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Big, Wild, and ConneCted Part 1: From the Florida Peninsula to the Coastal Plain

John Davis WilDlanDs netWork

Washington | Covelo | london


Š 2013 Wildlands network All rights reserved under international and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher: island Press, Suite 650, 2000 M Street, nW, Washington, dC 20036 iSlAnd PReSS is a trademark of the Center for Resource economics. Cover design by Maureen gately Cover image by Philip t. lacinak

Keywords: island Press, corridor, connectivity, trekeast, Wildlands network, eastern Wildway, adventure, outdoor recreation, hiking, kayaking, biking, conservation biology, ecological restoration, conservation, conservation groups, cougar, eastern cougar, black bear, red wolf, Florida everglades, everglades national Park, gaspĂŠ Peninsula, Archbold Biological Station, eastern old-growth forest, great Smoky Mountains, Smokies, great Smoky Mountains national Park, Shenandoah national Park, Appalachian Mountains, Southeast Coastal Plain, Florida Panhandle, Adirondack Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, Alligator River national Wildlife Refuge, lake okeechobee, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, Alabama Rivers Alliance, Western north Carolina nature Center, old-growth Forest network, Kentucky natural lands trust, Biohabitats, Sheltowee trace, Congaree River, Black River


island Press e-ssentials Program Since 1984, island Press has been working with innovative thinkers to stimulate, shape, and communicate essential ideas. As a nonprofit organization committed to advancing sustainability, we publish widely in the fields of ecosystem conservation and management, urban design and community development, energy, economics, environmental policy, and health. the island Press e-ssentials Program is a series of electronic-only works that complement our book program. these timely examinations of important issues are intended to be readable in a couple of hours yet illuminate genuine complexity, and inspire readers to take action to foster a healthy planet. learn more about island Press e-ssentials at www.islandpress.org/essentials.


Contents

Contents Acknowledgments and Dedication introduction. Why i Chose the Wildway: Background to a long trek Chapter 1.

Where the Panther still Prowls: Greater everglades ecosystem, Florida

Chapter 2.

no Preservation without representation: longleaf Pine savanna and southeast Coastal Plain Waterways

Chapter 3.

red Wolf realm: southeast Coastal Plain and Piedmont

Chapter 4.

our Biggest Parks not Big enough: Great smoky Mountains national Park and the southern appalachians About the Author About Wildlands Network About Island Press

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Acknowledgments and dedication there are too many people and places, creatures and groups, for me to properly thank for inspiring, informing, and aiding trekeast and others of my adventures. Here i thank a few of the friends, family members, and colleagues who have gone out of their way to help. of course, none of these good people should be held accountable for anything i say or write, but to all the following, plus people mentioned in the chapters but not here, i give special thanks. My amazingly understanding family, including my parents, Robert and Mary davis (about whom more later); my beautiful wife denise Wilsondavis, who has taken a man nearly dysfunctional in civilization and made him half presentable half the time, and her handsome son Justin, who has had in me much less of a stepdad than he deserves; Uncles Frank, george, dick, and Bill, for the mentoring that uncles are uniquely equipped to provide; Aunts Joan, ethlyn, etta, and Sally, for the wisdom that aunts are uniquely able to offer; my sister Carol and nephews Sammy and Matthew, and cousins Connie, Mark, noelle, Sarah, John, and elizabeth, for accepting me, even though i was always a bit old-fashioned; and the beloved four-legged members of our families. Wildlands network staff and board, especially Margo McKnight, who masterminded trekeast as an outreach campaign; Ron Sutherland, who taught me to find snakes, even while looking for panther tracks; Conrad Reining, who directed me skillfully through the northern Appalachians; lisa lauf and lise Meinke, who coached and coaxed me through the social media mazes; Kenyon Fields, who stands ready to replace me on these treks should i falter; Keith Bowers, Wildlands network president; and Wildlands network cofounder david Johns, whose confusingly similar name has made many readers think i’m smarter than i really am. Wildlands volunteers, including our great publicist Kelly diedringHarris, communications coach Susannah Smith, and photographers Phil lacinak and Hannah goodman. ix


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trekeast business sponsors: Brian trzaskos of Ascent Wellness, Susie trzaskos-Smith and denise Wilson-davis of SCAt! Bars, Mark nassan of leepoff Cycles, Mark englehart of innovative engineering, larry Barns of larry Barns Photography, attorney Reg Bedell, Peter Hornbeck of lost Pond Boats, Susan Bacot-davis of emmet Carter green design, and ingrid newmark of gear for good. Rewilding institute fellows and board and staff, including dave Foreman, nancy Morton, Susan Morgan, Christianne Hinks, and dave Parsons. island Press editors, especially Barbara dean, who turned my halting efforts at writing into this book, and has been a wildlands champion for decades. Conservation biology and natural history teachers, including (in the order i was fortunate enough to tag along with them in the field) Reed noss, Michael Soulé, Sue Morse, Bob leverett, Steve trombulak, Peter Warshall, Mike dinunzio, Brian Miller, John terborgh, Jerry Jenkins, larry Master, evelyn greene, Mike Kudish, Charlie Canham, and Joan Maloof. Fellow ramblers, who include most of the above plus gary Randorf, who taught me to find lofty views to understand the land; Jason Kahn, who is an anchor of safety on journeys where i otherwise might drift away; ski shop buddies John duncan and Bart Howe; erika edgley, who gracefully made the transition from assistant to boss in some of my Adirondack conservation work; Brian and Katherine Houseal, diane and Peter Fish, Julie Ball, Kathy Kelly, tyler Frakes, Sheri Amsel, elizabeth lee, Stu Brody, doug Munro, and other Adirondack friends; Brad Meiklejohn, who is my guide whenever i’m lucky enough to reach Alaska, and his parents Jim and Meg, who know new Hampshire’s White Mountains better than most people know their own yards; Roger Merchant, who gave me and other young misfits wild and wholesome directions for our rebelliousness decades ago; and Kevin Raines, who paints landscapes so beautifully i can return to them from afar. Conservation benefactors, especially george davis and Susan Bacotdavis, who contributed generously to and joined the trek itself and helped me with the subsequent writing thereof; david and Margie Reuther, whose generosity with good causes along the Adirondack Coast is legendary, and who helped me conceptualize this book; lynne Butler, lifelong friend and


