by Christy Fagundez
There are currently 147 areas encompassing 5.9 million acres within the Wildlife Management Area (WMA) system of Florida. They are rustic natural areas and were established to provide wildlife-centric recreation and contribute to the biological diversity of the state. Some areas offer hunting, fishing wildlife viewing, cycling, horseback riding and paddling. The WMA System is divided into five regions with some areas managed completely by FWC (lead) and some managed cooperatively with FWC and other government agencies or private land owners. FWC biologists use surveying and monitoring, species and habitat management, and outreach and education to help maintain, increase or enhance wildlife populations and public access. Prescribed fire, mechanical treatments, timber thinning and hydrological and groundcover restoration are some techniques biologists use to manage the areas.
Since 2012, the Center for Spatial Analysis (CSA) within FWRI’s Information Science and Management group has been working with the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation to create a master data set with accurate boundaries for each WMA and Wildlife and Environmental Area (WEA). This is not a trivial task since a WMA may have multiple parcels or owners. Historically, there have been numerous attempts by different groups to create these boundaries. Multiple uncoordinated efforts to create these map boundaries has led to issues such as incorrect acreage numbers and out of date information. It was decided in 2014 that there should be one group solely working on this project with other entities providing help. CSA is collaborating with WMA Biologists, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Natural Areas Inventory and other government entities to pull together legal descriptions, survey data, parcel data and satellite imagery to accurately digitize each boundary. As of September 2015, 18 out of 51 lead managed areas have been updated and completed.