New consortium aims to promote better research to protect state's forests
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Each day, Florida gains an average of 1,000 residents and loses more than 200 acres of forest—but University of Florida experts say rapid urbanization doesn’t doom the state to a treeless existence.
That rapid urbanization is the reason 10 public and private agencies are pooling resources to promote better, more comprehensive research and education programs aimed at keeping Florida’s forests healthy and abundant.
The Cooperative for Conserved Forest Ecosystems: Outreach and Research, or CFEOR, is a just-formed group of agencies connected to the state’s forests.
It is the first time in the state’s history that these agencies have pulled together to save taxpayer dollars to conduct research and outreach aimed at conserving and managing Florida’s forests.
“We’re all dealing with the same issues—each with a little different twist,” said Mike Long, director of the state’s Division of Forestry. Long, elected CFEOR’s first chairman earlier this month, will lead the group until 2008.
Research CFEOR will fund and conduct includes restoring forest ecosystems, controlling invasive species, using fire to keep forests healthy, helping protect threatened species, developing cost-effective conservation strategies and improving the management of forest recreation.
Besides stretching taxpayer dollars, Long said, having those who deal with similar issues sit down and talk is already paying off.
Long said he and a few other forestry officials, including UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation Director Timothy White, were having a casual conversation about forestry issues when the consortium idea was hatched about two years ago.
According to CFEOR’s founding document, four co-directors from UF will provide expertise in areas such as economics and policy, ecology, ecotourism and wildlife conservation: Janaki Alavalapati, Shibu Jose, Taylor Stein and George Tanner.
Early plans call for a steering committee made up of members who oversee more than 100,000 acres of forest or natural resources who will chip in $8,000 a year toward research, commit to support at least one other research project and make other in-kind contributions. Regular CFEOR members, who manage fewer than 100,000 acres, will chip in $4,000 a year; and supporting members, who don’t oversee public lands, will contribute $1,000.
The new structure and communication should pay off with more broad-based, powerful scientific research, said UF recreation and ecotourism associate professor Taylor Stein, one of the co-directors.
“This is going to make our research have more practical use,” he said. “If we’re continually talking to 10 agencies, we’re going to be more likely to say what it means to them and how it can help them.”
Charlie Houder, deputy executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, said his agency manages more than 150,000 acres of public land—and they have plenty of questions for scientists.
“We could never afford to undertake these programs on our own, so throwing in these dollars with other agencies—it will help a lot,” he said.
Houder said his agency needs to know things such as how to restore native ground cover, how quickly and large some types of trees will grow and how best to protect rivers and floodplains.
“We thought if we formed a group and looked at research and the needs of state agencies, there might be a few things we could share in common, and possibly allow us to get things done that we couldn’t get done alone,” he said.
Besides UF and the Division of Forestry, CFEOR’s founders include the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Park Service, Florida Wildlife Federation, National Forests in Florida, The Nature Conservancy, the Northwest Florida, Suwannee River and St. Johns water management districts.
For more about CFEOR, e-mail Shibu Jose at firstname.lastname@example.org.