Acknowledgments and Dedication

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conspirator; Jerry Jenkins, so generous and wise once again; tom duca and Catherine Seidenberg, fellow paddlers, who periodically sneak gifts into my belongings; Cheri Phillips and Peter Welling, who sustain me with fare and friendship; and tom and Hillary Stransky and Michelle Cassidy, whose close friendships with denise are a great support to me when i’m afield. Friends around home in Split Rock Wildway, especially Jamie Phillips, whose generosity is saving the wildlife corridor i would have otherwise only dreamed of; Rod Maciver, the inspiring artist behind Heron dance; Bonnie Macleod, primary caregiver, since i started trekking months at a time, of our beloved cat taiga; my neighbors Jigs and Joanne gardener, who taught me that friendships can grow even where politics are opposite; Kathleen Fitzgerald, who has moved from fisher corridors in new York and Vermont to elephant corridors in Africa; Chris Maron and other directors of Champlain Area trails; and many good friends at the northeast Wilderness trust, Adirondack Council, Adirondack nature Conservancy and land trust, Adirondack Explorer, Adirondack Communities and Conservation Program of Wildlife Conservation Society, Adirondack Wild, and Protect the Adirondacks. Friends also from other groups with which i’ve worked, including ReStoRe: the north Woods, Wild Farm Alliance, Heron dance, Foundation for deep ecology, and eddy Foundation. Wildlands philanthropy champions doug and Kris tompkins, for whom i worked in the 1990s and from whom i’ve been learning for several decades; and Annie Faulkner and Bob King, close friends and leading land-savers in my original home state. i want to repeat my extra thanks for denise Wilson-davis and george davis (no close relation, though i’d be proud to claim him as family) and Barbara dean and her island Press team, especially erin Johnson. When i left for trekWest in January 2013, i essentially left a rough manuscript and a few crude suggestions on how i thought it might be finished. they did nearly all the finishing and refining work to make the manuscript a book series. Upon george fell the especially heavy task of deciding on and rounding up graphics for the whole series; and thankfully, george has agreed to continue serving these wildways treks as transmedia editor. denise had to do most of the manuscript revision i would have done if accessible; and Barbara steered the whole process along with her usual


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grace and wisdom. Finally, i wish to single out for thanks and gratitude the five people who have for the longest times kept me healthy and honest. to them especially, as well as to the wild creatures and places we all love, i dedicate these books. My parents, Robert and Mary davis, raised me to respect and love the natural world, to enjoy playing outside, and to serve others. their unconditional love and support gave me the courage to explore. My Aunt Joan Byrd fostered my interest in animals and nature with strategic gifts of natural history books and with walks in the woods. She taught me to welcome wolves back home. My lifelong friend and conspirator tom Butler has kept me on a trail true yet safe, when otherwise i might have stumbled onto darker paths. tom has had to rescue me more times than i dare admit. My mentor and adopted uncle dave Foreman taught me how to put earth first (!), in actions along with words, and built much of the intellectual foundation on which i now try to stand and speak for self-willed land and free-roaming creatures. Any merit my wildways rambling has stems from these guideposts in my life.


The route of TrekEast, Florida to Kentucky. (Map by Ron Sutherland.)

introduction Why i Chose the Wildway: Background to a long trek

i said farewell to my mother by trekking across the east the wild way. i thanked my teachers by following their paths. 1


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The author considers the challenges ahead, for wildlife, and for his own long journey. (Photo courtesy of Philip T. Lacinak)

the eastern passage that took on the label “trekeast” was first and foremost a conservation mission, a journey to learn and speak about wild places and their champions—furred, feathered, finned, flowered, and friends thereof. it was also, of course, a personal odyssey, a challenge physically, intellectually, morally, spiritually, and emotionally. Among my purposes were coming to terms with my mother’s untimely death to cancer and with my own struggles in domestic life. Several friends wondered if i was running from things i feared, including the trappings of a settled life with family. i may need another long trek to figure out that one; but whether running away or coming home, my aim is to help wildlife, and i am deeply grateful that family and friends have supported this quest. the beginnings of my dream of crossing north America with my own muscle power go back to my childhood, when my mother, Mary Byrd davis, and father, Bob davis, and aunt, Joan Byrd, and other family members encouraged my interest in wildlife and natural history. My father inadvertently planted the seed for the journey that became trekeast when he talked of riding his bike across the country—which he never did, being too devoted to his family to take the time away.


Introduction

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the seed for the idea of continental wildways trekking grew through years of working and exploring with such conservation legends as dave Foreman, Reed noss, Michael Soulé, and doug and Kris tompkins in my capacity as editor of the journal Wild Earth in the early 1990s and as biodiversity program officer of the Foundation for deep ecology in the late ’90s. it was well watered, too, by an outing with Bill McKibben, when Bill was only moderately famous and not yet the globally recognized leader of the climate justice movement. i rowed Bill across lake Champlain and hiked into the High Peaks with him, as part of his 2005 book, Wandering Home. His regional trek, in which he met conservation friends along the way, inspired me to take a pilgrimage for and with north America’s wildlife and champions thereof. “Wildway,” by the way, is a term i think i coined about fifteen years ago (though maybe others have also made this likely link of words). i remember first suggesting the neologism “wildway” to my mentor dave Foreman in a conversation about how to popularize the notion of wildlife corridors. Adirondack friends and i then agreed to name our local wildlife corridor “Split Rock Wildway.” it is one of the fuzzier, but i hope more poetic, of the terms used to describe wildlife habitat connections. other terms in this group include wildlife corridor, habitat link or linkage, ecological greenway, connectivity, and permeability. the common ground with all these terms—and the bedrock idea behind my trek—is that connectedness is the natural state of things and is a state most wildlife needs to survive. For a whole host of reasons we will explore on this trek, and discussed in many books in the growing field of conservation biology, animals and plants need room to roam and migrate—to find ample food and mates, exchange genes, move seasonally with resources, and shift in response to climate change and extreme weather. As habitats are fragmented by roads and other development, places become less friendly to wildlife, and many species are lost. My animal guides on this trek would especially be the wide-ranging predators—cougar, wolves, bears, otters, crocodiles, raptors, and the like—who generally need big, wild, connected areas to thrive over the long term. i would hold these space-dependent creatures in my mind, and occasionally enjoy the thrill of seeing some of them, as i scouted the east’s remaining wildlife strongholds.


