September 2019 – When we hear the word ecosystem, images of rivers, lakes, forests, animals, and plants readily come to mind. We often fail to consider that humans are just as much a part of these ecosystems, and often have the greatest impact. Greenways and wildlife corridors provide pathways for the travel of wildlife. This ensures the genetic diversity of wildlife populations which is important to their health. Protecting the health of our wildlife, natural habitats and nature preserves is essential to ensuring our own well-being, now and for generations to come.
These parks and nature preserves offer us even more, by providing a space for outdoor recreation activities and a natural refuge from city life. Hillsborough County has 12 conservation parks spanning over 16,000 acres with 500 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails and offers recreational canoeing, kayaking, camping, boating and more. In addition, the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP) manages over 60,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands which protect wildlife habitats, natural areas, drinking water sources and the water quality of rivers, lakes and bays. That may sound like a lot, but in recent years Tampa has seen a boom in population growth and land development. The current population of Hillsborough County stands at 1.4 million people and expects to add almost half a million more by the year 2040. This rapid development can lead to a loss of natural areas if gone unchecked. Established nature preserves are increasingly isolated, jeopardizing their ecological functions through the encroachment of the built environment and habitat fragmentation.
Mr. Ross Dickerson, Environmental Lands Manager for the County’s Conservation and Environmental Lands Management Section, addressed protection and extension of wildlife corridors in the county and the region, including that provided by the Hillsborough River, for the River Board’s Technical Advisory Council (TAC). Mr. Dickerson’s recommendations included identifying and buffering critical ecological corridors that connect to a larger network of preserved lands, wildlife corridors that are likely to be developed over the next 2-5 years, and expanding preserves wherever possible. The TAC remains committed to being a partner with the county and other agencies to ensure our natural lands and sustainable resources associated with the Hillsborough River remain resilient and can be managed effectively in perpetuity.