Southwest Florida Landscape Conservation Design

Florida panther eyes Photo Credit: USFWS
Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) eyes Photo Credit: USFWS
It is a well known is the fact that Florida is one of the fastest growing states with more than 350,000 new people moving there each year.  Yet, the rural heartlands of southwest and south-central Florida harbor a rich mosaic of biodiversity in a regional landscape mostly unknown to most people: Florida’s ranchlands.  
These ranchlands support the Florida panther and many other iconic and unique species that make Florida one of the most vibrant wildlife areas in the United States while also playing an essential role in protecting and restoring water resources, providing resource-based recreation, and maintaining a unique cultural heritage.  
Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in the Morning Sun Photo Credit: Photo: Larry Richardson / USFWS
Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in the Morning Sun Photo Credit: Photo: Larry Richardson / USFWS


To protect this unique and increasingly endangered Florida region, the Refuge Association has been working with the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, University of Florida’s Center for Landscape Conservation Planningstate and federal agencies, the nonprofit environmental community and Florida landowners on the development of a Landscape Conservation Design (LCD). 


LCDs are science and stakeholder-driven collaborative planning efforts across broad regions.  LCDs integrate the best scientific information about conservation priorities with stakeholder engagement to identify opportunities and strategies to achieve large-scale conservation goals.  These plans are broader than specific National Wildlife Refuges; however, LCDs are an essential step for informing the refuge planning process.


The Southwest Florida Landscape Conservation Design was one of the first LCDs to be completed.  It provided a synthesis of both existing statewide and new regional conservation priorities data to identify the most critical places for conserving the region’s native wildlife and habitats.  This scientific data and analysis were combined with a long process of collaborative, incentives-based planning in Southwest Florida that started with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Cooperative Conservation Blueprint.  The Blueprint was based on work with stakeholders over the past several years who reviewed the relevant scientific information on regional conservation mapping to reach consensus on a set of wildlife corridors and ecological priorities from Big Cypress National Preserve and Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge north to the Peace River and Kissimmee River watersheds.  These stakeholder-driven plans were the foundation for identifying similar conservation priorities and continuing work with stakeholders in the Southwest Florida LCD.  
Rare and endangered Ghost orchid Native to South Florida and the Florida Panther NWR Photo Credit: USFWS
Rare and endangered Ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) Native to South Florida and the Florida Panther NWR Photo Credit: USFWS
The LCD science-based analysis process involved identifying habitat conservation priorities for focal species (including the Florida panther and other listed species) and natural communities. Afterwards,  these priority areas were compared to both threats from potential future development and opportunities for protection. The results of this analysis will help Refuge and other FWS staff work with agencies and partners to make strategic land protection decisions across the region.



The Southwest Florida LCD helped to explore and refine LCD methods applied in other regions across the United States.  The Refuge Association is working with the FWS/Refuge staff to facilitate the incorporation of the best available science and planning tools to maximize strategic conservation efforts. These efforts will provide significant benefit to the National Wildlife Refuge System.  


Florida is a critical location for developing these new scientific and collaborative planning tools. The Refuge Association continues to work with the FWS and its many other planners in Florida, hoping to bring the methods and strategies developed there to other Refuge landscapes across the United States that need sound strategic planning to conserve our wildlife and other natural resources better.



Permanent link to this article: http://refugeassociation.org/2017/12/southwest-florida-landscape-conservation-design/

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