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While the FWC has the constitutional mandate in Florida to manage wildlife, local governments often play a substantial role in wildlife conservation.  Many local, city, and county governments have created habitat acquisition and management programs, site plan reviews, wildlife impact requirements, and/or funding for capital improvements which can provide important assistance in achieving conservation goals and objectives.  Long-term funding sources for the management and maintenance of land in local government public holdings can be enhanced through coordination with state and federal wildlife agencies and conservation non-governmental organization.  Local conservation and land management can provide increased opportunities for wildlife viewing and eco-tourism, which can be valuable economic amenities. 

Comprehensive plans are a tool which local governments can use to influence the local development scheme and to designate ecologically important areas with associated development guidelines.  Natural resource managers and biologists can assist planners during the development approval and comprehensive plan approval processes by identifying areas of important habitat for fish and wildlife.  This is especially important during the drafting of any local comprehensive plan’s conservation element as required under Chapter 163 Part II, F.S.  FWC encourages local governments to coordinate with state and federal wildlife agencies prior to revising comprehensive plans and preparing evaluation and appraisal reports.  Some local governments create an Environmental Advisory Committee of professional biologists to evaluate the land use activities being proposed and to make recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners. 

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According to projections produced by the Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research Florida’s population is projected to reach 33.7 million residents by 2070, 14.9 million more people than in 2010.  The projected new residential and commercial development that will be necessary to serve this population could convert five million more acres, including 2 million acres of Florida’s agricultural and natural lands, to urban use.  In many instances, urban sprawl and associated regional roadways are the leading causes of habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation.  However, more developers are creating conservation design plans and wildlife-friendly communities which incorporate existing natural resource features and build only in previously degraded areas.

Developers, planners, and local governments can incorporate existing natural resource features into long-range planning efforts, site design, and development to avoid or minimize impacts to native habitats and wildlife.  Resources exist for landowners in Florida who are interested in pursuing a more wildlife-friendly approach to land development and conversion.  In addition, certain design features can be followed to minimize impacts to fish and wildlife resources and these will be discussed in the following sections.

Resources:

  • Conservation Subdivision Design (UF IFAS) – series of publications that explore topics such as wildlife-friendly lighting, stormwater treatment, native landscaping, and designing open spaces.
  • Wildlife-Friendly Development Certification (North Carolina Wildlife Federation) – exemplary program which addresses extensive criteria to ensure that sufficient measures are taken to conserve wildlife habitats during all phases of development.
  • Conservation Planning Guidelines (Environmental Law Institute) – resource provided by the Environmental Law Institute that provides a framework for planners wishing to avoid habitat fragmentation and design for onsite conservation.
  • Golf Course Environmental Profile (Golf Course Superintendents Association of America) – project focused on developing a comprehensive environmental profile of golf courses in the United States.
  • Best Management Practices for Florida Golf Courses (FDEP) – strategies for operating a golf course in an environmentally sound manner.
  • Garden for Wildlife (National Wildlife Federation) – webpage which includes diverse information to help citizens restore habitat and wildlife populations in our cities, towns, and neighborhoods.
  • Ecological Corridors Ordinance (Pasco County, Florida) – areas identified in Pasco County that connect core conservation tracts and maintain and conserve natural resources at a regional scale.
  • Wildlife-Friendly Lighting – webpage about the cooperative effort between FWC and USFWS designed to educate members of the public, the construction industry, and government officials about how to minimize adverse impacts to wildlife by using proper lighting methods
  • Wildlife-Friendly Yards – University of Florida’s Department of Environmental Horticulture established the Florida Friendly Landscaping™ Program which includes methods for attracting wildlife to residential areas.
  • Living Shorelines: Natural Protection of Florida’s Coasts (FDEP) – webpage on living shorelines and the benefits to using them in shoreline stabilization projects.

Riparian buffers are vegetated areas between development and rivers, streams, and wetlands to preserve water quality, reduce erosion and sedimentation, limit stormwater discharge, and provide wildlife habitat.  Often in development planning, these buffer zones are only planned for the protection of water quality as required by a local government or state water management district.  However, buffers that protect water quality may not be sufficient in size to protect wetland-dependent wildlife species.  When planning for wetland buffers, considerations may need to be made for wetland-dependent wildlife and aquatic species home ranges and movement patterns.

Upland wildlife species also benefit from buffers between development and their nests, burrows, and other important habitats.  In some instances, the incorporation of these buffers is required by law to prevent the “take” of listed species and must be maintained to receive a development permit.

