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‘The Wild Divide’ underscores need for large-scale habitat connectivity


Each year, the Florida Film Festival features documentaries that explore environmental themes and educate its audiences on a range of ecological issues. The Wild Divide is one such film. It is characterized by breathtaking macro and micro cinematography, exceptional production value and considered and thought-provoking content.

The Lake Wales Ridge is an ancient ribbon of sand dunes that is a hotspot for biodiversity found nowhere else in the world. It is also a place steeped in a long tradition of ranching and agriculture. Both are threatened by the rapid pace of development in Florida’s interior, which is facilitated by U.S. 27, a highway that bisects and is pushing the Florida Wildlife Corridor to the breaking point. As cinematographers Erika Share, Eric Bendick and Danny Schmidt document their every move, three friends, Mallory Dimmitt, Carlton Ward and Joe Guthrie, trek across Florida’s imperiled backbone on horseback, foot and paddleboard so that you can experience this place and to meet the passionate stewards who call it home.

This is Florida Wildlife Corridor’s fourth film, and third with Grizzly Creek Films.

“Our first film, Everglades to Okefenokee, mapped out the geographic Florida Wildlife Corridor from south to north,” shares Florida Wildlife Corridor Communications Director Nicole Brand. “The second [and first with Grizzly Creek], The Forgotten Coast, mapped the geographic Florida Wildlife Corridor from the Everglades Headwaters to the panhandle. Our third film was a checkup on three potential natural connection points to link the Headwaters south of I-4 to the Green Swamp north of I-4.”

Which brings us to The Wild Divide. FWC’s newest documentary focuses on the Lake Wales Ridge and points out the importance of ranchlands in Corridor connectivity.

As the documentary points out, cattle ranching is compatible with prairie and woodland systems. A high percentage of those woodland systems are comprised of high rolling scrub (which gave rise to Florida steers being called scrub cattle in the 1800s). So preserving the remaining ranches along the Lake Wales Ridge is one of the best ways to protect wildlife habitat and watershed.

But protecting the prairies and scrub pine forests that characterize the Ridge is not enough. It is also critically important to provide wildlife with avenues of connectivity that tie these areas together. U.S. 27 splits the Divide in half, but the development the highway encourages and facilitates serves to further fragment and isolate favorable habitats so that they are inaccessible and unavailable to entire populations of wildlife.

Said differently, it doesn’t help a Florida panther or a Black bear one iota that there’s 200,000 acres of habitat in a given area if that predator can only safely access 25 or 50,000 of those acres because they’re cut off from the rest by roads, commercial properties or housing developments – especially given that a breeding unit of Florida panthers (one male and two to five females) need 128,000 contiguous acres and a viable population of Florida black bears needs between 200,000 and 300,000 acres of habitat.

While the backbone that is the Florida Wildlife Corridor is now highly fragmented, it nevertheless remains a working system. But sprawl is happening so fast, it may not be possible to preserve the system much longer unless steps are taken immediately to enhance its connectivity and continued viability. With The Wild Divide, Florida Wildlife Corridor hopes to buoy public sentiment for conservation and provide positive stories that will inspire protective measures.

The Wild Divide screens during Local Block 2 beginning at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 15 in the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center.

“We’re grateful and energized that so many Floridians are coming to understand the need for large-scale habitat connectivity,” adds Florida Wildlife Corridor Communications Director Nicole Brand. “[The Fort Myers Film Festival’s interest is a demonstration of this growing understanding and we’re humbled to be a part of FMFF.”

April 15, 2021.

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