On Earth Day 2012, the Florida Wildlife Corridor team –a partner project of The WILD Foundation– closed their 100 day, 1,000 mile expedition at the Stephen C. Foster State Park in Georgia. The FWC explorers — photographer Carlton Ward Jr, bear biologist Joe Guthrie, conservationist Mallory Lykes Dimmitt and filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus — successfully traveled from the Florida Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp in Southern Georgia.
For three months, the team hiked, biked, rode horses and paddled kayaks, navigating through the mangroves, sawgrass, cypress, scrubs, pines and across prairies, ponds, lakes and rivers. This may have even 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.
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.
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.
Congratulations to the FWC team: Carlton, Joe, Mallory and Elam! WILD is proud to be a part of this important work–we are anxiously awaiting to see what’s in store for the future!
Florida Wildlife Corridor reporting: