Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Florida

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife (PFW) Program delivers on-the-ground habitat restoration projects that benefit at-risk and federal trust species including threatened and endangered species, migratory birds, and anadromous fish. Projects restore and enhance degraded habitat and, in some cases, create new habitat.

Partners Wanted

This program operates on a voluntary basis, so please contact us with ideas and questions! In addition to partnerships with private landowners, we work with private organizations, schools, and local, state, or other non-federal government programs.

Restoring Habitats on Private Lands

Partners for Fish & Wildlife is a pro-active program that promotes voluntary participation by landowners by providing financial and technical assistance for planning and implementing habitat improvements on their property.

Highest priority projects are those that restore native habitat and provide long-term benefits to at-risk and Federal trust species. Of particular interest are species that have been petitioned for listing, but whose status is still being evaluated (i.e., we are trying to avoid the need to list them). Examples of common project types include:

  • Establishment of longleaf pine and other native trees and shrubs
  • Native groundcover restoration
  • Removing non-native vegetation
  • Restoring ephemeral and other wetlands for native wildlife
  • Livestock exclusion fencing and off-site watering
  • Improving in-stream habitat conditions for mussels, crayfish, and other aquatic fauna
  • Addressing water quality and quantity in springs and aquatic caves


How the Program Works

First, an interested landowner, or a representative, contact us (see contacts listed below) to ask questions and discuss ideas.

Arrange for a site visit

Projects are developed year round. A USFWS Partners biologist will meet on site with the landowner and anyone that they would like to be present to discuss the landowner's goals and objectives for restoring habitat on the property.

Often, county foresters, NRCS conservationists, or state fish and wildlife biologists take part in the discussions to address the landowner’s goals. The Partners biologist helps determine effective habitat improvements for the project property, including advice on design, techniques, work plan and budget.

Project selection

The Fish and Wildlife Service will provide technical advice on project design, materials to be used, and for aquatic restorations, the plan for engineering as needed. Funding and cost share responsibilities will be discussed.

Although we conduct site visits and develop plans for restoration projects any time of year, agreements are typically finalized in summer with project funding available in fall or winter.

Develop a project work plan

A Habitat Restoration Design is developed by the participating partners together with the Fish and Wildlife Service project managers. The USFWS biologist is responsible for completing an appropriate environmental review, including the required National Environmental Policy Act review, an endangered species consultation, a contaminant site assessment and a cultural resource review.

If funding is approved, a Landowner Agreement is developed and signed by the participating partners, and a method of payment is determined in order to reimburse the landowner or contractor. The landowner agreement secures the federal investment and is like a formal handshake that outlines each partner's responsibilities and outlines the project goals and costs.

Project implementation

A Notice of Award is then issued to the landowner obligating the necessary funding for implementation of the project.

The last step is implementation and enjoying the results!

Florida Goals and Project Prioritization

Florida encompasses incredible ecological diversity. It has ten distinct ecoregions with habitats ranging from coastal estuary to desert scrub. These habitats support over 130 endangered and threatened species, several unique plant communities, and a variety of economic and land-use considerations. We have lots of opportunity with nearly 18 million acres of private lands in Florida. Our partners are varied: family-owned farms or ranches; industrial and non-industrial forests; small landowners; dairy operations; and many others. The PFW program in Florida recognizes the unique issues involved in working to restore habitats in these varied climates and recognizes the unique landowner needs that are a reality for making our projects work.

Emphasis on Developing Quality Projects

Projects that restore habitat for or reduce threats to at-risk species will be given priority. In addition to currently listed species, Florida has more than 130 species that have been petitioned for listing. By improving habitat and reducing threats, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program aims to avoid or remove the need to list species for federal protection. To achieve this goal the Partners program in Florida has been focused on the restoration of longleaf and upland pine systems, scrub, dry prairie, wetlands, stream and riparian riparian
Definition of riparian habitat or riparian areas.