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Wildlands network leaders Margo McKnight and david Johns gave form to my inchoate travel ideas during a late-night conversation at Wind River Ranch in new Mexico. Wildlands network is a small organization with a huge mission: to reconnect wildlife habitats across north America for the benefit of all native species, including large carnivores. i’ve long been deeply committed to this mission, and hoped my trek could somehow promote it. At what we’ve subsequently referred to half-seriously as the Wine and doughnuts Summit (cheap red wine and day-old doughnuts being our midnight snack that momentous evening), Margo and david said they would accept my resignation from the Wildlands network board of directors, given my impending travel plans, but would like Wildlands network to be part of the trek. it need not be merely a big adventure, they offered, but could also be a communications initiative, to share stories about the importance of big, wild, interconnected habitats and the handsome creatures that depend on them. We would have done well to devote a year to mapping and planning and fund-raising for such a big journey with ambitious outreach objectives; but i am by nature impatient, so i gave Wildlands network only a few months’ lead time. Plus, my mother was by then succumbing to cancer; and i wanted her to experience, at least vicariously, the wild places i would see. Brave till the end, my mother urged me not to worry about her, but to proceed with my journey and report back to her from forests she had hoped to visit. thus, in early 2011, perhaps with undue haste, colleagues and i roughly charted a long winding journey through wildlife habitats of the east, to see if these habitats might be pieced back together. After decades of work with some of the world’s leading conservationists, i was on a voyage of recovery to validate their teachings. guides and mentors like dave Foreman (author of Rewilding North America), Reed noss (Saving Nature’s Legacy), Michael Soulé (coeditor of Continental Conservation) and John terborgh (coeditor of Continental Conservation and Trophic Cascades), Margo McKnight (executive director of Wildlands network), Susan Morse (founder of Keeping track), gary Randorf (author of The Adirondacks), Bill McKibben (author of The End of Nature), Jerry Jenkins (author of Climate Change in the Adirondacks), tom Butler (author of Wildlands Philanthropy), george Wuerthner (coeditor of Energy), and Mary Byrd davis (editor of Eastern


Introduction

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Old-Growth Forests) had taught me the imperatives of saving large natural habitat networks, including old-growth forest and other original ecosystems wherever possible, with their full range of native species, particularly top predators. i knew the basics of conservation biology intellectually, but wanted to feel them viscerally. Hence my resolve to trek across north America, meeting conservation friends along the way and being guided by them whenever their busy schedules allowed. i especially wanted to reconnect with the activists, biologists, writers, and artists who made Wild Earth (for which i served as editor from 1991 to 1996) a landmark journal. i looked to see whether my teachers’ idea of continental habitat connections—wildways—could still be implemented in the east. Could dave Foreman’s Atlantic/Appalachian Mega-linkage (proposed in Rewilding North America) be restored, or is it too late, in this overdeveloped part of the country? My personal ambitions, mainly athletic, were secondary to conservation motives, and i was not out to break any records (and couldn’t if i tried); but the physical adventure kept the journey exciting. Perhaps naively, i hoped the athleticism would strengthen ties between the outdoor recreation and the conservation communities. i hoped my thousands of miles of hiking, paddling, climbing, and bicycling would remind hikers, paddlers, climbers, and bicyclists that they should work to protect the lands and waters where they play. Although i climbed scores of mountains, paddled many waterways, and endured long hot days on the bike, my greatest physical accomplishment was simply to complete the long trek without major injury or illness. Yet, few escape a difficult journey unscathed; and indeed i was humbled and changed by the wild country. Since the trip, i have felt a restless resolve to learn about my wild neighbors before it is too late. i also had emotional goals, such as working out the tensions in my life between living in the woods and living in town; being alone and being in a marriage with a classy, cosmopolitan Californian; seeking solitude and wanting to serve others; acting as student and acting as teacher; following and leading; working locally and working continentally; and so forth. My divided life—half in town with wife and stepson and cats, in a remodeled historic home in essex, new York; half in the woods, based around a log cabin in the eastern Adirondacks with no running water or electricity,


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John paddles the Wacissa River in northern Florida on a brisk spring day. Florida’s abundant waterways are rich in birds, fish, and other wildlife. (Photo courtesy of Philip T. Lacinak.)

or farther afield—seemed to be serving only the cats and me well, and i knew i needed to do better for my family. i needed, as well, to transcend my fears of large groups of people, and to learn to speak in public with confidence, if i was to have a chance of carrying on my teachers’ good works. indeed, i felt i needed to do much more for wild places to justify the huge amounts of time community members had invested in me over the last three decades. if the conservation community were a tribe, i’d grown to believe in recent years my role in it would be as a scout, and that is the exploratory nature i brought to this quest. i like rambling through wild places, often alone; yet i long to share what i learn with others. i thrive on the challenges of finding routes through difficult terrain. Born into a family of teachers and ministers, i have been taught to serve those in need, which in this fragmented world often means wild creatures. Part of the moral challenge of this trek for me was justifying the year away from family and job by the good i might do for wildlife on a conservation adventure.


Introduction

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My greatest fears in starting were trucks, ticks, and technology. no surprise, then, that i was forced off the road twice by speeding trucks; i had to pull several ticks out of my flesh; and the gadgets i’d been issued to communicate with the outside world perplexed me. trucks could have run over me, as they do millions of wild animals a year. ticks could have sickened me, as they afflict thousands of Americans with lyme disease every year (and as happened to me back home a few years ago). technology could have defeated me. (the thought of standing up before a crowd and giving a PowerPoint presentation nearly paralyzed me the first few times—not without reason, for i had technical difficulties every time, but was always rescued by skillful technophiles.) instead, the misfortunes my family suffered in 2011 were more personal. Cancer took my mother, my father-in-law, and an aunt. My mother’s passing was especially hard on all of us, as we’d expected her to live past 100, as her mother had; and doubtless, she would have continued her old-growth forest advocacy for the remaining quarter century. My being far afield was especially hard on my wife denise and stepson Justin. not only were our five indoor cats a lively challenge with one of their keepers away, the winter of 2010–11 in the northeastern United States ignored the warming pattern and produced old-fashioned quantities of snow and cold, yet denise’s snowplow was far away enjoying warming climes. Fortunately, denise and Justin and my father were able to join me multiple times along the journey. My father became—along with Wildlands network staff and volunteers—one of my main sources of logistical support, meeting me in various places and bringing changes of gear. We were able to combine our meetings with seeing other family members, sometimes together visiting old-growth sites my mother had documented, so the trek helped us deal with my mother’s death. Still, there’s no denying a long journey away from home can take a toll on a marriage and a home, and others considering long treks should anticipate relationship challenges. A long time away can also mean returning to unwanted guests: i would learn after my trek that while i was off trying to rewild eastern north America, the tiny piece of it i usually guard most zealously was invaded by an exotic plant species that may soon displace native wetland plants which i consider vital members of my community.


