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Hope for Florida's Wildlife Emerges From Climate Meeting

ORLANDO, Florida, October 7, 2008 (ENS) – “The power of people can make a huge difference in our success in dealing with climate change,” said Nobel laureate Dr. Jean Brennan at the closing session of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s climate change summit on Friday.

The FWC spent three days with wildlife, environment and government experts from around the state and country to discuss the future for fish and wildlife in a changing climate.

This summit is the first of its kind in the country, and keynote speakers included Nobel laureates Brennan, from Defenders of Wildlife, and Dr. Virginia Burkett, from the U.S. Geological Survey who shared in 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Both addressed the vulnerable status of Florida as a coastal state that will be impacted by increased intensity of storms and fires and a changing environment.

Florida is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The state can expect rising sea levels, loss of critical habitat, increase in storm intensity and increase in the frequency and intensity of fires, said Brennan.

He told a workshop group that wildlife species are not able to adapt as quickly as the climate change is occurring. FWC experts addressed that complex issue within the workshops and common themes emerged.

“We want to manage for resilience,” said Gil McRae, director of the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and leader of the marine ecosystems workshop. “We need to include both the human and the resource side when we consider management.”


A rare wild panther in Hendry County,
Florida. (Photo by Frank Shufelt)

Delegates to the conference on “Florida’s Wildlife: On the front line of climate change” addressed the ecological, economic, social, cultural and legal impacts of climate change on species within their different habitats in Florida.

The summit’s workshops stimulated discussion and offered possible directions for all stakeholders in a state with a rapidly growing population in an climate that is changing very quickly.

“You exceeded my expectations of what we could get done here,” said Tim Breault, director of the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation and workshop leader at the summit at the closing session.

Several weeks before the summit, the agency released the report “Wildlife 2060: What’s at stake for Florida?” Dr. Thomas Eason, with the FWC, presented highlights from the report at the summit, which considers all the changes that will occur based on the projection that Florida’s population will double in the next 50 years.

“The FWC will start moving immediately on the information gathered here,” Breault said. “There is good news: We’re prepared and ready to initiate, monitor and manage for the future conservation of fish and wildlife.”

“The information gathered here is not the FWC’s – it is the public’s, so take it, and spread the word that Florida is doing something,” Breault said. “Take your enthusiasm from today and move forward.”

Stacey Small with the Environmental Defense Fund told participants she was going back to Washington, D.C. to spread the word about the summit.

“I want to see these summits across the country,” Small said. “This summit stands as a model for other states to follow.”

“I am very impressed with what was accomplished at this conference, and I am proud to have been a part of it,” Brennan told participants. “I hope you are all proud of what you have achieved here and of what you are about to achieve.”

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