Citrus County doesn’t just export movie stars like Miles Teller — it keeps some of them at home, too.
But they’re not people. They’re black bears, fox squirrels, gopher tortoises and nature itself.
The Florida Wildlife Corridor, a nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining and growing a statewide network of lands and waters that serve as habitat for threatened and native species, kicked off a new documentary film project recently in and around the county.
“This is part of a new video series where we’re going to be highlighting different regional parts of the corridor around the state,” said Florida Wildlife Corridor Executive Director Lindsay Cross. “It’s a network of both publicly owned places — Chassahowitzka and the Crystal River preserve, here — and in between those, connecting them up, are areas that are currently in private ownership. Right now there’s still opportunities for wildlife like bears and panthers to move between their different habitats.”
In pursuit of ensuring that corridor is preserved and protected, the organization tries to illustrate its value and importance for people who may not get to explore it firsthand.
“Our organization does conservation advocacy work. So we use things like video and photography and are known for our expeditions, where we take really long — like 1,000-mile — treks through these areas of Florida, and we develop video and photography that show these special places,” Cross said. “We hope to leverage (that) toward more funding for protection and conservation at the state level.”
On a foggy morning in February, Cross, a team of stakeholders and experts, and a production crew hiked into the woods around Chassahowitzka and the Sugarmill Woods neighborhood in pursuit of a parkway.
Construction on the Suncoast Parkway 2, an extension of the existing toll road north into Citrus County, is slated to begin soon. Martin Horwitz, an environmental administrator with the Florida Department of Transportation, and biologist and permit coordinator Tiffany Crosby joined the team for the day. Horwitz and Crosby were tasked with explaining how the FDOT worked with the corridor group during the parkway planning process to create underpasses that would maintain contiguous habitat for roaming and migrating wildlife, and how the effort to relocate threatened species — such as gopher tortoises — was organized and conducted.
Cross knows that development in Florida isn’t stopping any time soon; the organization’s goal isn’t to halt progress.
“We continue to have projections that there’s thousand new people coming to our state every day. When you add all of those impacts and the conversion of land to urban uses, it equates to about 20 acres an hour that we lose,” Cross said. “We know that we’re not going to stop all the development unless there’s a fundamental shift in what the citizens of Florida want, so we want to make sure that when development is happening, that there’s consideration for the conservation and ecological needs in that area.”
After filming around the state, the Florida Wildlife Corridor will host a preview of the new documentary at the Valerie Theatre in Inverness on March 23. A previously produced full-length documentary, “The Forgotten Coast,” will also be shown. The event will begin at 7:30 p.m. and be free to attend, but tickets will be necessary. More information and tickets will be available as the event approaches.
For more information about the Florida Wildlife Corridor, visit www.floridawildlifecorridor.org.