Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative
“There are no other Everglades in the world,” author and conservationist Marjory Stoneman Douglas famously declared in 1947. She could have said the same for the Florida Keys.
Together, the world’s most unique wetland and the chain of islands that form Florida Bay are a unique ecosystem in a transitional, subtropical zone where Caribbean creatures and habitats mix with their cooler-weathered counterparts. Where else could one find an endangered Key deer, a small cousin of the white-tailed deer, eating a red mangrove?
But the mainland and its tail of islands face conservation challenges threatening to remake the entire landscape: encroaching development, invasive plants and animals, and the looming impact of sea level rise and warming temperatures.
A web of conservation partners are working on solutions as part of a 30-year, multi-billion-dollar effort to restore the Everglades, inextricably bound to the Keys by water. The water that meanders through the “River of Grass” winds up in Florida Bay and traces through island passes to the Gulfstream. The same water that gives life to the Everglades wood stork replenishes one of the world's most productive estuaries and nourishes North America's largest living coral reef tract.
In effect, nature and history have laid the groundwork for what the Department of Interior now proposes: a science partnership of government, academic and private organizations that will focus results-based research across Peninsular Florida to address unprecedented challenges. That will mean down-scaled climate models to identify future land conservation opportunities and at-risk species, and long-term biological monitoring to answer lingering questions about the impact of specific conservation measures.
Anne Morkill, refuge manager for the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex, said she sees the value in the proposed Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative in its promise of “pulling in even more partners, leveraging our various expertise and resources, and identifying some of the research gaps that we all have.”
For Todd Hopkins, a supervisory fish and wildlife biologist in Vero Beach, an LCC will mean the ability to “focus all of our collective conservation effort – all of the agencies, the tribes and the non-profits – into one cohesive whole. We’ll be able to use that planning effort to inform management decisions, design better monitoring and to determine whether we’re really achieving our mission here in Florida for the Fish and Wildlife Service.”