Establishing this conservation area is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to conserve interconnected habitat for the endangered Florida panther and many other species.

Elizabeth Fleming, Senior Florida Representative with Defenders of Wildlife

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a draft Land Protection Plan and Environmental Assessment for the proposed establishment of the Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area. The plan lays out how USFWS will work with diverse partners and willing landowners to establish a new conservation area extending from Florida National Wildlife Refuge to the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. This area could ultimately protect as many as 74 federally and state-listed species. Along with the release, USFWS has opened a 30-day public comment period.  

“Establishing this conservation area is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to conserve interconnected habitat for the endangered Florida panther and many other species,” said Elizabeth Fleming, Senior Florida Representative with Defenders of Wildlife. “As Florida’s human population continues to grow and encroach on vital rural and undeveloped landscapes, now is the time to protect what is needed to save the abundance of wildlife that call these areas home. We look forward to continuing to work with USFWS and other partners to conserve these lands while also providing access to nature for local communities.” 

Florida Panther
Justin Grubb/Running Wild Media

Defenders has been defending and strengthening national wildlife refuges for decades. The work to help establish this conservation area is part of Defenders’ campaign to expand the National Wildlife Refuge System, the country’s only system of federal lands dedicated to conserving wildlife. National wildlife refuges also provide invaluable ecosystem services, such as clean water and carbon storage. With more than 60 million annual visitors, these protected places also connect people with nature and serve as a gateway to our public lands. 

Conservation areas are units of the National Wildlife Refuge System. They are created largely through the purchase of conservation easements from willing sellers. Lands under conservation easements remain in private hands but are protected from development.   

Southwest Florida is one of the country’s most biologically diverse regions. At the same time, it ranks among the most rapidly growing parts of the U.S. with a high level of population growth and large-scale habitat loss from new development. Florida’s population is projected to roughly double from 2010 numbers by 2070, putting immense development pressure on rural lands and wildlife. Conservation easements purchased within the proposed conservation area would permanently protect working lands and critical linkages for wildlife connecting northward across the Caloosahatchee River into south-central Florida.

“We can all help secure a better future for people and wildlife in Florida by supporting the creation of this conservation area,” added Fleming.  

The USFWS is taking comments on the draft land protection plan through October 26. Make your voice heard and submit your comment to in support of establishing the Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area today. 

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

Media Contact

Senior Florida Representative
(727) 823-3888
Senior Federal Lands Policy Analyst
Southeast Program Director



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