Dear Florida Legislators,
Florida is blessed to be one of the most beautiful states in the country. An endless wonder of unique ecosystems and habitats is always just outside our back door. A quick trip and one can visit sandy beaches, swamps, mangrove coasts, natural springs, pine flats, coral reefs, hardwood hammocks, scrubland, and more.
This natural beauty is no secret, however, and has led to Florida becoming one of the fastest growing states in the country. Since 2010, Florida’s population has grown by over a million people with over 100,000 people moving to the state each year. The Florida 2070 Report estimates a third of the state will be developed by 2070 if development continues at its current rate, which some put at a rate of 12 acres an hour.
As members of various faith communities, we find the values of compassion, care, and justice common throughout all of our traditions. As individuals and communities, we strive to live out these values through solidarity with those in need, being people of service, and looking out for the oppressed. While these concerns are most often associated with our fellow human beings, we believe they are just as relevant for the natural world. The call to live responsibly with care toward the land is an integral part of our faith. Creation is a sacred place and deserves to be treated that way.
Florida needs a visionary long-term plan that seeks to balance development with the health, sustainability, and protection of its various ecosystems. As people of faith we believe it is essential that our leaders begin this work now, before it’s too late. We have a responsibility to protect the land, water, and wildlife of our state and we believe the protection of the Florida Wildlife Corridor should be a conservation priority.
The Florida Wildlife Corridor is a designated path of land and waterways connecting large scale landscapes throughout the state, providing wildlife an otherwise unavailable passage between these fragmented areas. The Florida Wildlife Corridor consists of 16.7 million acres statewide of which 6.9 million remains unprotected. Over 2 million of this unprotected acreage has been designated as High Priority for conservation by the state’s Florida Forever program and the US Fish & Wildlife Services’ Greater Everglades Program. This land is vital to a functioning corridor and the protection of hundreds of federal and state listed threatened and endangered species.
Not only do corridors provide habitat for wildlife but they protect essential ecosystem services such as clean and adequate water supply, storm protection, healthy soils, and clean air for people and wildlife. Additionally, corridors support local economies and tourism, preserve cultural heritage, and provide numerous recreational opportunities. Florida’s beaches and natural areas drew 100 million visitors to the state last year, contributing nearly 43 billion dollars to Florida’s economy and supporting almost 350,000 jobs.
Over the past decade the State’s pace of land acquisition has slowed. We implore you and your fellow legislators to enact policy to fund conservation of the entire Florida Wildlife Corridor and support current legislation such as the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act 2019, which is currently under consideration in the US Congress and is an enormously important piece of legislation. The new toll roads, being planned over the next 12 months and set to break ground in 2022, make it even more important to build consensus for protecting the Florida Wildlife Corridor now. Protecting the green infrastructure of the Florida Wildlife Corridor first would allow for new built infrastructure such as toll roads while avoiding the unintended consequences of habitat fragmentation and water pollution that roads typically cause.
Conserving the Florida Wildlife Corridor is an act of responsible stewardship that will safeguard our legacy of wildlife diversity and natural beauty and simultaneously protect Floridians quality of life for future generations. The time to act is now while we still can.
Florida Congregations for Conservation and the undersigned