Local News

Ground-breaking conservation trek plans second leg

— After trekking 1,000 miles in 100 days from the Everglades to south Georgia, a group of four environmentalists is launching another conservation expedition this fall.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition’s goal is to show everyday Floridians the importance of connecting fragmented pieces of land and water spread throughout the state so that wide-ranging wildlife, from bears to bobcats, have a wildlife corridor to travel freely.

Since the 2012 trip through ranches, swamps, scrub land and forests, the original team is gearing up for its second trip -- the Green Swamp area westward and north around the Big Bend over to the Florida and Alabama border.

Conservationist Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, executive director of the Florida Wildlife Corridor and one of the expedition members, said they are still working out trip details, which they will share with the public this summer.

The first trek was a big success, she said, and the long-time conservationist was surprised by the ardent followers they created, and how easily people “latched on to the idea” and wanted to know more about “this part of real Florida.”

“The message that we put out are getting picked up by people,” she said. This time, the public will be able to join the expedition on Saturdays and details will be available on the group’s web site when it unveils plans, she said.

The group wants to consolidate the message through the second expedition and “turn the awareness into action” by ensuring there is enough political will and public funding to make the corridor a possibility, she said.

Dimmitt said the work of creating a corridor is almost half done. Florida already has private conservation easements in place and national parks that are protected. There are several landowners, such as ranchers, who want to provide easements, she said, but the funding is not available.

The idea that launched the first expedition germinated at Archbold Biological Station in Venus through a bear study by the University of Kentucky.

Researchers had been tagging and monitoring Florida black bears in the area, and found that one of the black bears tagged, a male known as M34, crisscrossed through the Lake Wales Ridge, from Highlands County to Interstate 4 in Haines City, traveling 500 miles in two months before being spooked by the traffic.

“If we show Floridians the panthers, bears, native cultures, ranchlands and rivers and how they are all connected, then they can help us make the Florida Wildlife Corridor a reality,” the group states.

In advance of the second expedition, the Florida Wildlife Corridor team also has partnered with the Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network to create five Florida Wildlife Corridor Youth Mini Expeditions.

The goal is to get the youth to go “outside to explore and experience the natural areas of Florida and to ‘create the next generation who cares,’” said Zach Forsburg, FYCCN liaison.

The first field trip was in March when 12 students from Sebring and Avon Park high schools kayaked for 17 miles and camped along Arbuckle Creek over three days.

The second “mini expedition” was focused on the Lake Wales Ridge and was based out of Archbold recently.

Advanced biology students from a South Carolina boarding school explored the Florida scrub and the plants, animals and birds that call it home, Forsburg said. The three other field trips are in other parts of Florida.

The experience was an “eye-opener” for the students, he added. They had known of the tourist Florida of beaches and theme parks but not its backyard creeks and critters.

While the student field trips are a one-time deal, Forsburg will be making the itineraries available to people who want to go out and do what they did.

Forsburg hopes this will create a culture of nature lovers.

“If we are able to introduce kids to the outdoors and foster an appreciation for natural areas when they are young, they will be more likely to protect them when they are older,” he added.

For more information on the Florida Wildlife Corridor, go to www.floridawildlifecorridor.org