January 30, 2024 (Source: Key Biscayne Independent) – If Florida continues growing at its current pace, more than 2 million acres of the state’s ranches, timberland and farms could be paved over to make way for another 12 million new residents by 2070, according to a new report from the University of Florida and 1000 Friends of Florida.
That would mean the loss of crucial wetlands, prairies and forests that fight flooding, rising temperatures and other threats from climate change and the destruction of crucial habitat for panthers, bonneted bats and other disappearing animals.
The report is the second in a project that also looked at land loss to sea rise and sprawl, which could wipe about a million acres. Combined, total loss would add up to about 3.5 million acres of undeveloped land lost over the next 50 years, or about 150 cities the size of Miami or Fort Lauderdale.
“I would hope most people would consider that not to be sustainable,” said Tom Hoctor, director of UF’s Center for Landscape Conservation Planning. “Once you lose it, you’ve lost it. For good.”
Of Florida’s nearly 36 million acres, about a third remains in ag use, from timberland growing amid ancient forests from the Panhandle and the Big Bend to ranches stretching from Orlando to southwest Florida.
Ranches make up the biggest portion, with about a half million acres of pastures providing habitat for panthers. While some ag land has been protected over the years with easements that prevent development, the report found a far greater amount — more than 80 percent — remains unprotected.
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