Bears and other critters already creep, skitter and fly through the woods of rural Flagler County, but a project the Flagler County Commission voted Monday to pledge $10,000 to would give those animals a protected corridor stretching from the Ocala National Forest to Pellicer Creek and the Matanzas National Forest.
The money will be provided to the Conservation Trust for Florida from the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands fund, and would be used for a grant application to fund the wildlife corridor through the Florida Forever Program.
Bears are a primary target for the corridor, but other animals would benefit too, Flagler County Public Lands and Natural Resources Manager Tim Telfer said at the meeting.
“We talk about black bears in relation to this project because black bears tend to be what we call an umbrella species,” he said. “Their habitat is the same type of habitat that a number of other upland species in Florida also require.”
Keith Fountain, representing the Conservation Trust for Florida, said there would be other benefits of a corridor.
“This project is all about clean water, whether it’s flowing through these forest lands, whether it’s in the St. Johns River or flowing east into Pellicer Creek and eventually out into the estuary environment,” he said. “It’s also about outdoor recreation opportunities, which I know is important here in Flagler County. So there’s a lot of potential in this project.”
Not all of the land in the corridor would be publicly owned, and it wouldn’t have to stay entirely natural.
“The corridor that’s being established and studied for potential application might be in private ownership,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said at the meeting. “You could have a mix of some that are actually owned, and some that are just easements or corridors.”
He gave an example: the water management district acquired some property around Lake Disston, while other land there was privately owned, but had conservation easements and would not be developed.
Although the corridor would protect wildlife habitat, certain human uses might be permitted, including recreation and timbering, which Telfer called “one of the best opportunities we’ve actually had for our land preservation.”
“Timbering got that bad reputation over the years because it wasn’t natural; I mean, it is a horticulture,” he said. “But, people have come to recognize that it’s better than pavement, and it does provide habitat for a number of species.”
Buying into the program at this point, Telfer said, won’t require the county to approve related measures down the line.
“Participation in the process at this point in time does not obligate the Board of County Commissioner to anything in the future,” he said. “Any acquisitions that the state had put together and asked Flagler County to participate in would be brought back to the board.”
Before the County Commission’s unanimous vote, Commission Chairman George Hanns called the program an opportunity to protect old Florida.
“Flagler County is known for protecting the environment and expanding and protecting old-time Florida, what it once was and what it always will be here in Flagler County,” he said. “We have a history of doing that, and we are really into nature-based tourism in Flagler. This will enhance that as well as protecting wildlife.”