Fixing All the Parts – holistic wildlife preservation
Susan D. Jewell
Biologists have learned that trying to save the planet species-by-species is not working. In too many cases, restoring habitat for one endangered species has encroached on the habitat of another. This is particularly true in South Florida, where at least 50 percent of the original Everglades habitat is gone and a smaller pie must be split into the same number of pieces. All over South Florida, the story is the same–wild animals are squeezed onto lands too diminished to support them. A century of diking and draining the southern Florida peninsula has permanently altered the landscape. Six million people now share South Florida with the wildlife, and with more arriving in record numbers, the pressure from developers is intense.
South Florida harbors habitat types, such as tropical hardwood hammocks, that are found nowhere else in the continental United States. Exotic or non-native species, particularly plants, are more abundant here than in almost any other part of the country. Thus, the southern peninsula is faced with a “quintuple whammy”–long-term landscape alterations, intense and growing human population pressures, an unparalleled mixture of Caribbean and temperate flora and fauna, invasions by exotic plant species, and oceans on three sides that limit expansion.
In South Florida, the uplands were the first areas to be developed and farmed when the European settlers arrived. These areas had been a stronghold for the Florida panther (Puma (Felis) concolor coryi), currently one of the most endangered mammals in the U.S. As their former habitat dwindled, panthers retreated to marginal swampy habitat and to newly drained areas of the Everglades marsh. Now, South Florida scientists want to restore the Everglades as closely as possible to its former functions. That would mean taking some of the newly drained areas and reflooding them, leaving the panthers with even fewer suitable areas. On the other hand, the restored habitat should encourage wood storks (Mycteria americana), snail kites (Rostrhamus sociabilis plumbeus), and other endangered or listed species. Will this habitat restoration be at the expense of a species like the panther or is there another way?
The Multi-Species Recovery Plan is a way of looking at the whole region’s potential for getting all the parts to function as a healthy ecosystem. The most immediate use for this plan will be as part of the continued planning for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Central and South Florida Restudy Project, a major effort to review the human-caused alterations to the region’s hydrology and to use that information for implementing the restoration of the South Florida ecosystems. The Restudy will allow scientists to anticipate the effects (through computer modeling) of certain restoration actions on listed species and adjust their strategies to benefit those species as parts of the total system. This is the first time in Florida that such a multi-agency effort has been used on such a broad environmental scale.
Susan Jewell is a Biologist in the FWS office of Endangered Species in Arlington, Virginia. She was formerly the Senior Biologist at Loxahatchee NWR in the Everglades.
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