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Wildlife Corridors Recommended for Babcock Ranch

Babcock Ranch Preserve
Babcock Ranch Preserve [Photo: Carlton Ward Jr.]

Four years ago, the Sierra Club challenged Charlotte County's approval of permits that allowed Kitson & Partners to develop Babcock Ranch, a new town that would bring 19,500 homes and more than 6 million square feet of retail and commercial space to southern Charlotte and northern Lee County. As part of a settlement, developer Syd Kitson agreed to fund a $100,000 study to look at the ecological connections between the pristine ranch area and other wild lands in south-central Florida. The recently released report, which ended up costing Kitson $200,000, makes the case that the future of the Florida panther and Florida black bear depends on setting aside wildlife corridors between the 73,000-acre Babcock Ranch Preserve and several other habitats.

Syd Kitson
Babcock Update

The approvals and permits are in hand, but there's still some engineering work to finish before Babcock Ranch's construction can begin, says developer Syd Kitson. He estimates "another 12 to 18 months before we get started on the infrastructure." In 2010, Kitson predicted Babcock construction would start in 2011, but he remains hopeful that work on the 17,800-acre town's proposed $350-million, 75-megawatt solar array will start this year.

Frank Jackalone, a senior official with the Sierra Club's Florida office, says the report is significant because it brought together all of the region's stakeholders, including landowners, environmentalists, state and federal wildlife managers and state and local government officials. "This diverse group of constituents acknowledged that panthers and black bears need to move and we need to protect and preserve these corridors if we are ever going to make progress in coming up with a land-use plan for the center of the state," Jackalone says.

The corridors, likely to be created with underpasses, overpasses and fencing, would link the Babcock Ranch area with other major wildlife areas, including the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest, Avon Park Air Force Range and Big Cypress National Preserve.

Ernie Cox, a Kitson consultant who facilitated the committee's work, says the next step is to get everyone working to make the corridors happen.

But the effort won't come cheap, Jackalone says. "There has been an estimate that the average cost of an underpass or overpass is about $4 million."