Expedition Seeks To Save Florida's 'Terra Incognita'

Play associated audio

Members of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition sport calluses and legs hardened by three months of hiking through saw grass, palmetto stands and piney woods.

On Sunday, these four adventurers mark the end of a 1,000-mile trek across Florida, from the tip of the Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp.

That might have been the easy part. Their next goal is to create a continuous corridor for wildlife running the length of the state. By documenting their journey, they hope to draw attention to the shrinking habitats and remind Floridians of their connection to the environment.

Passing Through Florida's Wild Spaces

One recent morning of their journey began at Hopkins Prairie Campground, deep in the Ocala National Forest, with the sounds of sandhill cranes taking flight. As the sun rose through the fog, Carlton Ward Jr. took it all in.

"I try not to miss a sunrise, if I can help it," he said.

Ward, the expedition leader, had his camera and was trying to get just that right shot.

"It's very rewarding, and very frustrating at the same time. Because in order to capture the essence of some of these places, it takes more than the few hours we have passing through," he said. "So I am getting a few good photographs. I'm also getting a pretty long list of places I want to revisit."

The team — expedition members Joe Guthrie, Elam Stoltzfus and Mallory Lykes Dimmitt — has seen a lot in the past few months. Ward recalled slogging for days through the heart of the Everglades on kayak.

"We pushed on into the night, so we had about two hours in the dark, following the line, kind of flying by instruments on the GPS," he said. "I ran over two alligators that nearly threw me out of my kayak. You couldn't quite tell what was coming around each corner."

A Natural Lifeline

Development in Florida is squeezing wildlife into increasingly narrow ribbons of green space.

Wildlife corridors, which connect wildlife habitats, have been proposed for states as different as California and New Jersey. There's even a transnational one planned to stretch from Yukon to Yellowstone.

But do they really help to heal fragmented landscapes?

"All the study that's been done so far has been typically at very small scales, and only looking at very short-term animal movement," says Paul Beier, a conservation biologist at Northern Arizona University.

"What's yet to be known is whether the longer corridors — on the scale of miles — will, over the long term, promote gene flow and allow things like animals to recolonize areas," he says.

What may be more practical, Beier says, is a system of shorter connections. They would allow wildlife to roam between parks and natural areas.

The Unknown Florida

Back in Ocala National Forest, Ward says half the battle is just educating Floridians on the ranches, swamps and beauty of natural Florida. With almost 19 million people mostly living on the coast, he says a connection with the state's interior is lost.

"At the same time, most of our water, wildlife and food come from this interior area," he says. "So it has tremendous importance to everyone living out along the coasts. But in many ways, it's still terra incognita in their minds."

Ward says publicizing that "unknown land" in the minds of the state's movers and shakers is their next mission.

Copyright 2012 WUSF-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wusf.usf.edu/.

NPR

Chinese Dissident Artist Ai Weiwei Restricted To 20-Day U.K. Visa

Ai says he was denied a six-month visa because U.K. officials said he didn't list a criminal conviction in his application. Ai was imprisoned in China, but he notes he was never charged with a crime.
NPR

Humans Aren't The Only Ones To Go Ape Over Diets: Chimps Detox, Too

A group of Ugandan chimps has found a great way to boost their mineral intake and neutralize bitter compounds in their diet: by eating clay.
WAMU 88.5

The Politics Hour - July 31, 2015

Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

NPR

Debris Found In The Indian Ocean May Be From Missing Malaysia Airlines Jet

Investigators believe a piece of debris found on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean could be from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared in March 2014.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.