Learn more about riparian
habitats. Nearly all of the listed, proposed, and candidate animal species in Florida rely on one or more of these habitats.

General Project Criteria

Proposed projects will be ranked based on potential benefits to listed or at-risk species habitat, as well as proximity and/or connectivity to conservation lands or areas of known populations of listed or at-risk species. Funded projects will meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Benefit to listed or at-risk species;
  • Implements priority tasks in an established management, recovery, or restoration plan; and/or
  • Provides long term protection of property.
  • Other Factors Considered in Funding Projects
  • Additional desired criteria include:
  • Benefits to other FWS trust species, species of concern, or migratory birds;
  • Proximity to National Wildlife Refuge property and compliments formal objectives of Refuge;
  • Builds new partnerships in key resource area;
  • Leverages resources (i.e. good dollar for dollar match);
  • Good price per acre for project;
  • Documented need for restoration;
  • Results in a self-sustaining system not dependent on artificial structures;
  • Provides educational or public outreach potential;
  • Collaboration with state fish and wildlife and other partners;
  • Reduces habitat fragmentation;
  • Restores globally or nationally imperiled habitat type;
  • Benefits multiple priority species;
  • Current and future adjacent land use is compatible with restoration; and
  • Long term oversight / management capability.
Other Factors Considered in Funding Projects

The maps below indicate locations of focal areas based on habitat. A partial list of at-risk species found in each focal area is provided in the tables below. Information on habitat, life history, and location for each species is available by clicking on the Common Name. For a more comprehensive list of at-risk species by county or HUC 8 watershed you can visit the NatureServe on-line map viewer.

Priority areas

Longleaf and Upland Pine and associated Forested and Herbaceous Wetlands

The longleaf pine ecosystem once covered as much as 92 million acres. Now, about 3.4 million acres remain in a fragmented distribution across North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, southern Mississippi and Louisiana, making this an endangered ecosystem (>85 percent decline in historic habitat type; Noss et al. 1995). These forests represented an extraordinary diversity of cultural, ecological, and socio-economic values, making them one of the great coniferous forests of the world.

Characteristic of longleaf pine habitats is an open canopy consisting of predominantly longleaf pine with a sparse or nonexistent midstory and shrub layer. A ground cover of native species is essential to maintaining the longleaf pine ecosystem, and the use of periodic fire is also essential to promoting the survival of native ground cover and preventing the invasion of undesirable plant species (Browning et al. 2004, Franklin 2008).

Other important habitats occur within longleaf, including ephemeral wetlands, pitcher plant bogs, springs, streams, and riparian habitats. Many of our priority species depend not only on longleaf habitat, but on these smaller habitats occurring within. Understanding where these habitats occur and how to manage them in the context of a longleaf restoration project is critical to conserving species that depend on them.

Within the various longleaf pine communities (e.g., sandhills, flatwoods and savanna, rolling hills, and mountain) 27 federally listed species and more than 100 at-risk species occur. About 40 percent of the 1,600+ plant species in the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains are restricted to longleaf landscapes.

Much of this ecosystem has been converted to other types of pine plantations, pasture, agricultural uses and urban and industrial development. Because of its decline, wide-ranging occurrence, connection with private landowners, and occurrence of declining species, PFW has put more of its effort into longleaf restoration than any other habitat type.

These efforts, combined with the work of many partners, have led to an increase in longleaf acreage over the past 20 years after many decades of decline. By continuing this work, PFW will be contributing to species recovery and at-risk species conservation, including the black pinesnake, Florida pinesnake, Louisiana pinesnake, RCW, striped newt, southern hognose snake, gopher frog and many others. We will focus on habitat improvements that expand existing core habitat and reduce fragmentation by connecting significant or important landscapes.

