REGIONAL PRIORITIES FOR THE UPCOMING YEAR

Think Globally, Act Locally is something Florida Audubon has taken to heart by hosting Regional Conservation Meetings. Every quarter, members from the four Panhandle Chapters – including Apalachee Audubon, Bay County Audubon, Choctawhatchee Audubon and FMW Audubon Societies meet to discuss regional concerns, issues, threats, and a myriad of opportunities to support and enhance our programs as well as to determine our regional priorities for the upcoming year.

The priorities are always focused on protecting and sustaining the Panhandle’s biodiversity for future generations, but how do we collectively accomplish that task? That is a tall order, but actions speak louder than words, so we are sharing the priorities for the coming year and the steps we are taking to accomplish these priorities.

Priority # 1. The Northwest Florida Sentinel Landscape.

The Military Mission is critical to the economy of northwest Florida and for the overall safety of our nation. Keeping the military trained up and ready are becoming more and more challenging as the population of our state continues to grow. What does the military mission have to do with protecting biodiversity, you may ask? Well read on.

Eglin Air Force Base, as the designated anchor military installation in northwestern Florida, is proposing to nominate the western portion of the Florida panhandle for federal designation as the Northwest Florida Sentinel Landscape. The goal of this proposal is to create an innovative partnership for collaboration and coordination among private landowners, conservationists, military installations, government agencies and others.

This landscape-scale partnership will help ensure sustainability of agriculture and forestry, maintain our national defense capabilities and conserve Northwest Florida’s FMWAS Article on RCC Sept 2019 Mtg – Priorities for the coming year. 2
natural resources. A Sentinel Landscape designation will provide greater access to funding and assistance from federal, state and local government and private sector programs to better address the complex and often conflicting demands of population growth, economic development, rural vitality, military readiness, and natural resource protection in Northwest Florida.

Author of this passage, Kent Wimmer, is the Senior Representative of Defenders of Wildlife in Florida. The Sentinel Landscape designation will help achieve protection of resources to complement efforts to safeguard imperiled species. Defenders is looking forward to continuing to work with stakeholders to protect Florida wildlife.

To learn more, please visit https://defenders.org/blog/2018/10/sentinel-landscapes-florida

Our Chapters ‘individually’ and ‘collectively’ are each aware of areas within the landscape which are used by wildlife. By protecting the region and the connectivity of habitats, we are also helping our feathered friends find food and shelter. Letters of support combined with many others will help attain this protection for the future. Letters can be addressed to Kent Wimmer, Senior Representative for Defenders of Wildlife, kwimmer@defenders.org or feel free to call with questions, 850.528.5261

Priority #2. The Florida Panhandle Maritime National Heritage Area.

The Florida Panhandle Area is home to many historical firsts as well as some very unique habitats and natural lands remaining in the United States. We would like to appreciate these resources and tell their story to the nation and world by designating the area as a National Heritage Area (NHA). These areas are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. NHA’s are supported under similar guidelines as Federal State Parks, and as such provide glimpse into the past through educational programs.

With the long-term goal of heritage tourism promotion and sustainable preservation of cultural and natural heritage in Florida, the project of “Heritage Tourism Research, Assessment of Heritage Tourism in Northwest Florida” started in Aug. 2016 at Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN).

The studyFMWAS Article on RCC Sept 2019 Mtg – Priorities for the coming year. 3
revealed significant cultural and natural resources in the Panhandle Area, including many rare and endangered plant and animal resources, areas that highlight major historical events, outstanding archaeological remains, innovation and progress, as well as exceptional natural resources in this area.

Aiming to promote heritage tourism, highlight the unique American history and diversity of heritage, promote historic preservation, and sustainable development, we looked for a way to brand the area with a national title, to develop the economy and to promote communities’ sense of belonging and identity. Designation as a National Heritage Area is the key to achieving these goals.

The first step to NHA designation is to conduct a Feasibility Study, which includes steps such as Defining the Study Area, assessing Public Involvement, Compiling an Inventory of assets, and an Assessment and Evaluation of resources in the area. The study is sponsored by Reubin O’D. Askew Center for Multidisciplinary Center in collaboration with FPAN. We are calling for all stakeholders to support and contribute to this project.

This project is being championed by Dr. Sorna Khakzad at FPAN and received support from FMWAS by way of a letter in Jan 2019. To learn more, please visit https://uwf.edu/centers/askew-institute-for-multidisciplinary-studies/projects-and-initiatives/florida-panhandle-national-heritage-area/

Priority #3. The Great Northwest Coastal Trail

The proposed Great Northwest Coastal Trail Corridor would be a 300-mile-long path for bicyclists and other non-motorists, that would run through eight counties, between Perdido Key near Pensacola and Bald Point State Park south of Tallahassee. The project is being planned by the state Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation (Foundation). Paved, non-motorized trails are being designed and built that will connect our communities to Florida’s state

FMWAS Article on RCC Sept 2019 Mtg – Priorities for the coming year. 4
parks, natural landscapes and waterways. These pathways will offer residents and visitors a scenic, safe and healthy transportation alternative to Florida’s crowded and often dangerous highways. Small business opportunities for trail service providers will revitalize Florida’s rural, mid-sized and urban centers.