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despite such challenges, and many physical trials along the way, i was able through trekeast to confirm my teachers’ basic guidelines on how to abate threats to biodiversity and add some particulars, which i’ll share as we travel north. After hiking, biking, and paddling 7,500 miles to and through the wildest parts of the eastern United States and southeastern Canada (sometimes with friends and family, sometimes with other colleagues, often solo), i would conclude that a continental conservation corridor—an eastern Wildway—is still possible, but that restoration and preservation on this grand scale will require at least a national and lasting consensus that we wish to preserve our natural heritage. i found many reasons for hope but none for resting on past successes—which are remarkable, in the form of parks and reserves in every state, but far from sufficient in size or connectivity. Briefly for now, more as we go, lessons confirmed on the ground included these: We need to protect and restore big, wild, connected habitats, with their full range of native species, including wide-ranging predators, if we are to maintain north America’s magnificent natural heritage. in the near term, we should focus on (1) reestablishing broad natural buffers along and around major water bodies, particularly the big rivers draining to the Atlantic and gulf coasts; (2) reintroducing the cougar, that most critical predator of deer, in wilder parts of the east; (3) creating and expanding large parks, wilderness areas, and wildlands complexes through the Southeast Coastal Plain and up the Appalachian Mountains; (4) building safe wildlife crossings on major roads; and (5) generally keeping wild spaces free of development and making existing infrastructure more permeable to wildlife movement and more durable in the face of climate chaos. My conviction would grow along the way that it is still possible to achieve these conservation priorities, but that time is running out—with millions of acres of wild habitats lost to development every year, and climate rapidly destabilizing. Reconnecting wild habitats on a continental scale would require a degree of social unity and cooperation rare in today’s quarrelsome society. i would increasingly agree as well with Michael Soulé’s contention that we north Americans need to somehow mount a national or international conservation corridors campaign—uniting wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation interests—before the strands of green holding our lands together are severed by development.


Introduction

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trekeast, in sum, was and is a tribute to and confirmation of wildways and their champions, and a quest to understand what it would take to preserve wildlife across north America. in particular, i set out to see whether we might restore a safe path for cougar recovery throughout the east, whether i might have the emotional and physical strength to traverse this future wildway myself, and whether a lively journey like this might inspire others to take action for our imperiled wild neighbors. Please join me in spreading the wise words of the conservation heroes we’ll meet along the way, and reconnecting the habitats needed by bears and otters and songbirds and trout and hikers and hunters and birders and future generations of all species. . . .


CHAPteR one

Where the Panther Still Prowls Greater Everglades Ecosystem, Florida

February, 2011; brilliant subtropical winter sun most of the month as I zigzagged north through southern and central Florida; paddling gentle until winds picked up; flat, easy riding except when winds opposed me; level-but-often-wet hiking; one hard rain; biting insects occasionally mean. A gentle giant surfaced as i set out to scout an eastern Wildway. the manatee watched as friends and i kayaked into the waters off north Key largo, seeming to join nearby dolphins and fish and seabirds in wishing us success in our quest to explore and promote a continental conservation corridor, a safe passage for travelers wild and human. Wildlands friends and i felt warmly received here at the beginning of what we thought would be a 4,500-mile (but turned into a 7,500-mile) meandering journey to and through the remaining wilds of the east. Reporters and photographers were there at the launch, so i suppressed the tears welling up as i saw Florida’s most emblematic sea mammal, the manatee, whose order, Sirenia, hints at the allure these graceful vegetarians of the sea have on wayfarers. trekeast began, then, as an eastern Conservation Corridor will begin, with a network of friends gathering where the manatee and dolphin meet the Key largo wood rat and gumbo limbo tree, and the panther prowls nearby, while egrets and herons spearfish the teeming waters. Among the friends must be, my Wildlands network colleagues realized from the start, people who can help get the words and images of natural connections out 11


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far and wide. the launch site on north Key largo chosen by Wildlands network was ideal for its abundance of wildlife and paddling and snorkeling opportunities but also its ease of access for reporters and well-wishers. An eastern Wildway, i hoped to find, may grow from the Sunshine State. Florida’s limestone bedrock, pellucid springs, and subtropical climate give it the richest species diversity in eastern north America, even after centuries of roughhousing by euro-American settlers. Moreover, despite waves of rust-belt refugees moving in over the past few decades, Florida comes closest in the eastern United States to having a full guild of top predators and a viable wildlife habitat reserve system. in my hundreds of miles of exploring Florida, i was seldom more than a few miles from remnants of original ecosystems—forest, savanna, marsh, prairie, coral reef, and sea—which are not yet too badly sundered to reconnect. Florida’s protected area system is not finished—it’s not big enough or continuous enough—but it’s a good start, a well-watered ground upon which an eastern Conservation Corridor can be restored, a stronghold from which the panther can recolonize much of its original range across the east, if America finally finds the wisdom and the will to weave back together our precious natural heritage. A common question as i began my long trek was how i’d trained for it, and my answer was a bit embarrassing: i’ve never really trained and probably would not know how. i consider myself a social runner and lifter—a few times a year, when invited by friends, i’ll jog or lift weights with them. More often, i trot through the woods simply as part of getting somewhere quickly, and i effectively lift weights when chopping firewood, rowing across lake Champlain, or climbing trees or rocks. that is, i try to propel myself wherever i can, rather than relying on petroleum, and enjoy natural recreation—hiking, cross-country skiing, skating, climbing, paddling, bicycling. My lifelong preference for muscle-powered movement has generally kept me fit. Maybe saying something about my inner character, my recurring nightmare is of paralysis, whereas my recurring liberation dream is of leaping to a tree branch and effortlessly pulling myself up with either arm (in real life, the best i’ve ever done is one right-arm pull-up on a bar). My other recurring happy dream is of seeing a panther. often in the dream, the panther appears almost willfully, as if we both meant to find


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Birds seemed to be everywhere during the paddlers’ traverse of the Everglades National Park’s Wilderness Waterway, though waterfowl numbers are small fractions of what they were before the arrival in Florida of agribusiness, farther north in the watershed. (Photo courtesy of Larry Barns.)

