Northwest Florida is one of the most biologically diverse regions of the world.
From dense pine forests, seepage streams and major rivers, to coastal marshes and pristine beaches, it is home to many threatened, endangered, and at-risk species including: red-cockaded woodpecker, grey bat, Eastern indigo snake, Panama City crayfish, flatwoods and reticulated salamanders, mussels, Okaloosa darter, Gulf sturgeon, beach mice, snowy plover, and loggerhead and green sea turtles.
Northwest Florida offers one of the few remaining opportunities in the southeastern U.S. to protect large areas of unique ecosystems. The Apalachicola River with its floodplain and adjacent ravines is home to more than 30 federally threatened or endangered animal species. At 464,000 acres, Eglin Air Force Base is the largest forested military base in the world and conserves the largest contiguous old growth longleaf pine forest in existence plus the largest intact sandhill ecosystem in the Southeast.
The base also contains 20 miles of pristine barrier islands along the Gulf of Mexico which provide habitat for many rare species, including the largest intact population of beach mice in northwest Florida, 53% of the entire state's population of threatened snowy plovers, and nesting areas for loggerhead and green sea turtles.
Wildlife of Northwest Florida are most threatened by destruction and fragmentation of habitat due to human development – residential and commercial urbanization (both inland and along the beaches), conversion of forested land to pasture and intensive agriculture and road construction projects facilitating more development. Buildings, seawalls and lights along the coastline are reducing the amount of suitable habitat for nesting sea turtles, shorebirds and endangered beach mice. Florida’s Gulf Coast is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise.
A key strategy for conserving this habitat network is working with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and public and private partners to facilitate and promote the Florida panhandle for federal designation as the Northwest Florida Sentinel Landscape. We are helping the effort to create an innovative partnership for collaboration and coordination among private landowners, conservationists, military installations, government agencies and others.
Defenders also advocates on behalf of Florida Forever, the state’s land acquisition program. We work to empower concerned citizens to become activists for wildlife and habitat by creating educational materials to help activists advocate for the purchase and restoration of essential habitat and linkages, particularly for endangered and vulnerable species, including areas for the reestablishment of the Florida panther; sea turtle nesting beaches; shorebird nesting, resting and foraging habitat; and critical habitat for beach mice.
Defenders conducts transportation analyses for the region and proposes recommendations to limit threats to wildlife.
Defenders serves as a member of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Teams and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Management Plan Technical Advisory Groups for several key species in Florida, including the manatee, panther and gopher tortoise.