North Central Florida Environmental Summit

gopher tortoise by John Moran

In the Spring of 2002, in conjunction with the annual public interest environmental conference, the Conservation Clinic convened the North Central Florida Environmental Summit. The purpose of the Summit was to bring together grass roots and state environmental groups working in the 16 county region of North Central Florida. More than 40 people attended the summit. Clinic student and PhD candidate from the Department of Economics presented a sociodemographic analysis of the region based on data amassed from a variety of sources. The Clinic’s analysis suggests that North Central Florida is characterized by rural poverty, low education levels and a degraded but still rural environment. Land use and the regional economy is dominated by short rotation pine plantation siliviculture and agriculture, including dairies and poultry farms.

Clinic Director Tom Ankersen described some of the key environmental features in the region, such as its reputation as the world’s largest assemblage of first and second magnitude springs, and the issues these features present. Tom Hoctor from the University of Florida Geoplan Center provided a regional ecological characterization including a description of presettlement vegetation patterns. Amy Knight from the Florida Natural Areas Inventory described the regional ecological priorities from the perspective of state land acquisition programs. Her analysis suggested that North Central Florida is under represented in terms of land in public ownership relative to natural communities in need of protection. Lori MacDonald from Defenders of Wildlife and Manley Fuller from the Florida Wildlife Federation presented their organization’s regional programs and projects. Both emphasized that, despite its degraded status relative to natural communities, the region remains big, wild and relatively connected, providing unique opportunities for large landscape conservation.

The Summit concluded with interest in continuing the informal network/coalition in the future. The participants agreed to begin by using their collective individual and organizational capacity to support two regionally significant land conservation projects, the Pinhook Swamp which would connect the Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge with Ocala National Forest and Watermelon Pond in Western Alachua County, which would preserve a large expanse of the underrepresented sandhill community.

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