Delicate balance needed to protect our ecosystem

Think Green Vote Blue

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on Aug 10, 2022.

OUR POSITION: Growth and invasive species are a huge challenge that all Floridians, and especially our lawmakers, must address in a proactive manner to protect our water and our ecosystems.

The annual hunt for invasive Burmese pythons, dead gopher tortoises found near a utility work site in Venice as well as alligator and shark attacks that draw tabloid headlines are all fresh, and needed, reminders of how much we interact with Florida ecosystems.

That interaction requires balances between economic growth, community development, wildlife protection and Florida’s existing ecosystems.

We all know how unique and special Florida is — including our beaches, waterways and swamp lands. The composition of our land is different from most states. Our wildlife and flora are different too. That requires special approaches to land-use, conservation and sustainability.

It certainly does not mean a heavy-handed approach to environmental regulations and conservation and sustainability. We’ve seen the real-life ramifications and unintended consequences of environmental overreaches.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is right that Florida should not follow the California model on this front.

But neither should our state or our communities ignore our stewardship responsibilities for our shorelines, waterways and natural gems from the Everglades on down to local parks, open spaces and ponds.

Florida’s continued growth will prompt more roadways, bridges, water treatment plants, landfills, housing developments and other needs for land.

We have to keep in mind the community needs for those growth-induced projects — but also not forget their impact on existing wildlife and natural spaces important to our ecosystems.

Some of those impacts are being magnified as our climate changes. More extreme weather events can combine with poor land-use and environmental stewardship to foster catastrophic results.

The importance of conservation balance goes beyond protecting some swamp, bird or reptile.

How we grow and develop Florida impacts water aquifers and supplies. We always need fresh reminders that Florida’s waterways and swamps, including the Everglades, are essential to our water supplies. At some point, for some Florida communities, we impact our waterways and drain and deplete our swamps at the cost of risking our own water supply.

More developments can also translate into more pesticides and other detrimental run-offs that can affect water quality and or collective health.

We worry about how many land parcels and prime properties have been recently developed into luxury apartments that don’t necessarily fit with our communities’ housing needs and can have their own set of environmental impacts.

We have to learn from our past mistakes and best practices. That will require more adaptive reuse and redevelopments of existing properties. That requires pro-growth policies and responsible incentives to help bring new and more environmentally sustainable life to old uses.

It means offering better carrots to encourage market participation in the type of land-use and growth Florida wants and needs. It might also mean some necessary revamps of overly bureaucratic environmental impact processes — both in terms of efficiencies, but also effectiveness.

It requires special attention to the impacts of invasive species — and we aren’t talking about New York Yankees or Pittsburgh Steelers fans.

Wildlife and flora interlopers, such as pythons, whose numbers have grown to an estimated 100,000 or more, have had significant and often negative impacts on Florida ecosystems.

Our track record has been far from perfect and more growth is headed to Florida communities every day via Interstates 95 and 75.

Let’s refocus our efforts on finding a balance and a Florida way of welcoming responsible growth with responsible land-use and environmental stewardship.

Future generations will thank us — and not curse us.