2007 Industry Outlook
Restoration projects are 'no longer a niche.'
Lobby Congress to come up with its promised share of the $10-billion Everglades project.
Support further funding under Florida Senate Bill 444 for alternative water supplies.
Inspire better coordination between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the state's five water management districts on water- supply planning.
Along the headwaters of the St. Johns, Florida's longest river at 310 miles, engineers have been busy for two decades. They've restored drained marshes, plugged up ditches and canals from the early 1900s and built more than 20,000 acres of reservoirs to collect nutrient-laden water flowing from surrounding citrus groves and cattle ranches. Now that the so-called Upper St. Johns River Basin Project is winding down, engineers will turn their attention to a $700-million, 10-year project to restore the lower St. Johns.
While Florida's $10-billion plan to restore the Everglades is the most visible restoration project in the state, hundreds of others, including the St. Johns, also are under way. The public projects, along with increasing restoration on private lands, have led to a boom in the business of ecological restoration: Turning former wetlands drained for cattle ranches back into wetlands, for example, or moving gopher tortoises to new homes.
Traditionally dominated by boutique firms such as Tampa-based Biological Research Associates, eco-business is now attracting interest from big firms such as Naples-based WilsonMiller and Orlando's MSEW.
"This is no longer a niche," says Alan D. Reynolds, CEO of WilsonMiller. That firm is pioneering Florida's Rural Lands Stewardship program for projects such as Ave Maria in rural Collier County.
The Ave Maria project -- encompassing both the university and the town -- will protect and restore 17,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land as it makes way for 20,000 residents and 6,000 university students by 2016.
Protection: Everglades restoration is one of hundreds of projects statewide.
Demand for restoration services should grow this year. Florida has about 11.5 million acres being managed for conservation statewide, or about a quarter of the peninsula, says Jo Ann Jolley, associate director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University (www.ces.fau.edu), which aims to create a clearinghouse for the highly fragmented restoration industry. Many public lands languish on restoration waiting lists, needing to be rid of ditches or exotic species.
Meanwhile, on privately owned property, "the sites that were easy to develop are all gone," says Reynolds. "Those that are left may have one or a whole bunch of environmental constraints."