Future Challenges

Florida’s Director of Conservation, Doria Gordon, Ph.D

The Conservancy’s first 50 years in Florida were a great success. Florida’s Director of Conservation, Doria Gordon, Ph.D., is now eagerly looking to the next half-century.
“We’re creating a promising framework for the future,” says Gordon. “The Conservancy will continue Florida’s important projects on the ground, and also address new conservation challenges.”

Gordon emphasizes that we are developing solutions to address the main global challenges identified by the Conservancy:

  • Conserving critical lands such as the Everglades watershed
  • Restoring our oceans, with a focus on highly productive reefs and estuaries
  • Securing freshwater resources for wetland species and aquifer recharge
  • Reducing the impacts of climate change, including sea level rise

“People everywhere relate to their own backyards, and to nearby conservation areas,” continues Gordon. “As we gain understanding about how to address challenges in Florida, we can develop approaches that can be applied on private and public lands all over the world. Our goal is to take the lessons from individual sites to even greater scale.”

Here is what Gordon thinks we must do for the next 50 years.

#1 - Help nature adapt to sea level rise and other changes

“Regardless of why our climate’s changing, it’s clear that seas have measurably risen for several decades along our coasts,” Gordon states. “That’s a huge issue because so many lives will be impacted. People settle along the coasts and build infrastructure, tourists come to visit and to fish, and there’s an abundance of rare wildlife. But here’s what people can do:

  • Make sure that our first reactions are not something we later regret. For example, sea walls in the Keys might appear logical but would prove very costly and ineffective in the long term.
  • Let nature help protect a coastline instead. Carefully established oyster reefs or other living shorelines will reduce erosion more naturally.
  • Keep natural systems, from forests to seagrass beds , healthy, resilient and able to adapt. This will include controlled burns and protection from the most aggressive invasive species .
  • Connect protected lands so plants and animals can move to newly hospitable habitats and wide-ranging wildlife has room to roam.
#2 - Develop incentives for public and private land and water owners to protect and restore their property

“Florida must secure funding for its public land protection, management and restoration,” insists Gordon. “Many budgets are currently being reduced and no longer fully support recreation or wildlife. And, much of Florida’s privately owned land offers huge benefits to both nature and people. Owners may need encouragement and financial assistance to allow freshwater storage and purification, restore habitat for game and non-game species, and manage forests for carbon storage on their properties.”

#3 - Support Florida’s freshwater resources

Freshwater is critically important in Florida, and decisions made now will affect our quality of life for decades,” says Gordon. “Florida appears to have a wealth of water and it certainly gets a lot of rain. But we don’t always allow the land to hold rain in a way that builds up Florida’s water supply. The Conservancy will continue to work with state and federal agencies to ensure water quantity and quality.”

#4 – Help plan Florida’s future growth

“The Conservancy needs a greater presence so that Florida’s growth incorporates benefits for both people and nature. We should consider various scenarios of climate change, sea level rise and shifting populations,” adds Gordon. “We don’t want new highways across areas just protected as panther crossings, or new infrastructures built on coasts highly likely to be threatened by storm events. It’s been shown that good planning can reduce mitigation costs and property damage, as well as support habitat values.”

#5 – Broaden public understanding and support

Basically, it’s up to you and me. “If the environment is to be recognized as a priority, we need everyone’s support,” says Gordon. “The Conservancy is planning new K-12 education and public outreach programs to help create a voice for nature. Involving youth and other audiences will be an exciting part of the future of conservation.”

So there it is – one scientist’s vision of 50 years of focus and strategy. While none of this is entirely new to the Conservancy in Florida, it will require increased sophistication of all that we do – Science, Conservation, Land Protection and Government Relations – plus energized partnerships.

“Clearly, this is not an easy path,” Gordon concludes. “But I’m amazed by the ideas and tools that are coming to the conservation table, some from right here in Florida! With your help, we’ll see great progress – in the next 50 years and beyond.”

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