Local festivals and long-distance events will bring travelers from around the United States and the world to experience our unique communities. Young and old, the fully able and those whose mobility is limited, the fit and those seeking fitness will have access to a statewide system of connected trails, greenways and blue ways. Behind this effort, and committed to the vision underlying the system’s completion, is the Foundation, which has provided vision, inspiration and facilitation leading to Florida’s system of greenways and trails.

For more information about this project, please visit: http://fgtf.org/maps/

Recap of Regional Priorities 1, 2 & 3.

You’ll notice that each of the priorities described above would add a layer of protection, both federal and state to a vulnerable portion of the state. There is no denying the population growth and the accompanied infrastructure (roads, subdivisions) which serves to fragment our natural resources. As such, lending our support to build the case for strategic land conservation in the Panhandle is critical to sustaining these special areas.

Panhandle of Florida is fortunate to have much of the landscape in conservation lands, seen in the green areas below. Much of these large tracts of land are managed by the military (Eglin and Tyndall Air Force Base), the state (Apalachicola State Forest, Blackwater River State Forest and Tate’s Hell State Forest) and the NW FL Water Management District, which protect the sensitive riparian zones along the FMWAS Article on RCC Sept 2019 Mtg – Priorities for the coming year. 5
many rivers which enter the Gulf of Mexico.

Fragmentation and loss of habitat are the greatest threats to wildlife in the state at this time, so it makes sense to preserve what remains by supporting these strategic programs which will also serve to protect our feathered friends.

Regional Priority #4. Strongly support the acquisition of two highly ranked projects under the Florida Forever Program.

In concert with the projects above, the Regional Conservation Committee continues to support the acquisition of critical conservation lands with monies set aside by the Florida Forever Program. The state land acquisition committee will make the decision on which parcels to purchase, and it will be important to fight for the full funding ($200-300 million) to be used for land purchases. Two parcels stand out in the panhandle as superior investments for water quality and habitat.

The Apalachicola River Project (which serves to protect an additional 40,000 acres of sensitive lands) and connect to the stateowned southern 235,000 acres which are managed by the Apalachicola Bay National Estuarine Reserve.
The Nature Conservancy and Apalachicola Riverkeeper proposed the new Florida Forever project covering 39,639 acres in five counties along the river.

Calhoun County has the largest portion of land with 22,594 acres. Much of the land is the Apalachicola River floodplain, which is critical to fish and wildlife populations and oysters in Apalachicola Bay. The project would protect nearly half of the non-tidal portion of the river, according to the application.

Another exciting opportunity includes adding to the great conservation value of the state is the size and strategic location of the Knight Tract. The 55,000 acres in the Knight Tract are mostly contiguous and are part of a larger protected landscape corridor. It adjoins the Choctawhatchee River Water Management Area and Pine Log State Forest.

To the west are the Nokuse Plantation and Seven Runs Creek conservation easements. These lands provide a landscape connection to the Eglin Air Force Base, which is connected to the Blackwater River State Forest and in turn, to the Conecuh National Forest. This wildlife corridor has been recognized as a high priority critical linkage for the Florida Black Bear.

To learn more about this diverse property, please visit:
http://blogs.tallahassee.com/community/2019/09/07/protecting-the-rich-biodiversity-of-the-knight-tract/

Regional Priority #5. Support the Land and Water Conservation Initiative which Florida Voters passed as Amendment 1 in 2014.

Seventy-five percent of the citizens who bothered to vote in November of 2014, voted for Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Initiative. Unfortunately, the monies collected for preservation were not used as prescribed, so several organizations filed a lawsuit against the state. FL Audubon did not participate in the lawsuit, but the Regional Conservation Chapter agreed to continue to advocate for the proper and intended use of Amendment 1 funds.

In 2015, the Florida Defenders of the Environment filed a lawsuit against the state legislature arguing that funds authorized by Amendment 1 were misused and misallocated.[3] Other plaintiffs filed lawsuits which were combined into one case on January 10, 2017. The other plaintiffs included the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.[4] In June 2018, a Leon County judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Then House and Senate leaders Richard Corcoran (R) and Joe Negron (R) appealed the case to the First District Court of Appeals.[5][6] The First District Court of Appeals overturned the Leon County circuit judge’s ruling on September 9, 2019. The court ruled that the funds are “not restricted to use on land purchased by the state after 2015.”[7] https://ballotpedia.org/Florida_Water_and_Land_Conservation_Initiative,_Amendment_1_(2014)

Regional Priority #6. Reach out to members of the NW FL Water Management District governing board to urge that strategic habitat and conservation goals, set forth in the updated Surface Water Improvement & Management (SWIM) Plans are met.

The NW Florida Water Management District (WMD) received funding from the BP Oil Spill monies to update the SWIM Plans for each individual river system in the FL Panhandle (https://www.nwfwater.com/Water-Resources/Surface-Water-Improvement-and-Management).

Within the individual watershed plans are a list of recommendations, since each watershed has different stressors, it stands to reason that there are different remedies. The Regional Chapter agreed to remind the WMD Governing Board that these approaches and remedies should be funded, as the opportunity arises.

FMW Audubon Society, NW FL Regional Chapter chair is Jim Brady. Board members which regularly attend the quarterly Regional Chapter Committee (RCC) Meetings include Carole Tebay Recording Secretary, Barbara Albrecht, Conservation Comm Chair, Jim Brady (RCC Chair) and Michael Brower (President of FMWAS).

Compiled by Barbara Albrecht with assistance by Carole Tebay, 16 Sept 2019.

BACK