As encounters between people and Florida black bears in Central Florida routinely make news, The Nature Conservancy is working to staunch the loss of crucial black bear habitat near Orlando—a key strategy in striking a balance between people and bears.
The Conservancy is on the verge of protecting 631 acres of land in one of Florida’s most important black bear corridors—a corridor connecting the Ocala National Forest and the Wekiva River Basin. The area forms some of the best remaining habitat for the black bear, a state-designated threatened species, and the Conservancy has launched a fundraising campaign to protect this piece of it.
The land—heavily wooded forest known as Hollywood Pines—is one of two unprotected properties in the corridor, which sits to west of the St. Johns and Wekiva rivers.
Failure to protect Hollywood Pines would leave open the possibility that the narrow corridor one day could be reduced by development to a sliver.
“Permanently protecting this corridor is crucial to the long-term survival of Florida black bears,” said Florida State Director Jeff Danter. “Letting it slide into development likely would only accelerate unwanted interactions between Central Floridians and bears, from garbage-can incidents to serious traffic accidents.”
“An adult male Florida black bear needs a lot of room to roam — as much as 120 miles,” Danter said. “Over the long haul, losing the connectivity of this corridor could lead the region’s black bears to become genetically isolated and, eventually, locally extinct.”
Black bears also are an “umbrellas species.” Because of the large land areas and diverse habitats bears need and use, many other species are protected when bears are protected.
The corridor that includes Hollywood Pines was identified as the Wekiva/Ocala area’s most viable by researchers from the universities of Florida, Central Florida, Kentucky and the Florida Scrub-jay Recovery Team in a rigorous 2008 study.
Today, however, public money for conservation in Florida at an ebb unseen in more than two decades, and protecting even the most important natural lands presents a daunting challenge.
Still, the owner of Hollywood Pines has offered to the sell the land to the Conservancy at a generous price, and the Conservancy believes it must find a way to make this happen.
Fundraising in support of Hollywood Pines is incomplete. The Conservancy has raised a portion of the money but is still seeking almost $500,000 to close the deal.
Recognizing both the opportunity and the circumstances, the Conservancy has chosen to try to bring the project to broad new audience, partly with a video called “A Bear Needs a Forest,” in which the misadventures of “Barry the Florida black bear” highlight in a humorous way the challenges the black bear faces. The video can be seen—and shared—at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kBRl4Dw64Q.
More information about the project and the Florida black bear can be found at www.nature.org/bear.
“Opportunities like Hollywood Pines are few and far between,” Danter said. “Now may not be the easiest time to raise private money to permanently protect this land, but it could be our last chance.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.