O2O Exciting Tidbits, This is Us! The Florida Wildlife Corridor Act.

O2O Exciting Tidbits

Photo by Kimberly Tillman

O2O Exciting Tidbit Post # 5 May, 2021

This map shows the O2O as part of the larger proposed Florida Wildlife Corridor( all of the green throughout the state). The O2O is the NE section. The recent Florida Wildlife Corridor Act includes lands designated as Priority 1, 2 and 3 by the Florida Ecological Greenways Network. About 82 % of the O2O is designated as Priority 1-3.
Flow Chart showing how the Act and Wildlife Corridor came to be.

Florida Ecological Greenways Network (FEGN)

Florida Ecological Greenways Network (FEGN) is a single model showing important ecological hubs and linkages that would make a swath of connected lands in the state. This model was developed using the following models •FWC Strategic Habitat Conservation Areas •FWC Biodiversity Hotspots •FWC Priority Wetlands for Listed Species •FNAI Potential Natural Areas •FNAI Areas of Conservation Interest •Existing and proposed conservation lands •Vegetation from FWC satellite imagery landcover •FNAI Rare Species Habitat Conservation Priorities •High Quality Watersheds.

This model was created under the guidance of the Florida Greenways Coordinating Council and the Florida Greenways and Trails Council to create a delineation of ecologically important and connected lands throughout the state of Florida. Making a priority area list of 1-6. Learn more on the Landscope website by clicking here.

Florida Forever (FF)

Florida Forever is a conservation and recreation land acquisition program in Florida. The Acquisition and Restoration Council recommends and ranks lands showing outstanding natural resources, opportunities for natural resource-based recreation, or historical and archaeological resources. The current Florida Forever program replaces the once Preservation 2000 program. Division of State Lands calls it ” the largest public land acquisition program of its kind in the United States”. Combined, Florida Forever and the previous Preservation 2000 have protected 2.6 million acres for conservation so far.

Florida Forever prioritizes land for acquisition throughout the state by using the FEGN model, talked about above, as well as additional considerations from the Acquisition and Restoration Council. Learn more about Florida Forever on their website by clicking here.

Florida Wildlife Corridor

The Florida Wildlife Corridor is a delineation of lands prioritized by FEGN, priority 1-3, that would create a connected swath of land that runs North to South and East to West throughout the state.

The Ocala to Osceola Wildlife Corridor is the Northeast portion of this greater Florida Wildlife Corridor delineation. Our boundary also includes lands outside of the priority 1-3. Learn more about the Florida Wildlife Corridor on their Website by clicking here.

This map shows a close up of the O2O boundary, an area designated as a critical linkage within the larger proposed Florida Wildlife Corridor. The light greens and yellow show how priority areas 1-3 overlap the O2O landscape. The dark green shows already protected public lands.
This map show the proposed Florida Wildlife Corridor, light green, as well as the Florida Forever project areas, yellow hatch lines, within our O2O boundary.

The importance of protecting wild and rural lands has been formally recognized with a unanimous vote by the Florida Legislature!


 

This is us! Protecting wild and rural lands has been formally recognized by the Florida Legislature! With the possibility of $300 million earmarked for this effort now sitting for the governors approval.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Act and The Ocala To Osceola (O2O) Wildlife Corridor

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Act

In April 2021, the Florida Legislature unanimously passed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act.  The Act will become law in July 2021 if signed by the Governor.  The Act defines the Florida Wildlife Corridor as a geographically defined area in Florida spanning over 18 million acres, of which 10 million acres are existing conservation lands.  The Florida Wildlife Corridor includes Priority Level One, Two, or Three. These priority areas are designated by the Florida Ecological Greenways Network.  The Corridor is comprised of “critical linkages” that include existing conservation lands, and private connector lands.

The primary goals of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act are to:

  •  Maintain habitats needed for wildlife migration and genetic exchange, including wildlife crossings. 
  •  Prevent further wildlife habitat fragmentation.
  •  Protect headwaters of major watersheds, and critical groundwater recharge lands essential for Florida’s drinking water and healthy coastal estuaries.
  •  Protect ecological connectivity for large-scale ecosystem functions, including fire and hydrology. 
  • Sustain Florida’s working ranches, farms and forests for wildlife habitat, rural prosperity, and agricultural production. 

The Act directs State agencies to:

  • Acquire lands within “opportunity areas” of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.  Opportunity areas are lands that are not yet in conservation. 
  • Encourage investment in voluntary conservation easements.
  • Encourage private funds to supplement public funding to protect Corridor opportunity areas. 
  • Seek opportunities to attract additional federal funding.
  • Encourage new approaches and novel financing methods, including payments for ecosystem services, blended financing, and support for sustainable agriculture.

Specifically, the Act allocates $300 million for protection of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. This funding is in addition to $100 million appropriated to Florida Forever conservation program in the state budget.

How does the O2O Wildlife Corridor initiative fit?

The O2O Wildlife Corridor is a piece of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, also known as a “critical linkage in the Florida Wildlife Corridor”.  The O2O service area is nearly 2 million acres, of which most is designated as part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.  About half of this area is already conservation lands, and the other half is “opportunity area” as defined by the Act.   

The O2O Partnership is a collaborative of public agencies and private organizations dedicated to conservation of the O2O Wildlife Corridor, and in the larger sense, to building the Florida Wildlife Corridor.  The Partnership’s goal is to conserve an additional 140,000 acres in the O2O by 2040.  The Partnership is already working on O2O conservation projects totaling over 70,000 acres.  Furthermore, the Partnership directs funding and assistance for private land management to protect and restore wildlife habitat, water resources, and working lands. 

The Partnership goals and progress in the O2O Wildlife Corridor compliments the objectives of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act.  This is a great opportunity to help us build and protect the O2O which is an essential piece of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

How will the O2O Wildlife Corridor initiative benefit?

Increased appropriations for land conservation totaling $400 Million, if signed by the governor.  These funds are specifically allocated to protection of land in the Florida Wildlife Corridor and for the Florida Forever program. 

About 82 percent (roughly 1.5 million acres) of the O2O falls within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, as defined as priority 1, 2, and 3 areas of the Florida Ecological Greenways Network.  About one million acres are already conservation lands, including publicly owned and private lands with conservation easements.  Much of the non-conservation land (i.e., the 441,621 acre “opportunity area”) is in approved Florida Forever project areas.  These lands can be acquired by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection pending available funding and willing sellers. 

More conservation funding is good for the O2O, in that it will accelerate acquisition of environmentally important lands.  The demand for conservation options exceeds funding supply, and there are many landowners in the O2O who are eager to sell their land or conservation easements.  The O2O initiative is centered on the concept of large natural landscapes and rural connector lands and the new legislative focus on the Florida Wildlife Corridor will certainly benefit the O2O. 

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