Dear Humans: Please Give Us Our Land Back; Activists: Development Consumes 20 Acres of Wildlife Habitat Each Hour

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID HUNT

More homes mean less room to roam for Northeast Florida wildlife.

Despite efforts that have conserved more than 9 million acres of undeveloped land statewide, experts said species such as the Florida black bear have been cramped into smaller living spaces, leading to territorial disputes and inbreeding in the woods. Other animals leave the nest only to wander into neighborhood streets and rely on trash bins for food.

As the region grows, expect the property line between man and nature to shrink, a problem potentially dangerous to communities and the ecosystem alike.

"The land is losing its rural character," said Nick Atwood, a volunteer for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. "It's hard to imagine where they'll all go -- the animals and the people themselves."

Atwood's group contends development throughout the state consumes 20 acres of wildlife habitat each hour. A separate study, released in December by the Tallahassee-based environmental group 1000 Friends of Florida, projects the Northeast Florida population will jump from 1.5 million to 3.5 million over the next 50 years.

Depending on where you are in the state, wild pigs, raccoons, iguanas, bears and alligators can be common sights, Atwood said. In some cases, they've become targets for poachers and obstacles for motorists, he said.

The number of black bears killed on Florida's highways each year rose from two in 1976 to 127 in 2004, according to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The bulk of those deaths occurred in the Ocala area, records show.

State highway records show four people were killed and 316 were injured statewide in collisions with animals in 2005.

In the late 1990s, a $3 million project came together to funnel wildlife under U.S. 441 in the Paynes Prairie State Preserve in Alachua County, where record numbers of snakes, frogs and turtles were being flattened on a 2-mile stretch of highway.

Pete Southall, Northeast Florida's environmental administrator for the state Department of Transportation, said he sees such wildlife highway crossroads, called ecopassages, as a growing need statewide.

"Roads tend to fragment habitats," he said. "This allows animals to leave the habitat, reducing inbreeding."

PRESERVING MORE LAND

As a way to preserve wildlife land and control animal populations, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is considering taking over more than 25,000 acres between Clay, Duval and Nassau counties, a move that would allow hunting on the lands, said commission spokeswoman Karen Parker. …

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