Our strategies for habitat improvement include longleaf planting, prescribed burning, woody vegetation removal (midstory management), invasive species invasive species
An invasive species is any plant or animal that has spread or been introduced into a new area where they are, or could, cause harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health. Their unwelcome presence can destroy ecosystems and cost millions of dollars.

Learn more about invasive species
control, herbaceous understory planting, and various site preparation techniques. Where possible, a high priority is put on improving existing stands versus establishing new stands because desired habitat for our focal species is available within a year or two, versus decades for newly established longleaf stands. Several resources exist to inform the specific characteristics we hope to see in longleaf pine projects. One of these is the Desired Forest Conditions document produced by the Eastern Gulf Coastal Plain Joint Venture.

Notable partnerships/initiatives

America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative

The Service participates in a Regional Working Group that prepared a range-wide conservation plan for longleaf pine (Range-wide Conservation Plan for Longleaf Pine 2009) to develop a shared vision for the many partners working on longleaf pine restoration. The 15-year goal for ALRI is to continue the increase of longleaf pine from 3.4 to 8.0 million acres, with most of this increase targeted within “Significant Geographic Areas” as identified in the plan. These areas were chosen as a way to focus partners’ efforts on the most valuable places in the longleaf range. They are based on occurrences of intact longleaf pine habitat, protected areas, restoration potential, and imperiled species.

Partners working together to implement the Range-wide Longleaf Plan are establishing conservation delivery networks and Local Implementation Teams at the regional, state, and local levels to pool and leverage resources, and these networks have been a great way to leverage PFW resources.

Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW)

Another ongoing initiative within the longleaf pine range is Working Lands for Wildlife, implemented by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with cooperation of the Service. This initiative focuses Farm Bill programs such as Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) on working lands that can play a role in conserving seven priority at-risk species. In the southeast, this program has been primarily focused on gopher tortoise conservation. In fall 2016, NRCS released a new Fy17-18 Implementation Strategy for Working Lands for Wildlife-Gopher Tortoise. The PFW Program will play a significant role in this effort by reaching out to landowners with NRCS and educating them about gopher tortoise habitat and regulatory predictability. Several PFW projects will also be done in conjunction with WLFW. Combined, the PFW Program will influence thousands of acres and hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Service is due to make a decision on listing for the gopher tortoise by 2023, so the five years that this plan covers are critical as we work with partners to encourage voluntary conservation that may preclude the need to list the species.

Sentinel Landscapes

Announced in 2013, the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership is a partnership between the Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Department of Interior. These landscapes are identified as working lands that are essential to the Nation’s defense mission, including lands on military installations as well as associated private lands. Protecting resources, including forests, rural landscapes, and threatened and endangered species, protects vital test and training missions conducted on the military installations that anchor these landscapes. Thus far, two of these landscapes have been identified in the Southeast: eastern North Carolina and Avon Park Air Force Range. Although other habitats are important, longleaf is the primary habitat occurring in these two landscapes that supports species of interest to the Department of Defense. Outside of officially-designated Sentinel Landscapes, we have many other strong partnerships with military bases, such as the Bluegrass Army Depot in Kentucky.

Focal Species

Scientific Name

Guiding management document


Gopher tortoise

Gopherus polyphemus

Range-Wide Conservation Strategy for the Gopher Tortoise (2013); Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) Recovery Plan (1990); BO/CO for PFW

Threatened / At-risk

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Picoides borealis

Red-cockaded Woodpecker Recovery Plan (2003)


Northern bobwhite

Colinus virginianus

Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative: A Range-Wide Plan for Recovering Bobwhites (2011)


Florida pinesnake

Pituophis melanoleucas mugitus



Bachman sparrow

Peucaea aestivalis

PIF Landbird Conservation Plan


Henslow’s sparrow

Ammodramus henslowii

Status Assessment and Conservation Plan for the Henslow’s Sparrow (2012)


Eastern indigo snake

Drymarchon couperi

Recovery Plan (1982)


