April 10, 2023 |Lauren Day and Rebecca Perry | Land

Decades of Dedication to the Florida Wildlife Corridor

People are drawn to living in the Sunshine State for so many reasons — sunny beaches, abundant outdoor recreation, theme parks, and of course, no state income tax. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2022 Florida ranked #1 in population growth and #3 in overall population among all 50 states. Just imagine: in 1946, Florida had 2.4 million residents, and in 2022, over 22.2 million people called Florida home. That’s a nine-fold population growth within a generation!

Florida’s fast-growing human population comes with challenges and puts strains on land, water and natural resources. It also increases the urgency to prevent habitat loss and fragmentation and the resulting declines in many plant and animal populations. Identifying and protecting important habitat across Florida benefits numerous threatened and endangered species, such as the Florida panther, red-cockaded woodpecker, Everglade snail kite, crested caracara, eastern indigo snake, West Indian manatee, gopher tortoise and many more.

Clockwise from top left: Gopher tortoise; Photo by Bruce Graner. Florida panther; Photo by USFWS Connie Bransilver. Red-cockaded woodpecker; Photo by Tara Tanaka/Flickr. Manatee; Photo by Keith Ramos, USFWS. 

At The Conservation Fund, our work has always included habitat connectivity. In fact, The Conservation Fund and 1000 Friends of Florida were the driving forces behind the establishment of the Florida Greenways Commission three decades ago, which was based on the wildlife corridor science and advocacy of Dr. Larry Harris and Dr. Reed Noss at the University of Florida that started in the 1980s. This early work in both science and conservation established Florida as a leader in wildlife corridor design and conservation in the nation. Due to the work of many individuals and organizations, such as the University of Florida’s Dr. Tom Hoctor who has led the development of Florida Ecological Greenways Network since 1995, the concept of a statewide ecological corridor and use of landscape-scale conservation to address habitat loss and fragmentation continued to gain momentum, and the initiative evolved over time into the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

Thanks to the advocacy of the Florida Wildlife Corridor FoundationWildpath and many partners, the State passed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act in 2021, formally designating this critical 17.7 million-acre pathway across the state and providing significant funding to acquire land and conservation easements within its bounds.

“The ecological greenways work in Florida has led a new generation of efforts to protect and restore ecological connectivity to combat habitat fragmentation, conserve ecosystem services, and facilitate resiliency. Florida has a lot of work ahead to protect the 8 million acres of unprotected land in the Florida Wildlife Corridor, and we are about to reach a threshold of development and land conversion that will increasingly threaten Florida’s remaining large and intact natural and rural landscapes. But with effective partnerships between agencies, NGOs, and landowners, along with ample funding for land conservation protection, we can protect Florida’s biodiversity and ecosystem services before it is too late.”

- Tom Hoctor, PhD, Director of the Center for Landscape Conservation Planning at the University of Florida

Of the 17.7 million acres included in the Florida Wildlife Corridor, 9.6 million acres (54%) are already protected, and the remaining 8.1 million acres (46%) are opportunity areas identified but not yet conserved. Within the unprotected regions of the Florida Wildlife Corridor there are high-priority areas deemed to be the best remaining opportunities to functionally connect major existing public and private conservation lands across the state. These highest priorities are designated as “critical linkages,” which once protected would connect all of Florida’s largest existing conservation lands into one functional statewide ecological network.

The Conservation Fund, along with our partners and conservation-minded landowners, has protected over 78,000 acres of the Florida Wildlife Corridor since 2016 and over 176,000 acres across the state overall. Notably, our projects in the Suwannee River corridor, Big Bend forests and Coastal Headwaters were all located within “critical linkages” in the Corridor. Let’s take a closer look at these projects.


Approximately 50 miles west of Jacksonville lies a vast wilderness known as Osceola National Forest. Part of a great matrix of forests and wetlands in northern Florida/southern Georgia, Osceola connects with Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (through the corridor of land called Pinhook Swamp) and together they form the headwaters of the iconic Suwannee River. The Fund has protected tens of thousands of acres within this region, including working with the USDA Forest Service to add nearly 14,000 acres to the Osceola National Forest in 2022 and 2023 utilizing federal Land and Water Conservation Fund funding. Together, the greater Okefenokee and Osceola form one of the last remaining strongholds for longleaf pine in the Southeast and are the cornerstone of the Suwannee Critical Linkage of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. This project benefits numerous species, including Florida black bear, gopher tortoise, red-cockaded woodpecker and more.

Photo by Stacy Funderburke.


In the lower reaches of the Suwannee River near its convergence with the Gulf of Mexico, thousands of acres of working forests and vast wetlands support the local economy, store carbon and filter water before its entry into the Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve. The region provides key habitat for species such as Gulf sturgeon, alligator snapping turtle and swallow-tailed kite, and also provides one of the best opportunities to facilitate inland migration by coastal species as sea level rise progresses. The Conservation Fund and its partners, including the Department of Environmental Protection, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and many more, have protected tens of thousands of acres of these forests within this Critical Linkage of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

Photo by Stacy Funderburke.


The Coastal Headwaters project in the western Florida panhandle serves the dual purpose of protecting a perpetual working longleaf forest (maintained by regular fire) and buffering military installations from encroachment that might be incompatible with the military mission. Working with the landowner, Resource Management Service, The Conservation Fund and its partners have protected more than 5,800 acres of this project in Florida, benefiting species such as gopher tortoise, reticulated flatwoods salamander and many more. Coastal Headwaters provides an essential ecological corridor connecting the westernmost portions of the Florida Wildlife Corridor from Blackwater River State Forest west to the Escambia and Perdido River corridors. This corridor is documented to be used by Florida black bears that live in the Blackwater River area west to another bear population in southwest Alabama. More than 30 partners support this project, including the Florida Forest Service, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Natural Resources Conservation Services, Forest Legacy Program, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Longleaf Alliance and many more.

Photo by Amanda O’Donoughue.

These projects highlight the positive outcomes we can achieve when partners work together towards the same worthy goal. It has been our honor to work with the pioneers of Florida’s ecological greenway, and with many projects and partnerships on the horizon, we are thrilled to be a part of the new wave of momentum carrying the wildlife corridor vision forward — hopefully to completion. We’d love you to join us in our work to complete the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Get in touch to find out how you can support our work today!

Written by

Lauren Day and Rebecca Perry

The Conservation Fund’s Florida State Director Lauren Day and Senior Field Representative Rebecca Perry are part of our Conservation Acquisition team. They have helped protect thousands of acres across the state of Florida.