Efforts to Conserve Endangered Wildlife Habitat in Polk County Spark Hope for the Future

Efforts to Conserve Endangered Wildlife Habitat in Polk County Spark Hope for the Future

Carla Bayron reports

Polk County's diminishing wildlife habitat due to population growth has prompted efforts to conserve a property in Lake Wales that is home to endangered species.

Kathy Friedlander and her husband Edwin own the Friedlander Ranch, a 649-acre cattle operation located east of Highland Park and south of SR-60. The property boasts unique features that make it incredibly special.

"It sits on a large pile of sand that recharges our aquifer," said Friedlander. "When it rains here it doesn't run off. It just percolates and goes down to the aquifer."

The property is also host to endangered plants, including one that is federally protected.

"It's called Ziziphus Celata," said Friedlander. "It's an ancient plant that predates oak trees and pine trees. It would've been sitting on a hill and everything in Florida was underwater except this area."

In addition to the unique plant life, the property is home to various wildlife such as sandhill cranes, fox squirrels, and a rare and endangered whooping crane.

"The birds found us maybe 20 years ago, and the female died around six months ago. She was nearly 30, and they did not know they lived that long in the wild, so the male is left here," said Friedlander. "I'm sure there are fewer than 10 left in the state of Florida."

Polk County is currently evaluating whether to include the property in its Environmental Lands Program, which would provide protection for the land. The property is also part of Lake Wales' "Big Green Network."

"What's great about the county's interest in protecting the land is it aligns with one of our cities' aspirations, which is to assemble an enduring green network of open spaces and conservation lands," said Eric Marshall, a spokesperson for the City of Lake Wales.

Friedlander hopes that her ranch will be included in the county's conservation lands, as she recognizes that Florida is rapidly losing these habitats.

"There's not that much scrub land left," she said. "I love the plants and animals that are here, and I want to see them around for other generations to see."

Along with Friedlander Ranch, four other properties are currently being evaluated for inclusion in the Polk County Lands Conservation program. A decision will be made within the coming months.

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