Southern hognose

Heterodon simus



Frosted flatwoods salamander

Ambystoma cingulatum

5-year status review of 27 southeastern species (2014)


Reticulated flatwoods salamander

Ambystoma bishopi

5-year status review of 27 southeastern species (2014)


Gopher frog

Lithobates capito




Florida Scrub

Scrub habitat is restricted to peninsular Florida and has been a significant focus for PFW in the southeast. It is characterized by deep, well-drained infertile sandy soils dominated by evergreen oaks, Florida rosemary, and patches of bare ground. It occurs patchily in coastal and inland dune ridges. The largest and most significant patches occur along the central ridge of the peninsula, known as the Lake Wales Ridge. Due to development, conversion to agriculture, invasives, and fire suppression, this habitat has declined from about 7,000 square miles to less than 600. Much of the remaining habitat is fragmented and in various states of degradation.

It is a priority for PFW due to its nexus with private lands and the occurrence of many listed and endemic species that are habitat-limited and respond positively to habitat restoration. The focal species is the federally threatened Florida scrub jay, which is the only bird species unique to Florida. It requires shrubby oaks, open sand, and few tall trees, habitat which is maintained by periodic fire. In addition, several other priority species benefit from restoration and enhancement aimed at Florida scrub jays, including the eastern indigo snake, gopher tortoise, sand skink, bluetail mole skink, and more than 30 listed and endemic plants.

PFW will continue working with landowners, local NGOs, and FWC to restore Florida scrub. Strategies for restoration and enhancement include burning, woody vegetation removal, and invasive species control.

Focal Species

Scientific Name

Guiding management document


Florida scrub jay

Aphelocoma coerulescens

Recovery Plan (1990); 5-Year Review (2006)




Florida Dry Prairie and South Florida Slash Pine Flatwoods

These two habitats are endemic to peninsular Florida, restricted geographically, and are priorities due to the rare wildlife species that depend on them. Both contain diverse ground cover with interspersed shallow wetlands and are fire-dependent.

Florida dry prairie at one time covered about 1.2 million acres, less than 15% of which remains. Despite its small occurrence, this area is critical to the restoration efforts of the Everglades. Much of this area is within the proposed Everglades Headwaters NWR and Conservation Area, which relies heavily on work with private landowners. This area also provides the only habitat for the Florida grasshopper sparrow, one of the most endangered birds on the continent. Habitat restoration on private lands, most of which are cattle ranches, is considered one of the most effective strategies to increase sparrow viability.

PFW in South Florida is working with Federal, State, and private landowners to manage and monitor prescribed grazing and prescribed burning on some of these ranches to determine how cattle and grasshopper sparrows can be compatible. With this information, the PFW Program can promote establishment of grasshopper sparrow habitat parameters on currently unoccupied dry prairie sites. Other species to benefit from this work are eastern indigo snake, wood stork, gopher tortoise, and burrowing owl.

South of the dry prairie focus area lies PFW’s South Florida Slash Pine Flatwoods focus area, which features a canopy of slash pine in addition to a diverse ground cover and shallow wetlands and swamps. The focus of PFW’s work here is the Florida panther, which relies on private lands in 70% of its range. Florida’s ranching community plays a significant role in this focus area and provides a great opportunity for PFW work. Much of our work occurs near the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, where we can expand core habitat onto private lands. Preliminary observations suggest that PFW work is increasing deer populations on private lands, which provide the prey base for Florida panthers.

Invasive species control is the biggest strategy for panther recovery. Other species to benefit include Florida bonneted bat, crested caracara, wood stork, and swallow-tailed kite.

Focal Species

Scientific Name

Guiding management document


Florida grasshopper sparrow

Ammodramus savannarum floridanus

Recovery Plan (1999); 5-Year Review (2008)


Florida panther

Puma concolor coryi

 Recovery Plan (2008)




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Serving Florida by conserving our most imperiled species and working with federal agencies and others to conserve plants, fish, and wildlife.