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Temporary and permanent methods are used on development sites for erosion control, revegetation, and bank stabilization.  These practices are important for preventing the impairment of natural waterbodies from sedimentation, yet certain erosion and sediment control practices can create hazards for wildlife.  Erosion control products that use plastic netting can lead to the entanglement, injury and death of a variety of species including federally or state-listed reptiles and birds.  Cost-competitive and wildlife-friendly alternatives are readily available, including coconut coir, straw, and jute.  These alternatives are more wildlife-friendly in design because they use organic-based materials/fibers which biodegrade after accomplishing their purpose in comparison to synthetic plastics, which remain in place long after exceeding their utility.  

One common use of plastic netting is in the packaging and transportation of rolled sod.  Many projects rely on 4-foot wide rolls of sod to cover bare soil or stabilize the edge of a water feature.  The netting that holds the sod together during transit and installation can become exposed over time and trap or strangle wildlife that attempt to move through it.  Square sod slabs often do not incorporate plastic netting and are the preferred form when the project area is small or irregular enough to allow for their use.

To reduce wildlife entanglement and plastic debris resulting from development, biodegradable alternatives such as jute or coir netting or loose straw should be used.  In addition, alternative netting should have a loose-weave design with movable joints between the horizontal and vertical twines to allow the individual twines to move independently.  If plastic netting must be used, steps should be taken to reduce its potential impact on wildlife including: minimization of application to only those sites most in need of control, trimming of loose netting during regular maintenance, and complete removal of netting when it is no longer needed.

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The management of stormwater runoff is an important component of site design.  Stormwater management systems assist in the minimization of development impacts through the reduction of pollutants and sedimentation.  The design of stormwater systems depends on the site conditions such as soils and depth of the water table.  Because they concentrate water, stormwater management systems often naturally attract wildlife but lack substantial habitat resources.  Wildlife use of stormwater systems can cause dangerous situations near airports and roadways which should be considered during design.  In appropriate locations, stormwater facilities can be enhanced to benefit wildlife.  Specific site guidance should be obtained from a qualified biologist, engineer and landscape architect.

At larger scales, dry detention areas can be part of a community recreation system such as parks and ball fields, or green space.  If these areas are landscaped using Florida-FriendlyTM practices they can provide important natural corridors and urban refugia for wildlife.  Wet detention systems and retention basins, also known as wet ponds, are areas that maintain a permanent pool of water regardless of the stormwater discharge.  If designed and maintained properly, these areas can be important resources for aquatic and wetland species.  Typically, sod is placed around the perimeter of wet ponds, however, it is recommended that the design incorporate diverse native herbaceous and woody plants along a gradual graded-slope configuration.  Additionally, using complex configurations with peninsulas and islands can be beneficial for nesting wading birds and other wildlife. 

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Florida has countless natural and constructed ponds, many of which are present on private property and do not play the primary role of stormwater management.  They can provide amenities to a site including swimming, fishing, waterfowl hunting, and wildlife viewing opportunities.  Ponds can be managed intensively for high fish production while still attracting wading birds, waterfowl and other wildlife species.  The availability of water, food and cover will dictate which types of wildlife are attracted to a pond.  Many wildlife species add to the natural beauty and enjoyment of the pond while others may cause problems.

Onsite ponds can generate income though the landowners charging a fee for fishermen to fish in their pond.  Short-term and long-term leases are common.  If you own a fish pond of more than 20 acres which is located entirely within your property you may obtain a Private Fish Pond License from FWC to exempt persons fishing in your pond from the recreational freshwater fishing license requirement. 

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Greenways are corridors that can be used for conservation or recreation, whereas trails are paths intended largely for human recreation or transportation.  Greenways often follow natural features and can be used to provide a means to connect areas of fragmented habitats or a way of avoiding impacts to habitats that are occupied by regulated wildlife species.  Incorporating recreational opportunities such as interpretive trails or wildlife viewing sites into greenways can help citizens access natural areas more frequently, which can strengthen the overall environmental philosophy and quality of life in a community.  However, recreational sites in natural areas can have an effect on wildlife habitat and a zone of influence on animal behavior.  By following sustainable design guidelines recreational uses and wildlife habitat can be compatible.

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Roadways are a necessary resource for people and goods to travel across the state.  Informed decision making in the design and operation of roadways large and small can be used to help avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts to fish and wildlife resources.  When appropriate, wildlife crossings can be incorporated into designs to facilitate animal movement and reduce the risk of road mortality.  Design and construction best practices can reduce erosion and sedimentation where transportation projects intersect wetlands, streams, and rivers and help preserve water quality for aquatic species.  Offsite mitigation banking and restoration efforts can offset impacts from these projects and improve habitat and ecosystem functioning.  Finally, right-of-way vegetation management can improve the quality of roadside habitat for pollinators by reducing the frequency of mowing in the growing season and restoring native vegetation.  Additional methods are available in the resources below.

