by Peter Kleinhenz
This year, Florida’s Wildlife Management Areas turn 75. The fact that Florida has more conservation land now than it had in 1941 is remarkable, and a just cause for celebration.
Florida was a much different state when the seeds of today’s WMA system started to grow. Just under two million people lived in the state and, in the face of widespread logging and development, few land parcels were safe. This changed with a forward-thinking move by Florida Governor Spessard Holland.
In late 1941, Governor Holland successfully persuaded the Florida Legislature to enable Florida to accept federal funds for conservation land acquisition.
The state purchased a huge tract of land just north of Fort Myers, and the wildlife management area system was born with what is now known as Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb WMA. Governor Holland tasked the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, today’s FWC, with the management of this new property. Little did they know how much their workload would grow over the ensuing 75 years.
What began as one 19,200-acre property in south Florida evolved into an almost six-million-acre, statewide assemblage of natural habitat. The areas play a critical role in helping FWC accomplish their mission: managing fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being and the benefit of people. Carrying out this mission requires foresight and creativity as Florida continues to change. Today, over 20 million people call Florida home with about 1,000 new arrivals each day.
The pressures on our remaining natural heritage grow in step with that of the population. Increasingly, wildlife management areas exist as islands surrounded by a sea of urbanization. Their size and the complexity of the natural ecosystems they preserve maintain important populations of many imperiled species. Without them, several species would likely cease to exist.
But it isn’t just species that would go away. Many of the opportunities to hunt, fish and have a true Florida adventure would vanish if WMAs ceased to exist. In some parts of Florida, where nature must be sought out, wildlife management areas serve as an oasis for outdoor enthusiasts.
“Our philosophy with wildlife management areas is that we provide a more wild experience,” states David Johnson, section leader for FWC’s Wildlife and Habitat Management Section. “It’s just nature, in all its wildness.”
“Most people just don’t realize that there is likely a WMA close to them,” David says emphatically. “We want to reach out to the public of today and let them know what opportunities we have. And if they are interested in nature, we probably have something that they might enjoy.”
Whether you want to view wildlife in natural surroundings, experience premier hunting and fishing opportunities or simply escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life, a WMA probably exists within an hour of you.
If the founders of the WMA system could look forward 75 years, they’d surely be celebrating right along side us.
|Help Us Celebrate!
The 75th anniversary celebration will feature a number of events throughout the year. These include citizen science bioblitzes, a statewide geocaching challenge and many other events that cater to all ages and interests.