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Local governments can play a vital role in encouraging the implementation of environmentally sensitive and wildlife-friendly development practices.  Comprehensive plans and land development regulations 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.  The 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 to evaluate the land use activities being proposed and to make recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners.   

Resources:

  • Policies that Address Sustainable Site Development (UF/IFAS) - Compiled and summarized city and county ordinances that provide incentives or regulations to promote sustainable development.
  • Model Native Plant Landscape Ordinance Handbook (UF College of Law) – A resource for local governments that wish to adopt or amend their existing landscape ordinance to encourage or require the use of appropriate native vegetation in all landscaped areas.
  • Comprehensive Planning Evaluation and Plan Update (Alachua County) – A website chronicling the process and decisions for the Alachua County 2011 - 2030 comprehensive plan.
  • Standards for Open Space Subdivision Design (Brevard County) – An example open-space ordinance that was established to encourage cluster development and efficient use of land to protect ecological functions of natural areas and reduce development expenses and maintenance costs. The ordinance also defines open space to density bonus ratio which are offered to developers constructing within certain zoning categories.
  • Conservation and Open Space Element (Martin County) – An example Comprehensive Plan Conservation and Open Space Element that aims to protect at least 25% of existing upland native habitats within all developments. It also outlines the requirement of management plans for the protection of wetlands on and off site of a proposed development.
  • Ecological Corridors Ordinance (Pasco County) – An example ordinance intended to protect areas that connect core conservation tracts and maintain and conserve natural resources at a regional scale.
  • Conservation Element (Walton County) – An example Comprehensive Plan Conservation Element which requires that 25-50% of environmentally sensitive habitats be protected onsite and incorporates a density bonus program which helps to incentivize developers to enhance or restore natural areas.

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) – A 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) – A program which addresses extensive criteria to ensure that measures are taken to conserve wildlife habitats during all phases of development.
  • Building for Birds Evaluation Tool (UF/IFAS) – guidance on an online tool which provides decision makers with a way to evaluate different development scenarios and how they affect habitat for different species of forest birds that use fragmented areas.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Best Management Practices for Florida Golf Courses (FDEP) – strategies for operating a golf course in an environmentally sound manner.
  • 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.

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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Greenways are naturalized corridors that can be used for conservation or recreation, whereas trails and paths intended largely for human recreation or transportation.  Incorporating recreational opportunities such as interpretive signs or wildlife viewing sites into greenways and trails can help citizens understand the attributes of natural areas which can in turn strengthen the overall awareness of the environment in a community.  Recreation in natural areas can negatively impact wildlife habitat and behavior, however, by following design guidelines detailed in resources below, trails, greenways, and recreational uses can be compatible with wildlife use.

Resources:

  • Office of Greenways and Trails (FDEP) – the office within the FDEP’s Division of Recreation and Parks which supports communities through coordination and technical assistance regarding the acquisition, development, designation, and management of greenways and trails.
  • Ecological Corridors Minimal Standards and Design (Pasco County) – An example guide to protecting areas identified which connect core conservation tracts and maintain and conserve natural resources at a regional scale.
  • Enhancing the Environment with Trails and Greenways (Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse) – informational document about the variety of environmental benefits associated with trails and greenways which provides some specific Florida examples.
  • Trail Design with Wildlife in Mind (Colorado State Parks) – handbook for trail planners developed by a task force to help decrease short and long-term wildlife impacts when constructing trails.
  • The Impacts of Greenways on Property Values (Journal of Leisure Research) – scholarly article which uses hedonic pricing methods to examine the impact of greenways on proximate properties’ sales prices.

 

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.  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.  If designed and maintained properly, these areas can be important resources for aquatic and wetland species.  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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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.

To reduce wildlife entanglement and plastic debris resulting from erosion control and sediment stabilization, biodegradable alternatives such as jute or coir netting or loose straw can be used.  This can be particularly beneficial near wetlands and natural areas with burrowing and ground wildlife. If plastic netting must be used, take steps to reduce its potential entanglement of wildlife by limiting its use to those sites most in need of erosion control, trimming loose netting during regular maintenance, and removing the netting when it is no longer needed. In addition, netting can have a loose-weave design with movable joints between the horizontal and vertical twines to allow the individual twines to move independently and wildlife to escape entanglement. 

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Roadways are a necessary resource for people and goods to travel across the state.  Informed decision making in the design, construction, and operation of roadways large and small can be used to help protect fish and wildlife and their habitats.

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Wildlife Crossing Design

Wildlife crossings can be an especially important design component for reducing conflicts where roads cross important fish and wildlife habitats and travel corridors.  It is important to develop long-term conservation goals for wildlife crossings upon implementation.  Some of the primary purposes for crossings are 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 and habitat connectivity.  Structure types include wildlife underpasses such as bridges extended over wetland, floodplains and natural areas, and enlarged box culverts, and drainage pipes under roadways.  Wildlife overpasses are bridges designed to connect wildlife habitat and animal paths over a roadway. Appropriately designed fencing is also needed to exclude animals from the roadway and funnel them to the crossing structure.  Signs to alert people of wildlife crossings can prevent car accidents in areas of heavy animal use and near underpass structures. 

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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.  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 measures.

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Right-of-Way Planning (ROW)

The linear corridors often needed for transporting energy or resources for energy projects, such as transmission lines or pipelines can be hundreds of miles long and cut through numerous habitats.  Once the infrastructure is in in place, a program is developed to maintain vegetation that can interfere with the utilities, usually trees that can damage powerlines.  Maintenance programs for ROWs traditionally include scheduled chemical treatments and mowing, which have had significant negative impacts on wildlife.  However, alternative programs can be employed to both manage vegetation and minimize impacts to wildlife.

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Natural 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.  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. 

All mining in Florida since 1975 has been subject to reclamation requirements.  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.  Some reclaimed areas can provide excellent wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.  The area that became Tenoroc Public Use Area was extensively surface-mined between 1950 and 1978.  However, intensive management and restoration of the area has provided suitable habitat for many residential and migratory birds and provides quality public fishing.

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