each other. trekeast was partly a journey to see what it would take to allow the panther (or cougar, or puma, or mountain lion, or catamount or, scientifically, Puma concolor . . . many names, one great cat) to reclaim much of its original range across the east, or even to imagine how a hypothetical lineage of panthers might venture out of Florida and safely make their way north through the Southeast Coastal Plain and Appalachian Mountains, to eventually become neighbors, not just in dreams, in the Adirondacks and northern Appalachians. As i moved north, this became the question i asked myself: How might a panther move through this region? Although it would have been wildly improbable to actually see Florida’s most charismatic and elusive land mammal, i did find tracks of panther—mother and cub—in Big Cypress national Preserve, just north of everglades national Park, the day after my mother passed away. one of my mother’s last words, as my father told her of my safe traverse of everglades national Park’s Wilderness Waterway, was “wonderful”; and


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though that word may be used too carelessly these days, in this case it was an apt summation of South Florida’s wildlife, as well as of Mary Byrd davis’s own life. My mother died the day before Valentine’s day as i exited everglades national Park and prepared to enter Big Cypress Preserve. My father reiterated my mother’s wish that i keep going, but asked that i plan to leave the trail for a few days later in the month to be with family at the funeral and to speak there about the importance of her work for wild forests. Striving to celebrate my mother’s good life rather than mourn her premature death, i rode to one of the old-growth forest stands she had catalogued in her book, Old Growth in the East: A Survey, at Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, west of Big Cypress. there a boardwalk allows thousands of visitors a year to walk through a magnificent swamp of ancient cypress trees, festooned in lichens and bromeliads and orchids, sheltering a rich understory of ferns and shrubs and herbs, holding aloft a stately bald eagle nest, and cleansing waters vibrant with wading birds, turtles, and snakes. the cheerful chatter of school kids walking in front of me, exclaiming at the huge trees, seemed to affirm my mother’s dedication to primeval forests.

Half-Dammed River of Grass For reasons swampy and buzzing and biting, but also because of the leadership of conservationists like Marjory Stoneman douglas (author of the classic work The Everglades: River of Grass), the everglades ecosystem is still great and half wild. A measure of its wildness is that this is the last (and first, let us hope) refuge in the east of the panther—a cat powerful enough to kill a deer with a bite to the neck, agile enough to leap over sinkholes, yet fragile in the face of intruding humans. Panthers survived in Florida while being extirpated elsewhere in the east largely because south of lake okeechobee, much of Florida remains free of roads. the greater everglades ecosystem, originally covering much of the southern half of peninsular Florida, is water as much as it is land. Before agribusiness, roads, and channels in the northern everglades upset natural cycles, annual rains would flood lake okeechobee each summer and send massive creeping sheet flows south through the vast sawgrass meadows and


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past the hardwood hammocks and cypress groves to the mangroves, mudflats, and beaches of the gulf of Mexico, meaning the ground was too swampy much of the year to easily develop. of course, that did not stop reckless development schemes, but it did keep enough of the land and water wild that panther, bobcat, Florida black bear, everglades mink, river otter, manatee, bottle-nosed dolphin, alligator, crocodile, eastern indigo snake, sawfish, eagles, kites, wading birds, and other sensitive creatures persisted. Red wolves were exterminated, tragically, but coyotes have moved in and are filling part of the cursorial (running) carnivore role once played by their close cousins. deer in South Florida actually must negotiate habitats largely in response to predation pressures, from panthers, bobcats, and coyotes, whereas in much of the east these prolific browsers have little reason to fear predators and thus get portly and overabundant (see “large Carnivores, Herbivores, and omnivores in South Florida” in Large Carnivores and the Conservation of Biodiversity, edited by Justina C. Ray and colleagues). in their sweeping look at remaining large roadless areas of the United States (the first such inventory since Bob Marshall’s classic wilderness study in the late 1930s), The Big Outside, dave Foreman and Howie Wolke found the greater everglades ecosystem to have more than two million roadless acres in several large blocks, putting the region at the top of the list for the east, along with the great Smoky Mountains of north Carolina and tennessee, Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, and Adirondack Park in northern new York. As dave and Howie explained, and as i would confirm along this trek, roadlessness—freedom from roads, to put it more positively—is a quality of utmost importance for land conservation. Arguably at least, the single worst thing we Americans have done to our natural heritage is build roads and drive motor vehicles on them. Roads block the movement of wide-ranging species like big cats and wolves, as well as kill untold millions of smaller animals. largely for these reasons—wildness and the persistence of panthers— Wildlands network friends persuaded me to launch trekeast in Florida; and the journey was therefore rich in wildlife from the start. Along with such charismatic creatures as manatees, dolphins, alligators, crocodiles, egrets, herons, and eagles, fellow Keys and everglades paddlers and i saw sea slugs, needlefish, barracuda, stingray, and the unlikeliest fish i’ve ever


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John paddles a mangrove channel near North Key Largo at the start of TrekEast. Mangroves are among Earth’s most productive ecosystems. (Photo courtesy of Philip T. Lacinak.)

seen, a smalltooth sawfish, looking like a big flounder with a chainsaw for a nose. these toothy sediment sweepers have been sadly diminished— in numbers and size—by overfishing and habitat loss, but still survive in everglades bays and offshore waters. Before modern fishing took its toll, sawfish could reach twenty feet in length. We were lucky when Wildlands network biologist Ron Sutherland spotted one about four feet in length, lurking above the sandy bottom in shallow brackish water, in a small everglades channel bounded by thick mangroves.

Land Health and Human Health: Conservation and Recreation everglades national Park is a great place to explore the complementary interests of recreation and conservation and the parallels between human health and ecological health. My paddling companions for that portion of the trip were Ron the biologist, photographer larry Barns, lawyer Reg Bedell, and physical therapist Brian trzaskos. We were all pleased the few times we met fellow paddlers—including a pair of women considerably older than us yet paddling just as fast and telling us confidently what to


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TrekEast paddlers enjoyed many friendly encounters with birds in Everglades Wilderness Waterway. They looked out for Burmese pythons in these thicker areas but never saw any of the invasive snakes. (Photo courtesy of Larry Barns.)

expect in the coming miles. We were all annoyed when motorboats roared past, oblivious of the dolphins mating in the shallow inland bays. When we were in the same canoe, Brian and i would challenge each other to find analogs from our respective realms—human health and land health—and we quickly found many. Pollution from motors is like toxic chemicals in food, we agreed; and waterways are to the land what arteries are to the body. the abundance of wildlife in the everglades, though magnificent by modern standards, is but a shadow of its original grandeur, largely because of hydrological disruptions. How would you feel, Brian asked us, if half your blood were withdrawn from your body every year, and much of the rest was sullied with artificial chemicals? Still, the allure of the everglades stems both from its richness of wildlife and its diversity of ecosystems. As we paddled the Wilderness Waterway north through everglades national Park, my friends and i were sometimes on huge inland bays where winds buffeted our boats and dolphins frolicked in the waves; sometimes in winding channels where gators and turtles slid off banks as we passed by; sometimes on broad sandy


