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Florida Wildlife Corridor Project founder reflects on first year of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act

Carlton Ward, Jr.
National Geographic Image Collec
Wildlife veterinarian Lara Cusack handles more kittens belonging to FP224. These young cats were measured and given immunity boosters while their mother was hunting away from the den. When panthers have space and protected habitats, their populations can grow. Only about one in three Florida panther kittens survives to adulthood. (Carlton Ward, Jr./National Geographic Society)

The Florida Wildlife Corridor is a state-wide network of public and private lands encompassing nearly 18-million acres that stretches from the Panhandle to the Everglades. The corridor isn’t one long stretch of natural land, but a patchwork of green spaces, like national and state parks, forests, and the rivers and streams that pass through them.

State lawmakers passed - and Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law - the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act just over a year ago. The new law’s purpose is “to create incentives for conservation and sustainable development while sustaining and conserving the green infrastructure that is the foundation of Florida’s economy and quality of life.”

About half of the corridor is working lands, including millions of acres of ranch and timberland, that provide wildlife habitats while sustaining agricultural production. The idea is to have a contiguous path that allows wildlife to move freely while helping protect natural resources from development.

Land within the Florida Wildlife Corridor is crucial to the survival of many of Florida’s 131 imperiled animal species, including the Florida panther, Gopher tortoise, manatee, Burrowing Owl, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Swallow-tailed Kite, and black bear.

A new campaign called Live Wildly launched around the anniversary of the the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act. The statewide nonprofit aims to show Floridians the connection between the 18-million acre corridor and its impact on everyday life. The campaign also provides an online portal and interactive map to show how Floridians can explore the corridor, including recreational opportunities like hiking, biking or camping.

To get an update on the impact of the new legislation, and some history into how the corridor came to be, we talk with Carlton Ward, Jr. He is a conservation photographer and National Geographic Explorer, and he founded of the Florida Wildlife Corridor project in 2010.

Carlton is also leads the Path of the Panther project. The project support impactful storytelling, in collaboration with the National Geographic Society, to reveal the land protection and wildlife crossings needed to save a future for wild Florida where both people and wildlife can thrive.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor 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.

• The Florida House and Senate agreed to allocate $300 million towards the Florida Forever land conservation program specifically for protection of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

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