Walking the Florida Wildlife Corridor with Carlton Ward Jr | 360°

Walking the Florida Wildlife Corridor with Carlton Ward Jr | 360°

My name is Carlton Ward Jr and I’m a conservation
photographer. I’m also an eighth generation Floridan with
strong connections to Florida’s wild heart. My purpose, through my photography and storytelling
is to connect people with lands that are unseen, overlooked and forgotten by much of the state
and country. I hope you’ll join me to discover these
places and I bet you will fall in love with them the same as I have. My particular focus is the Florida Wildlife
Corridor, which is a program I founded with scientists and colleagues back in 2010 to
raise awareness for a statewide vision that can keep all of our wild lands connected. Without wildlife corridors connecting those
places the wildlife that live there will not have the room they need to survive. This is Audubon’s Corkscrew swamp, which is
the largest, old growth cypress forest left in America. When I’m wading through a Cypress Swamp,
I love to notice all the details. I really am drawn to the texture of the Cypress
bark, where you can follow it from the water line, all the way up 50, 60, 100 feet into
the canopy above. Many of these trees are over 20 feet in circumference,
100 feet tall and over 500 years in age. These forests are actually some of Florida’s
most important wetlands. These cypress forests provide tremendous habitat
for the Florida Wildlife Corridor and the animals that use these swamps vary throughout
the year. When the water is high, it’s critical for
bears and fish and wading birds and alligators and otters. And the black bears and the panthers and the
deer, they graze and they forage around the edges. When the water dries down, these become wildlife
and game trails for every type of wildlife. They can travel in the security and the safety
of this dense cypress forest. And now we’re traversing through a wildlife
underpass beneath Interstate 75. You have Picayune Strand State Forest in the
South and Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in the North. But to a Florida Panther or a Florida Black
Bear, it’s just all one, connected habitat. It just so happens that one of the busiest
roads in the country is running right through it. If you look closely in the dirt, you’ll see
tracks of panthers, bears, bobcats, and white-tailed deer that are crossing safely in either direction. If you look beyond the pillars, you’ll see
chain linked fence and this is critical to keep the animals off the interstate and funnel
them to safe passage below. It’s amazing how loud it is, how intimidating,
and it just reminds you how incredible our footprint is on these wild habitats. The cool thing is, the wildlife still use
it. Here we are approaching one of my camera traps
on an old logging trail. This is a great place for a camera trap, especially
in the wet season, because it’s one of the only dry paths. And so, terrestrial animals like the Florida
Panther are not going to go walking around in the marsh, if there’s another option. And that means there’s quite a bit of activity
on these old trails. A camera trap is a tool that I use to capture
pictures I could never really capture with a camera in my hand. For elusive wildlife like the Florida Panther,
you can go years or even a lifetime and never see one with your own eyes. A camera trap is basically a studio in the
woods. You set up your camera in a water proof box. You have your strobe lighting for backlighting,
and front lighting, and to illuminate the scene. And then a trigger, which is usually an infrared
trip wire or a laser beam that takes a picture when the animal walks through. It’s like a selfie for wildlife. The most important part of putting out a camera
trap is scouting and finding the right place. But when it works, and when that panther is
staring into the camera lens, with the palm trees and the cypress and the ingredients
that make up these unique South Florida ecosystems, then you have something that can not only
capture people’s imaginations about these panthers, but do it in a way that connects
those animals to the ecosystems that we’re all trying to protect. Now we’re exploring a pond apple, pop ash slough, which looks quite a lot like a cypress swamp. You’ll notice these trees are lower to the
water and their twisted and gnarled trunks are host to the highest diversity of epiphytes,
bromeliads, and orchids that exist in all of North America. These waters, although black from the tannic
leaves, are actually pristine and vital to the health of the Everglades water shed, the
estuaries downstream, and to all of us who rely on these for our drinking water. All of these landscapes that we visited are
key parts of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. If we’re not careful, we’re going to divide
and fragment the water sheds and the landscapes to the detriment of wildlife and people. The best thing we can do, is keep wild Florida
connected. That’s going to ensure a future for endangered
wildlife, like the Florida Panther, help the recovery and restoration of the Everglades,
and ensure balance in this state for all life and all people living here.

4 Replies to “Walking the Florida Wildlife Corridor with Carlton Ward Jr | 360°”

  1. That was great! Panning my phone around…super fun! Carlton and the Florida Wildlife Corridor are doing great work.

  2. Great work, that underpass sound worked nice in the headphones. Gives you the feeling of really being there.

  3. Love the 360° concept. Do you get special permission to walk around Corkscrew and the underpass or are these areas open to the public? Thanks

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