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coast, with wading birds feeding in waters so shallow we had to drag our heavily laden boats; sometimes in mangrove tunnels, which felt as dark and damp as a tropical rainforest; just a few times by the fabled sawgrass meadows, which form the image many people have of the everglades but are only the grassiest (or sedgiest, really) of its many ecosystems; and once on calm riverine waters with moonlight and glowing diatoms adding luminescence to the magic of the glades after sunset. Although we’d been kidding Ron, who studies snakes, about finding and wrestling one of the exotic pythons that have been let loose in Florida—and are decimating small mammal populations—our nearest real brush with disaster came as we forced our way along the mangrovechoked channel of Wood Creek at midtide. there, a half-submerged stick impaled my pack-canoe at water line. While bailing frantically, we tossed all the heavy gear to the other canoe and the kayak, and larry deftly slapped tape over the hole, slowing the leak. For the next five miles, till we could reach solid ground, we had to alternately bail and paddle, with larry and i leaning left as much as we could without tipping. the mishap proved strangely fortuitous, however. it forced us to find dry land, snack ravenously, and effect a makeshift repair—for i’d foolishly forgotten my boat patch kit; and Brian had to concoct a seal with glue, duct tape, and air mattress patches. delayed by hours, we paddled late into a moonlit evening with bioluminescence in our wake, alligators slipping quietly from dusky banks as we went past, and a dark form with pectoral fin—big enough, we called out shark!—retreating from our camp-bound fleet. Strange how a mishap can lead to such wonders. . . .

Threats and Opportunities Shifting from the sublime to the vulgar, the greatest threats to the everglades (colleagues with the Sierra Club and South Florida Wildlands Association told me) are from surrounding roads, often fatal to wandering animals and disruptive of natural hydrology; water diversions and pollution upstream by agribusiness (“big sugar”); exurban development, slowed but not stopped by recent economic slowdowns; and climate chaos, which could drown most of everglades national Park by end of this century. Conversely, opportunities for rewilding the everglades are great. to that end, conservationists are pushing to have five miles of the tamiami


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Highway elevated to allow renewed water flows and wildlife movement. i cycled the tamiami Highway, which runs east-west across South Florida and separates everglades national Park from Big Cypress national Preserve to its north, and found it to be scary indeed, from the perspective of wildlife or a human not encased in metal. My ride east on the road had not been too bad, as it was early morning and traffic not yet heavy. i made my first of many escorts that morning, helping a tiny turtle across the road and to the relative safety of the adjacent canal. After a hike on the Florida trail, however (knee-deep mud south of the road; open savanna and tall cypress stands north), my return ride at dusk was terrifying. Cars and trucks were tearing past me at deadly speeds, and one car with a missing headlight rocketed toward me so fast i barely got off the road in time. i could scarcely imagine being a young panther trying to cross this highway, which has warning signs for motorists but lacks proper wildlife crossings. thankfully, nearby Alligator Alley (interstate 75 across Florida) and Route 29 (north–south, west of Big Cypress) have been outfitted with wildlife crossings, and the cats and bears and other creatures are finding and using them, meaning fewer animals killed on roads. Human lives are also being saved, as fewer drivers swerve to miss animals crossing roads at night. As i cycled north along Route 29, i stopped to check several wildlife underpasses, and found them liberally decorated with quadruped tracks, hard to make out in the sandy substrate, but some of them the right size for adult panthers. expanding existing protected areas is another great opportunity in the greater everglades ecosystem. Much of the area around the parks and wildlife refuges is degraded agricultural land, some of which could be purchased by the state or federal government for restoration, to the benefit of wildlife, outdoor recreationists, and water quality. tourism is a mainstay of the Florida economy, and people flock there not to see giant sugar plantations but for the sunshine and wildlife watching (and, yes, disney World’s Animal Kingdom theme park, for its ersatz wildlife experiences). Seeing visitors admire dolphins or manatees or birds reminded me that we humans want and need to see wild animals and are willing to pay for the opportunity. the state’s Florida Forever program, which has secured hundreds of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, had strong


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bipartisan support for many years—again confirming the draw of wildlife watching—but while i was in Florida, it was being gutted by a reactionary governor out of touch with the needs of his state.

Private Lands Conservation Among the many pleasant surprises for me in paddling, hiking, and cycling through Florida for six weeks was that more than half the state is undeveloped. it is easy to assume, from only brief visits, that Florida is either saved or wrecked. that is, some of us northern conservationists assume that what can be protected in Florida has been, and most of the rest is already lost to development. Actually, more than a fourth of the state enjoys at least partial protection—one of the highest fractions of protection in the world—and more than a fourth remains at least semi-wild but unprotected. these ten-plus million acres of undeveloped but unprotected land are where the next round of conservation battles in Florida will be waged. on bicycling portions of my Florida traverse, i would sometimes ride past zombie developments—places where land had been subdivided, platted, and roaded, but no houses yet built. these are essentially preemptive strikes by developers to make sure that when the demand for housing surges again, they can quickly capitalize. Some of these empty subdivisions still have healthy natural vegetation, including scrub habitat rich in wildflowers, reptiles, and birds; but if the roads serve their eventual purposes, most of this wildlife will be lost. i was shocked when colleagues told me that developers sometimes knowingly bulldoze over the burrows of gopher tortoises, figuring the cost of entombment—the minor penalty for “taking” a species listed under the endangered Species Act—is small compared to the profits of selling lots. Any exploitive uses of land and water have harmful impacts on wild creatures—through roadkill, reduction of cover and food, altered microclimates and water flows, exotic species invasions, blockage of movement routes, and sheer displacement—but development of permanent roads and buildings is generally the worst fate for land, from the standpoint of wildlife. Most of us in modern society live in or otherwise depend on developments; but as a nation, we have developed too much land already. Additional development should happen in already humanized areas,


