With strong support from Audubon Florida and its Collier chapter, Audubon Western Everglades, the Collier County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on July 13 to adopt an important set of improvements to its award-winning Rural Land Stewardship Program. The Audubon-influenced amended policies expand preserves by 40,000 acres to target a total of 134,000 acres out of the 180,000 acres outlined in the program. They also increase farm protections, affordable housing, panther and wading bird habitat restoration, and cap any development at 45,000 acres over 50 years.
Audubon urged the adoption of these policies to assure permanent protection and sustainability of the major ecosystems of privately owned eastern Collier County in the face of inevitable inland human migration from climate/sea level rise-threatened coastal communities over the next 80 years. That’s the scale we all must plan for if conservation is to succeed over many generations.
Audubon and our allies at Florida Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife have gained much through direct negotiations and dialogue with the major landowners of SW Florida. We push hard on important conservation objectives while achieving collaborative, mutually beneficial strategies to maximize conservation outcomes in this very large region.
As a result, in addition to the just-adopted long-term RLSA improvements, landowner Collier Enterprises is bringing forward 12,300 acres of permanent preservation, with 2,600 acres of wetland and panther habitat restoration, within the Camp Keais Strand. Camp Keais is a huge part of the CREW Florida Forever Project that the state has tried to protect for over thirty years, unsuccessfully. It will now be well on the way to full protection under this Rural Land Stewardship Program. That major preserve is required in exchange for Collier Enterprises’ plans for a new town on 3500 acres of cleared farms on the eastern edge of Golden Gate Estates. While not perfect, that is an excellent conservation outcome from negotiation.
Audubon will continue to meet regularly with all the major landowners in Collier County to assure conservation opportunities and needs are addressed. This is a vital pragmatic practice that regularly bears conservation benefits.