Biologically, north Florida is one of the richest spots in the country. While peninsular Florida is home to crowds of tourists and towering bank buildings, the quiet and less-populated northern area is seen by conservation experts as one of only six biodiversity “hot spots” in the United States.
Do you long for pristine freshwater springs? Look no further. Huge tracts of ancient, longleaf pine forest? North Florida has the largest in the world.
Rivers that brim with unique species; coasts packed with spectacular migratory and shore birds? Bring your camera – it’s all right here.
Honoring a Conservation Giant’s Request
This treasure trove of biodiversity has attracted the concern of perhaps the best-known naturalist of our time, E. O. Wilson.
Long a champion of north Florida, he requested The Nature Conservancy to take exceptional care of the area’s spectacular natural resources.
The Conservancy responded to Dr. Wilson’s request in June 2009, co-hosting his 80th birthday gathering with the Harvard Club of Tallahassee.
The Conservancy used that opportunity to launch the Edward O. Wilson Fund for North Florida, honoring Wilson’s astounding conservation legacy and his concern for the region’s future.
“We could think of no greater tribute than to dedicate our work in north Florida to Dr. Wilson,” said Florida state director Jeff Danter, “And we perceive no greater mission than to protect these precious resources for current and future generations.”
What’s so Special?
North Florida stretches across more than 350 miles, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Perdido River, its western boundary just past Pensacola.
The area hosts rare habitats: steephead bluffs and streams, pitcher plant bogs, underwater caves, extensive cypress swamps, floodplain forests and coastal sand dunes. Healthy rivers, bays and estuaries spill into the Gulf of Mexico. Wildlife abounds, including many rare and endangered species.
The E.O. Wilson Fund for North Florida aims to safeguard additional tracts within the remnants of a longleaf pine forest that once carpeted the Southeast. The Conservancy has already helped protect, restore and manage more than 700,000 acres in the region.
Connected conservation areas allow the black bear to roam; restored landscapes offer critical potential habitat for gopher tortoise, indigo snake and red-cockaded woodpecker.
The Conservancy’s work in north Florida will also include restoration of vital coastal oyster reefs and seagrass beds. Florida manatees will travel more freely between restored and reconnected freshwater springs. Small dams will be removed from streams, and locks at larger dam sites will be strategically opened to allow migratory fish access to their historic spawning grounds.
Why We Must Act Now
Although currently less developed than peninsular Florida, the northern region faces its own challenges. Most conservation lands are not funded for proper management. Locks and dams prevent some freshwater rivers from flowing freely. Access to springs may be clogged with sediment and other obstructions.
The early effects of climate change threaten many magnificent plants and animals, and increased incidents of floods and droughts are negatively impacting our rivers and springs.
But because North Florida is still relatively open, pristine and inexpensive, there is an opportunity to make a big difference. Human communities depend upon the ecosystem services that our oceans, forests and freshwater systems provide.
A Living Legend
The north Florida fund’s namesake, E. O. Wilson was a world-renowned research professor at Harvard University and twice won the Pulitzer Prize. His distinguished career as a naturalist and ethicist led many of today’s top conservationists into the field, including the Florida Chapter’s Jeff Danter.
“E.O. Wilson invented entire fields of ecology,” said Danter. “The Conservancy is honored to work at his request, and thrilled that he has lent his name to our efforts to protect biodiversity in North Florida.”