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letting remnant natural areas stay wild and even helping them grow back together. in the United States, we have paved more land than we have protected as wilderness. globally, too, we humans have completely appropriated for our own uses much more land than we have set aside for all the other millions of species combined. As my guides in Florida told me, now is the time, as land and housing prices are down, to purchase and conserve lands that will otherwise be doomed to pavement. equally important will be getting conservation easements on the millions of acres of ranches in the state. i cycled past some of these ranches, and often felt like i was in west texas, looking across huge grasslands, with kites and hawks soaring overhead. the bulk of that fourth of the state undeveloped but unprotected is ranchland. Most ranchers would like to stay in the cattle business, and many have been practicing good land stewardship; but development pressures and high taxes force some to sell out for subdivisions. All my Florida colleagues agreed, renewing the Florida Forever program and acquiring strong conservation easements on undeveloped private lands should be a state and national priority, as should fully funding the federal land and Water Conservation Fund. Private lands “encumbered� with conservation easements are no substitute for strongly protected parks, refuges, and wilderness areas: Again, almost any form of commercial exploitation of the land takes a toll on wildlife. in many parts of the heavily settled east, however, the best we can expect in the short run is strong conservation easements, which may allow continued farming, ranching, logging, or other resource extraction, but keep the land from being converted to roads and housing developments. Compatible use, or buffer, lands around core reserves will accommodate animal movement and natural processes (like wildfire, pollination, carbon sequestration, and the like) while also allowing ongoing economic activities. on a side trip east of gainesville, tommy Clay and family helped me understand the importance of ranchlands with a tour of their beautiful place, where grand old live oaks spread their gnarled branches over lush grasses. the Clays are fifth-generation Florida ranchers, laboring to keep their lands whole in the face of rising taxes and economic competition from cheap foreign beef imports. tommy is meeting with other ranchers in central Florida to explore how to conserve their lands. tommy


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remarked that the mere fact of our meeting was reason for hope: a conservative rancher who in years past might have shunned a “radical environmentalist” like me, and vice versa, now sharing ideas with proponents of an eastern Wildway.

Florida in the Forefront of Conservation Science in 1985, proving that vision can have power, Reed noss, an idealistic young student of the influential biology professor larry Harris (author of The Fragmented Forest: Island Biogeography Theory and the Preservation of Biotic Diversity), drafted a reserve network design for Florida: a system of protected areas large enough and well enough connected to ensure the long-term viability of panther, black bear, and other wide-ranging species, as well as protect most of Florida’s innumerable smaller species. that statewide conservation reserve network design and subsequent iterations have guided Florida’s land acquisition priorities for three decades. in 1992, dave Foreman and i profiled Reed’s network design in a special issue of Wild Earth on the north American Wilderness Recovery Strategy, which took shape as the Wildlands Project and now is Wildlands network. this visionary plan has inspired protection of hundreds of thousands of acres throughout Florida, but much of the proposed network is still at stake. Another of larry Harris’s legacy students, tom Hoctor, who met trekeast near gainesville, has updated Reed’s work, and was part of the one-thousand-mile, one-hundred-day Florida Wildlife Corridors trek that wildlife photographer Carlton Ward and friends completed in spring of 2012. during a couple days at Archbold Biological Station, on the botanically rich lake Wales Ridge in south-central Florida, i learned from Reed Bowman and colleagues about the importance of wildfire in Florida ecosystems. Wildfire, it seems, is as important to Florida’s health as the panther. deprive a Florida forest or grassland of fire, and it will grow unnaturally thick in saw palmetto or—worse—exotic invasive species like melaleuca. like wide-ranging predators, moreover, wildfire needs plenty of wild space to roam, else it quickly runs afoul of people and their domestic enclosures. Archbold Biological Station (where i gratefully strolled, after a 115mile bike ride when the wind seemed to fight me all day) is one of those


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John looks for the rare Florida scrub jay in sand pine scrub at Archbold Biological Station, Lake Wales Ridge, central Florida. (Photo courtesy of Philip T. Lacinak.)

magnetic places just brimming with biology. erudite professors and eager students are all over the place, admiring birds, insects, plants, and the rest of the biota. Reed Bowman has been studying for decades an imperiled bird species whose well-being depends on wildfire, Florida scrub jays. these intelligent, colonial-nesting corvids need fire to maintain the open vegetative community in which they hunt effectively. Archbold researchers told many enthralling stories—with stars ranging from mints (more species here than in all northeastern states combined) to snakes (eastern indigo another key wide-ranging predator) to wetlands (their drainage by development a factor in citrus-killing winter freezes)—but the one that most resonated with my mission of reconnecting wild places was the recent tale of a young wandering male black bear (whose name, in scientific style, was a mere number, which i promptly forgot). Adolescent males, of course, are bold and adventurous. this youth, born in good habitat on lake Wales Ridge but with limited territorial options, given the human intrusions into central Florida in recent years, lit out for the territory. Fortuitously, the smart bruin (tracked by


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telemetry) found the very wildlife corridors that conservation biologists had mapped, and successfully ambled north until he met an impenetrable barrier, interstate 4, whereupon he reversed course and made his way back south to near his natal home, again through ecological corridors that biologists had identified, but some of which remain unprotected. Panthers are apparently even more limited than bears in their ability to disperse safely from their South Florida stronghold. the Caloosahatchee River, once a narrow winding swampy waterway draining slowly west to the coast, is now dredged and channelized and lined with houses and roads, making it a difficult barrier for terrestrial mammals to cross. Young males occasionally brave the gauntlet, but female panthers seldom if ever do, hence the dangerous predicament of the big cats having only that one breeding population in the east, in Florida south of the Caloosahatchee. Cougar recovery in the east is essential to reduce the problems associated with deer overpopulation, and would also help control numbers of feral hogs, which are rooting away herb layers in many southern forests. Cougar restoration will require at the very least expanding the recovery area for Puma concolor to take in much of wilder Florida north of the everglades ecosystem. then, if we have protected enough of an eastern Wildway, that triumph of evolution—which once ranged nearly the length of the Americas—may slowly spread back north on its own. As we’ll learn later from friends with the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, however, the urgency of restoring a top predator to overbrowsed forests is so great in some parts of the east that active reintroduction needs to be considered.

