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Federal grant dollars benefit Florida’s wildlife

By Staff | Dec 2, 2009

Good news for the country’s wildlife came out of Washington in October. Congress allotted an additional $15 million to the federal State and Tribal Wildlife Grant program and lowered each state’s match from 50 percent to 35 percent.

Did you know that since 2000 the federal government requires each state to have a State Wildlife Action Plan? In Florida, the gatekeeper of this plan is the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Wildlife Legacy Initiative.

“This increase is essential to bringing the State Wildlife Action Plans into alignment with climate change,” said Brian Branciforte, Florida’s SWAP coordinator. “The money also may serve as a good motivator to get other states involved in climate change action sooner. And the reduction in the amount of match is crucial. Many states found it increasingly difficult to meet the 50-50 match.”

The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies praised the decision in a news release, because appropriation and commitment arrives at a critical time as wildlife managers struggle daily to find ways to ensure no species goes extinct. That’s why the grant program was instituted nearly a decade ago. The rapid changes associated with climate change make it crucial to keep abreast of wildlife’s critical needs.

This increase will mean $600,000 to $700,000 more in grant dollars in Florida, increasing the State Wildlife Grant fund to an estimated $3.2 million. Florida’s fish and wildlife stand on shifting sand, so the FWC needs all the resources it can muster.

“We’ve been pushing for this increase,” Branciforte said. “More and more we’re receiving grant applications with climate change as a component, and that’s a positive sign. We need Florida- and regional-specific models to aid in our conservation planning.”

Some of those models take into account the unpredictable future of climate change and propose scenarios for sea level rise of 1 meter versus 2 meters. Those models will be crucial to planning and development.

“The State Wildlife Grant program could help to fund research identifying those vulnerable areas, which is crucial, given Florida’s position on the coast,” said Laura Morse, Florida’s SWG coordinator. “Grant dollars could be available for monitoring projects and vulnerability assessments from land cover and habitat loss and degradation to sea level rise.”

For instance, the Florida Natural Areas Inventory received a grant for 2009-10 to develop a land-cover map for Florida, working with partners such as the Florida Park Service, water management districts and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This map will give valuable information to planners and managers throughout the state and improve habitat for wildlife.

Another grant to Archbold Biological Station will experiment with restoring Florida scrub on the Lake Wales Ridge in Central Florida. This area of Florida provides habitat for more than 30 listed species, yet 80 percent of the land has been either lost or degraded. Recently, under another State Wildlife Grant, a new species of beetle was discovered on the Winter Haven Ridge, also in Central Florida.

“Who knows what else might be out there hiding in other under-surveyed areas in the state?” said Dave Almquist with the inventory group. “This just shows how much we still need to learn.”

Another funded study monitors peregrine falcons and seven other migratory raptors at Curry Hammock State Park. Since migratory birds are often the first harbingers of an ecosystem’s health, it is crucial to keep track of their patterns.

“All of our grant projects help wildlife,” said Morse. “The information we gather now ensures that we face the uncertain future with knowledge of the past and present. The support at the federal level allows us to go further toward conserving the unique and diverse fish and wildlife of Florida.”

As the world turns its eyes to Copenhagen in the coming weeks, we are armed and ready in Florida to do what we can for our resources. Storms increase, temperatures change, and we go on living our lives.

For now, we know that wildlife managers are doing their best for people as well as for wildlife. Good management practices benefit every living creature, whether the forecast calls for sunny skies or thunderstorms, freezing temperatures or sweltering heat, because when we save one critter from extinction or we find a never-before-discovered species or we restore essential habitat, we are ensuring a brighter forecast for us all.

(E-mail Patricia Behnke at pat.behnke@myfwc.com.)