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Wildlife Crossing Design

Wildlife crossings can be an especially important design component for mitigating roadway impacts to fish and wildlife resources.  Long-term conservation goals for wildlife crossings should maintain the productivity of the natural system and increase the long-term population viability of the target wildlife species.

The overall purpose and need for a crossing is to:

  • Maintain habitat connectivity within natural landscape linkages bisected by roadways; avoid habitat loss and degradation;
  • Reduce wildlife roadway mortality;
  • Promote genetic connectivity for the target wildlife species; and,
  • Maintain public safety.

There are numerous wildlife crossing designs to suit both aquatic and terrestrial species movement, as well as habitat and hydrological connectivity.  Structure types may include upland and wetland bridges, box culverts, and large drainage pipes.  Appropriately designed fencing is also needed to exclude animals from the roadway and funnel them to the crossing structure.  Signage to alert people of wildlife crossings may also be useful in areas of heavy animal use near underpass structures.

Wildlife crossings are primarily designed for major federal, state, and some county roadways where there is evidence of significant concentrations of wildlife road mortalities.  The Florida Department of Transportation has produced Wildlife Crossing Guidelines, and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has developed a Best Practices Manual to wildlife crossing design and planning.  These resources can be applied to transportation corridors, multiple-lane interstate highways, county roads, and small residential roads.

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Utility projects include, but are not limited to: nuclear, coal, natural gas, and solar power arrays, transmission lines and associated stations, pipelines, and wind turbines.  Most large-scale utility projects are coordinated through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or the Florida Siting Coordination Office.  The initial scoping, planning, and permitting, processes may begin 5-10 years before construction begins.  New projects are often required to have either an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement as part of the Federal and State applications.  Coordination with FWC and USFWS at the earliest planning stage is recommended to provide the utility company information regarding fish and wildlife issues and possible avoidance and mitigation measures.

Right-of-ways, or the land needed for construction and maintenance for utilities, is obtained prior to construction of transmission lines or pipelines.  Once in place, a maintenance program is developed to keep the right-of-way clear of tall vegetation.  Maintenance programs for utility rights-of-way traditionally include scheduled chemical treatments and mowing.  However, alternative programs can be employed to both manage vegetation and minimize impacts to wildlife.  For example, Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) can be used to spot-treat unwanted plants, while letting the remaining understory vegetation grow.  Over time, this maintains an early successional habitat full of wildflowers, grasses, and low shrubs that will benefit wildlife and insects.

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Resources mined in Florida include phosphate, limestone, dolomite, shell, heavy minerals, fuller’s earth, peat, clay, gravel and sand.  The FDEP’s Mining and Mitigation Program in the Division of Water Resource Management, is the state’s lead agency in the regulation of most mining and reclamation activities. 

All mining in Florida is subject to reclamation requirements as of July 1, 1975.  Reclamation means the reasonable rehabilitation of land where resource extraction has occurred, and reclamation construction consists of re-contouring and re-vegetating mined areas.  Some issues addressed in reclamation requirements are mitigating impacts to hydrology, water quality, wetlands, and wildlife habitats. Also, while the Mining and Mitigation Program does not regulate borrow pits, which include sand, shell and clay mines, these are regulated under environmental resource permitting.

Resources:

  • Chapter 62C-16 F.A.C. – Florida Administrative Code containing the reclamation standards for phosphate mining lands.
  • Chapter 378 F.S. – Florida Statutes containing the languages where phosphate land and resource extraction reclamation standards are set forth
  • Integrated Habitat Network (IHN) plan (FDEP) - a document which is the focus for the reclamation and permitting efforts for phosphate mining in Central Florida. The IHN provides for ecologically-based construction of wildlife corridors which are to be associated primarily with the land adjacent to major river systems and their tributaries.
  • An Overview of Phosphate Mining and Reclamation in Florida (UF/IFAS) – a document which contains information about: how and why phosphate is mined in Florida; who is impacted by Florida phosphate mining; what happens to the land after mining; and what are some of the controversies of phosphate mining?
  • Landscape Reclamation at a Central Florida Phosphate Mine (Ecological Engineering) – Research article on the factors influencing growth and survival of planted species.
  • Wildlife Habitat and Wildlife Utilization of Phosphate-Mined Lands (Florida Institute of Phosphate Research) – an extensive report on research to identify how wildlife use reclaimed mine sites.