Charismatic Megafauna even north of the bountiful everglades, the “real Florida” (as its tourism boosters are now branding it) fairly teems with wildlife, sometimes in displays that rival Yellowstone or Serengeti. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, outside gainesville, where i walked with colleagues from the Conservation trust of Central Florida, has one of north America’s greatest concentrations of predators in winter. Hundreds of alligators converge on Alachua Sink, where waters pool before disappearing into the ground; and sunning beside the gators are scores of red-bellied turtles—the banks and waters thick with reptiles, as their distant avian relatives, such as


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herons and egrets, hunt the shallows, and warblers flit about in the rank riparian vegetation. Bison grazing nearby add to the wildlife splendor. the bison herd here is managed, because a 16,000-acre preserve is not nearly large enough; but within the perimeter fence the reintroduced bovines have brought back some of the majesty and function of Florida’s wet prairie. two major roads, Route 441 and interstate 75, cut through Paynes Prairie, unfortunately, but “ecopassages” beneath the roads allow animals as large as alligators to cross east–west through tunnels. often my encounters with Florida’s charismatic wild animals were fleeting. Several times, i met fox squirrels—biggest and handsomest of that rodent family in this country, and critical to perpetuation of the equally charismatic longleaf pines. Fox squirrels eat the mushrooms produced by the mycorrhizal fungi that live symbiotically on and around pine roots, and help spread the fungal spores. So, too, do red-cockaded woodpeckers play critical roles in longleaf pine communities, excavating cavities, which many other animals use for shelter, in forests that burn too often to produce many snags. i met this endangered woodpecker only once in Florida, and would have missed the pair had not sharp-eyed ornithologists at Archbold Biological Station spotted them.

Fire and Grass Wherever i roamed in Florida, i heard about the unruly but critical member of the biotic community, wildfire. in central Florida’s Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, i met my biologist friends Reed and Myra noss and Paul Miller, and was thus introduced by the experts to one of the east’s largest remaining grasslands. Kissimmee Prairie is a fifty-thousand-acre matrix of dry prairie, rich but subtle in biological diversity. Reed’s book Forgotten Grasslands of the South: Natural History and Conservation profiles a fire-dependent ecosystem type almost completely forgotten outside rarified botany circles. Various plants and birds benefit from wildfire and make Kissimmee Prairie special. Burrowing owls charm visitors, standing on the rims of their grassland burrows, as if imagining themselves prairie dogs. the Florida grasshopper sparrow, an extremely rare subspecies of a rare species, needs open runways through the grasses by which to escape predators. Fire is the necessary ingredient for keeping grasslands open enough for grasshopper sparrows to thrive.


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Reed summarized the central role of wildfire, saying that in Florida uplands where fire has been suppressed, any available woody vegetation, native or exotic, quickly invades and becomes unnaturally dense. Many hardwood forests across the Southeast Coastal Plain, which most people assume are natural, are on lands formerly occupied by longleaf pine or other grasslands and savannas—their native tree species are now out of context. Restoring natural fire regimes is a top ecological priority in much of the Southeast, especially in current or former grasslands and savannas, just as it is in much of the West. this would mean letting wildfires burn, where space allows; and in more fragmented habitats, prescribing fire when it would naturally occur, which in Florida generally means early summer, when vegetation is still dry yet lightning strikes are common. At present, many controlled burns are conducted in winter (such as one i’d cycled past in Fakahatchee Strand), which can be dangerous for animal species that have newborn offspring then, including panthers and bears. While we toured Kissimmee Prairie, Paul, Reed, and Myra shared stories of the intricate dependencies of various Florida species. even as they told me of the amazing richness of ground-layer plants in Florida, a feral hog looked defiantly at us before recognizing our numerical superiority and fleeing for a nearby slough. Feral hogs are ravaging local plant communities in many parts of the Southeast. Park managers’ efforts to hunt out the alien pigs have had limited success, in part because even as the aggressive rooters have been removed from some areas, sport hunters have released them in other areas. After the hog disappeared into the swamp, another invader appeared: a four-wheel-drive vehicle roared down a distant dirt road. Kissimmee Prairie does not suffer the rampant off-road vehicle abuse that Big Cypress Preserve and many national forests face—Paul Miller and his rangers are too vigilant to let that happen—but even the seemingly benign tourist vehicles on the park’s few roads have ecological effects. there is a whole science of edge effects, often associated with roads, which we’ll touch upon now and then through this journey (and which Reed summarized years ago in Saving Nature’s Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity). Paul and Reed had been noticing an edge effect that only experts would spot. dust from the dirt road was seeping into adjacent vegetation, changing the


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alkalinity of the soil and favoring weedy plants, to the disadvantage of choosy herbs and grasses. on the ground and with maps, Paul and Reed and Myra showed me that Kissimmee Prairie, like most of Florida’s natural landscapes, is a complex tapestry of diverse habitats, many of them endangered. Within Kissimmee Prairie Preserve’s grassland matrix, other rare natural communities abide, such as gum sloughs in wet areas that fires seldom scorch. one of these swampy sloughs held the last known breeding pair of the Carolina parakeet, among the first species euro-Americans drove to extinction. As a testament to those extinct birds, a five-foot-tall metal sculpture of the last parakeet pair stands poignantly before the park visitor center. that evening, at Paul’s modest ranger’s quarters, we sat and talked over a feast of local organic foods Myra had prepared, denise and Justin joining us late. denise and Justin and i would have to leave tomorrow for my mother’s funeral, and after this sad hiatus from the trek, i would resume the journey on Florida’s west coast. i asked my friends what must be done to safeguard Florida’s fabulous natural heritage. Answers ranged from the general and global to the local and specific, from measured to urgent, but included many lessons that would be reinforced along my journey: • Stabilize the human population—in Florida, which has boomed in recent decades, and globally, where we profligate apes have just topped seven billion and continue exterminating other life forms and sending millions of years of stored carbon into the atmosphere annually. • Fully fund the Florida Forever program, and offer private landowners within the proposed Florida ecological greenways network system fair market value for easements or full-fee on their critically important lands, or simply good tips on wildlifefriendly practices if they wish to retain exclusive rights to their land. Also reinstate full funding for the federal land and Water Conservation Fund. • Create a safe wildlife corridor across the Caloosahatchee River to enable panthers to recolonize northern Florida and beyond, and restore connections for other wide-ranging species, too.


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• install safe wildlife crossings and implement lower night-time speed limits on highways where road-kill or blockage remain big problems, including the tamiami Highway north of everglades Park, Route 27 on lake Wales Ridge, and interstate 4 cutting across the middle of the state. • Buffer waterways—including gulf and Atlantic coasts—with broad zones of natural vegetation, to protect aquatic and marine biodiversity, shelter natural and human communities from extreme weather events, improve water quality, and give wideranging animals safe travel routes. Most difficult on this front, but prudent ecologically, economically, and socially, commence “managed retreat” (Reed’s admonition) from the Florida coastlines, as human-induced sea level rise makes seaside cities indefensible (yes, Miami awash in peril); and give this storm-prone and flood-bound land back to wild nature—back to the panther and the manatee.


An excerpt from Big, Wild, and Connected part 1