From Coyotes to Shorebirds: FL Urban Wildlife in Pinellas County and The Burg as The Session of Sprawl Threatens It All

Kathy LaFollett
Bridge expanse heading north into Clearwater from St Petersburg.Photo byKathy LaFollett

Pinellas County is the seventh most populous county in Florida. And the second smallest at 280-square miles. Population density means something to humans. It really means something to nature. There are 3,425 people per square mile in Pinellas County. The next closest county with a highly concentrated population is Broward with 1,470 people per square mile. Development, housing, and redevelopment of the Rays Ballpark is fast turning St Petersburg into a concrete and castoffs coastal fortress. A veritable Miami wanna-be. Or maybe it’s just the developers that are wanna being. Nature’s jury is still out fighting for it’s right to exist, hidden as urban wildlife struggling to evolve fast enough to coexist in and around the din. From Cretaceous alligators to shorebirds, songbirds, elusive snakes, inventive raccoons, and demure possum. Urban packs of Coyote ebb and expand from preserves seasonally. St. Petersburg’s urban landscape is a mosaic of diverse wildlife species forging and fighting for a slim adaptive life inside our nonsensical concrete size 50 wide footprint. They’re fighting all the way to the water’s edge and out into the polluted depths.

Pinellas County still offers a diversity of wildlife. Florida is fifth and seventh in wildlife diversity numbers and species. Florida has 269 species of animals found nowhere else but here. Their population numbers are not as impressive. Pinellas has a goodly number of those animals. Frequently observed species are the American alligator, great egret, brown pelican, eastern gray squirrel, and raccoon. We can attribute the continued presence of these and other wildlife species nature’s aggressive drive to survive anything we throw at it.

The ecological benefits of keeping our wild side are enormous despite the challenges of managing it within our growing densely populated regions. Keeping the ecology balanced and guarded is important to all the living beings here. Birds, for example, play a crucial role in controlling insect populations, pollinating plants, and dispersing seeds. Particularly important with the falloff of the pollinating bee population. (Quick point, no pollinators mean no food). Confused by the growing yearly conflagration of blind mosquitoes? Don’t be. Their predator’s populations have plummeted. Birds, bats, lizards, toads, and frogs. Nature demands balance. No balance, your front porch and shady parts belong to the bugs.

As developers work to build out their personal balance sheets, some residents and officials work to push back. We the people are not winning, nor are we holding many grounds. Florida has capitalized on the aesthetic and recreational advantages for its residents. We’ve developed every way imaginable to take advantage of the very places, plants, and animals we’re pushing to extinction. The broken balances aren’t lost on wildlife management minded.

Pinellas County has various measures to manage urban wildlife, habitat restoration, wildlife monitoring, and public education. The county collaborates with local organizations and volunteers to safeguard wildlife and their habitats. These collaborations do their best to work around the imaginable forces of developers to the best of their line-item abilities.

Local, state, and federal organizations, non-profit organizations, and community volunteers include:

  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC): The FWC works closely with county governments, such as Pinellas County, to develop and implement wildlife management strategies, provide educational resources, and address human-wildlife conflict issues.
  • Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD): The SWFWMD often partners with local governments to conserve and restore natural habitats, manage water resources, and protect water quality within the region.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS): The USFWS collaborates with local governments to support habitat restoration, monitor threatened and endangered species, and provide technical help and funding for conservation projects.
  • Local non-profit organizations like the Clearwater Audubon Society, Tampa Bay Watch, and Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve work to protect and restore wildlife habitats, conduct wildlife surveys, and engage in community outreach and education.
  • Community volunteers and citizen scientists: residents often contribute to wildlife management efforts by participating in habitat restoration projects, taking part in wildlife surveys, and promoting public awareness and education.

St Petersburg and its surrounding neighbor communities work in concert with conservation groups to foster a sense of connection and responsibility with our environment as well. Some of these organizations include:

  • Clearwater Audubon Society: This organization focuses on bird and wildlife conservation and provides opportunities for birdwatching, nature walks, and educational events in the St. Petersburg area.
  • St. Petersburg Audubon Society: Similar to the Clearwater Audubon Society, this organization offers birdwatching outings, nature walks, and educational programs to connect people with the local avian wildlife.
  • Suncoast Native Plant Society: This organization promotes the preservation, conservation, and restoration of native plants and their habitats. They often host educational programs, field trips, and workshops that focus on native flora and the wildlife that depend on them.
  • Friends of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve: This non-profit organization supports the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, a 245-acre park in St. Petersburg, which offers a variety of nature programs, guided walks, and wildlife observation opportunities for visitors.
  • Tampa Bay Watch: Focused on the protection and restoration of the Tampa Bay estuary, this organization offers various educational programs, events, and volunteer opportunities to engage with the local environment and its wildlife.
  • Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center: This 3,190-acre preserve offers educational programs, guided walks, and wildlife observation opportunities, including birdwatching and exploring the local marine environment.
  • Brooker Creek Preserve Environmental Education Center: in nearby Tarpon Springs, this preserve offers educational programs, guided hikes, and wildlife observation opportunities, allowing visitors to engage with and learn about local flora and fauna.

Annual events in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Tampa that support and promote urban wildlife and conservation include:

  • Great American Cleanup: Typically held in the spring, the Great American Cleanup is a nationwide event where volunteers gather to clean up and beautify local parks, waterways, and natural habitats. St. Petersburg often takes part with local organizations hosting cleanup projects to support wildlife and the environment.
  • International Coastal Cleanup: This annual event, held in September, involves volunteers cleaning up beaches, coastlines, and waterways worldwide. In St. Petersburg, local organizations and residents join in the cleanup to protect marine wildlife and preserve coastal habitats.
  • Florida Native Plant Month: Celebrated in October, Florida Native Plant Month aims to raise awareness about the importance of native plants in supporting local wildlife and ecosystems. Local organizations like the Suncoast Native Plant Society host events, workshops, and presentations throughout the month to educate the public about native plant conservation and their role in supporting urban wildlife.
  • EcoFest: This annual event, usually hosted in nearby Tampa, is a community celebration of sustainable living, environmental education, and protecting local wildlife and ecosystems. The event features eco-friendly vendors, workshops, and educational activities for all ages, focusing on conservation and wildlife protection. As of this writing, there’s plenty of time to get tickets and get involved.

Florida is home to many a bad environmental idea, such as the Osborne Reef. In the 1970s, it surprised officials and tire dealers that 2-million discarded tires thrown in the ocean off Fort Lauderdale didn’t create a living reef. We shouldn’t be surprised by the truths hidden behind small ‘I got an idea!’ deeds.

Being an example in personal choices to another is the first fragile step to keep a small fraction of what was and could have been, but for developers and politicians, Florida’s natural wild environment.

"Christmas is coming very early for Florida developers as the 2023 legislative session moves forward. In fact, there are so many goodies and giveaways for homebuilders moving through committees that sustainable growth advocates are calling it the Session of Sprawl." Dennis "Mitch" Maley reported Sunday, Mar 26, 2023, in the Bradenton Times.

We should all really get serious about doing something before there isn’t very much of anything.

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Florida author, speaker, and wildlife/companion animal advocate writing about life in the Sunshine State from my cityscape, St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg, FL

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