”

Budd said we need to make sure not only do we connect protected areas to other protected areas, but we also need wildlife crossings and underpasses so that animals can cross the road safely.

With an increase in development, more wildlife will be driven from their habitats or eventually forced to interact with humans.

“We’re invading areas that have historically been wild areas, and when that happens, you get human-animal conflict,” Troutman said.

He said education about wildlife coexistence is important when moving to and living in a region with such a diverse flora and fauna.

Florida’s wildlife and human populations are meeting more than ever before, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Especially with sprawling residential development encroaching on the wildlife habitat in this region, education is an important tool to help reduce human-wildlife conflicts, according to the Florida Wildlife Federation. Their website describes a project called “Share the Landscape,” a wildlife coexistence initiative to educate Floridians about the importance of protecting wildlife and their habitat.

“If we want to live here, we have to learn to share our space and that means respecting wildlife and being smart in the way we work,” Budd said.

Budd said people here need to remember wildlife when doing day-to-day tasks. That would mean walking dogs on a leash and making sure dogs don’t interact with wildlife. She also said people should secure trash cans and clean and put away grates.

“The first part is to plan accordingly and make sure the connections and buffers are built to have a significant buffer between human housing and development and wildlife habitat,” Budd said. “But then if we live on the edge of the wilderness, pay close attention; understand your environment, understand which animals are around and take the necessary precautions to avoid conflict.”

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

“As with so many development-related issues, it’s all about location, location, location,” said Nicole Johnson, director of environmental policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

The Conservancy has advocated direct development towards the least environmentally sensitive areas and away from critical natural resources.

Johnson said incompatibility arises when a development project is mislocated in key habitat areas, when it shreds wildlife movement corridors, when it spills out of urban areas into rural and agricultural lands, and when new and expanded roads are needed to serve this new growth frontier. habitat connectivity.

Meredith Budd of the Florida Wildlife Federation said that when you look at undeveloped landscapes, you have to understand that there are many factors around land use and land tenure.

“When you talk about what land we need to protect, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the land owned by the government or people or rather ours, so we need to understand the different stakeholders involved in protecting our landscapes said Budd. “Working with those stakeholders to ensure that when development happens, it happens in a coordinated manner.”

According to April Olson, senior environmental planning specialist at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, there are several methods for balancing population growth while preserving wildlife.

“One way is to have a development plan that clusters homes in the areas suitable for development while preserving those areas in-place that are important for wildlife,” Olson said. “Other ways to protect wildlife include diverting development away from wildlife travel routes, preserving landscape buffers that separate homes from key habitats, and providing wildlife crossings so that animals can travel safely under roads.”

Olson added that coordination between conservationists and developers is necessary to ensure the conservation of wildlife.

“Another easy way to protect wildlife is to ensure developers are held accountable for the goals, policies and objectives within the local growth management plan and land development code,” Olson said. “Many local governments, including Lee and Collier County, have policies to protect natural resources and wildlife, but sometimes projects are approved that don’t meet the plan’s goals and objectives.”

Loss of wildlife and habitats seems to be an afterthought for some when new development is announced.

New resident Nicole Phillips said she rarely thinks about the wildlife that has been forced to relocate when she sees development or construction sites. However, she says the problem is not taking into account the impact development has on wildlife.

“It kind of comes from a little bit of selfishness where it’s like, ‘Oh, but we’re getting this new apartment building or we’re getting this new restaurant that we didn’t have before’ and we’re just worried about ourselves and not about the animals in the house.” game that were already there before we got here,” Phillips said.

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

“The rich abundance of wildlife that we enjoy in Southwest Florida is a huge quality of life benefit,” Johnson said. “There is an inherent responsibility for us to coexist with the wildlife that was here before us. We have to be good neighbors.”

Not only does wildlife conservation benefit those who live here year-round, but it also makes the area attractive to tourists.

“Wildlife can only be pushed so far,” said resident John Troutman. “Eventually they just run out of space and what do we get? We’re basically ruining paradise.”

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