Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area Initiative
Throughout its history, Florida has been a favored destination for retirees, lured by its sandy beaches and year-round tropical climate. However, in recent times, the state’s lenient COVID-19 restrictions and the availability of affordable housing have triggered an influx of over 1,200 individuals daily. This rapid population growth and its subsequent impact on the environment have become a cause for concern.
Compounding these concerns are the effects of climate change, which have forced numerous coastal residents to migrate inland especially after Hurricane Ian. As a result, our lush green spaces are seemingly vanishing at an alarming rate.
A recent federal proposal seeks to address these problems by creating the Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area, covering 12 counties from the Everglades’ headwaters in the vicinity of Lakeland down to the southern sawgrass prairies. This conservation area will extend protection to freshwater marshes, pine flatwoods and agricultural pastures along several important watersheds including the Peace River, the Myakka River, Fisheating Creek and the Caloosahatchee River. The proposed protection comes at a time when the effect of water draining and excessive development have cause water shortages. Protecting these watersheds are key to a water sustainable future.
The Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area draws inspiration from the Everglades Headwaters and National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, established in 2012, where approximately two-thirds of the land was designated as conservation easements. Under the new proposal, 90 percent of the land will be obtained through conservation easements, while the remaining 10 percent will be acquired by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service to facilitate natured-based activities such as hunting, fishing, photography, and cultural experiences.
These new conservation lands will be part of the National Wildlife Refuge System and will serve to protect many endemic and endangered species by providing room to roam. Additionally, they will provide wetland restoration opportunities to recapture water and help the Everglades.