In northern Palm Beach County and southern Martin County, urban sprawl and agricultural development have fragmented the Loxahatchee River watershed, which is part of the greater Everglades ecosystem and is the source of residents’ drinking water. With more growth projected in the future, something needed to be done to plan for a smarter, environmentally-friendly community.

A Road Map for Smart Growth

In the 1990s, The Conservation Fund worked with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to develop geo spatial analysis modeling using geographic information system (GIS) technology in northern Palm Beach and southern Martin Counties. The purpose of the modeling was to develop a strategic conservation plan for the restoration and preservation of Florida’s then-only Wild and Scenic River, the Loxahatchee. The Conservation Fund, with the support of the MacArthur Foundation, convened about a dozen different agencies and nonprofits that were all separately addressing Loxahatchee River issues. Together, the group identified the core natural areas that needed to be protected to preserve the watershed of the Loxahatchee, along with important greenway connections for habitat and recreational trails.

Why This Project Matters

The effort was adopted into the conservation efforts of Palm Beach County and Martin County and by 2004, most of the core areas and many of the greenways were acquired and protected. At the same time the Fund was working at the local level, we also collaborated with nonprofit 1000 Friends of Florida and the University of Florida to use the same GIS mapping technology to create a similar plan statewide. The result, the Florida Ecological Greenways Network, has resulted in the protection of more than 700,000 acres and the designation of nearly 1,500 miles of land and water trails in the state.

The work in Palm Beach and Martin counties was the first time The Conservation Fund utilized GIS modeling. This became the foundation for the Fund’s Strategic Conservation Planning services that it now provides around the country, in places like Los Angeles, Atlanta, Nashville, Houston, Chicago and Milwaukee.

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