Florida gets federal grants to support habitat conservation for endangered species including scrub jay

09/29/11 Olivia Kabat
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Last month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced $53 million in grants given to 17 states for habitat conservation planning for endangered species. Florida’s grants will benefit the Florida scrub jay and three endangered plant species.

The Florida grants allow states to work with conservation groups and private landowners to create conservation plans to ensure the survival of endangered species. They’re possible because of the Endangered Species Act. Through the Habitat Conservation Land Acquisition Grants Program the money will benefit three endangered plant species in St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve in Gulf County and the scrub jay in Lake Wales Ridge State Forest. According to Brad Gruver with the Habitat Species Conservation Commission, the Habitat Conservation Plans will be very successful in Florida.

“Several of them were HCP Planning Assistance Grants. Those are grants that allow us to ask money through to a local entity, typically a county government and develop and habitat conservation plan. A habitat conservation plan is an agreement between the local entity, the state Fish and Wildlife agency and the federal Fish and Wildlife agency that they will do a certain amount of habitat and species conservation. The planning assistance grants allow them to pull together the expertise they need and the documents they need so that the agencies are comfortable that we’re getting some net conservation benefit out of this whole thing.”

Michael Jenkins is a plant conservation biologist with the Florida Division of Forestry. He says they applied for these federal funds because of state budget cuts.

“The state, when we first had this proposed, and this has gone through Florida Forever, it was a very highly ranked project. However, funding for Florida Forever was cut recently when Governor Scott had taken the funding. So we actually did not have state confirmation of that either. So there are two major hurdles we have to jump. Now I will tell you that this particular parcel is within the North Florida Greenway which is land used for military buffering. So it’s being put into this year’s budget. Again it’s a very highly ranked project. So in terms of the state of Florida it’s being proposed now in this fiscal year’s budget.”

Despite these federal grants, Florida conservation groups are still facing major challenges ahead. Jenkins says establishing the Habitat Conservation Plans can be difficult.

“Now in this particular amount of time a lot has happened. It is a long process and things change within year to year. So we have two major hurdles. One is reaffirming St. Joe's commitment to sell the land, this could be the case with this project, the St. Joe company has not really responded to us in their willingness to sell the land. Then the second hurdle is getting the state to put matching funds back in, so we have two major things that we have to do there.”

Jenkins with the Florida Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program is optimistic that the acquisition and protection of the land will save vital habitat for endangered species throughout Florida.

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