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Conservation done right: saving land from developers for much loved Bald Eagles


By Staci-lee Sherwood



During the 1950s the expression urban sprawl started to make its way into mainstream conversations. It would many more years before the ill effects of urban sprawl would become apparent. The city of Pembroke Pines in Florida, once agriculture land with dairy farms, experienced their own population boom and with it came sprawl and a race to develop. This small city has a story to tell of how it’s trying to tackle a big global problem of overdevelopment.



Sprawl is defined as the uncontrolled expansion of urban areas’ and in some places it has been the quiet monster that swallows land. Any municipality can and should take that step in pulling back from development when the negatives outweigh the benefits. Development projects are no longer a local issue because we are all interconnected economically. What one town does can adversely affect their neighbors. Most homeowners want to be near green spaces and they spend their money showing that.



After WW2 development was on the rise as an initial response to the post war baby boom. Over the past twenty years birth rates have steadily declined in the US but the building continues. To many developers, realtors and planners open or green space have no value unless a building sits on it. We now see the error of that thinking.



Many studies show how green spaces offer real economic value. Neighborhoods with green spaces have higher property values and the land itself acts as a natural cooling system to what is called the ‘island heat effect’. Trees help absorb pollutants in the air we breathe. Nature gives back, it’s time we appreciated and respected that more. We have overdeveloped so much land we must work to preserve the green spaces we have before they’re lost forever.



Dr Cecil Konijnendijk, Professor of Urban Forestry at the University of British Colombia found that Research shows really clearly that we need nature in our surroundings. We need trees in our streets, plants in our gardens and flowers on our balcony. We need nature as our neighbour all the time. We have a responsibility as human beings to take care of nature in our cities. In return, the benefits to our health would be huge.”



In 2015 the National Institutes of Health published the study “Value of urban green spaces in promoting healthy living and wellbeing: prospects for planning” and found that Urban green spaces provide environmental benefits through their effects on negating urban heat, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, and attenuating storm water. Urban greening projects have been undertaken to maintain and increase property values due to their esthetic characteristics and functionality. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4556255/



Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis is also part of the national Climate Mayors organization. We spoke about the need to protect a 24 acre preserve that has been a hotspot for bird watchers and nature lovers alike for many years. This little piece of nature has been home to nesting Bald Eagles for over 15 years. People from all over have followed their story from the early days to this past season. Many make a weekly trek down just for the chance of seeing the once endangered species doing what they do best, make eaglets to keep the species going.



Many local residents have incorporated the eagles nesting habits into their daily lives keeping track of their behavior, health and sometimes injury to them. Last year both eaglets fell from their nest and if it hadn’t been for the daily monitoring by local residents like Phil Martin the eaglets would never have been rescued. As Martin puts it “ I cannot put into words the joy I get watching the interaction of these compassionate, caring and industrious creatures. Simply stated they are amazing. One of my ‘life’s goals’ is to learn something new every day. Watching them I fulfill that goal.”



Mayor Ortis said the city was in talks with the state to take full ownership of the land. Ideally they would hold the land as forever wild in perpetuity. He said he “was always proud that Pembroke Pines was labeled a tree sanctuary” and that the city wanted the land to be kept wild for nature. In an April 2022 email from the Vice Mayor Jay D. Schwartz he stated Pines hasn't had any intention of developing this parcel and know that I am committed to protecting our wildlife.”


Pride, the male, 2009



As Kelly Smith puts it I was concerned that the lot would be cleared, as much of the neighboring lots already had. I never imagined how sharing their presence with my students would create an overwhelming opportunity to bring the community together. In their passion to protect the eagles, my students designed a research plan and hosted a community education event that included a visit from Eagle Watch ambassador Lynda White and her gorgeous outreach eagle Paige. The passion shared by the community remains just as strong today as when it first started so long ago!”


Pride, Jewel and their surviving eaglet 2022



Annika Matos agrees “I know for me, they give a sense of hope and pride knowing our area acts as a place of comfort these eagles can safely call home. It would be devastating to see that taken away from them. Especially being our National bird, I feel that should enforce automatic protection of them and their surroundings by law.“ Many other eagle watchers share the same sentiment.



Commissioner Angelo Castillo agrees about preserving the land “Land preservation is never easy but it becomes more possible when, as in this instance, the people who own the land through their government want it preserved. That’s the good news in this case, but there’s still work to do. The City Commission heard your desire to preserve the Bald Eagle nesting site and took the first step to honor that request. In concept, there was unanimous approval to preserve that parcel of land in far west Pembroke Pines and charged the city manager with responsibility to come back to us with a specific and detailed proposal.”



The eaglet has fledged and we wish her well 2022



Kathy O'Sullivan expressed what many local residents felt at having nesting eagles so close “My heart is filled with love and joy! I’ve always loved eagles and was so happy to know that there were magnificent animals so near to me and that were loved by so many. The movement to get their habitat protected makes me very proud!”



Screech Owl



As we lose our green spaces wildlife like Deer find themselves more dependent on urban areas to forage. Protecting green spaces is a global movement. As we look to success stories let’s hope that Pembroke Pines is one such example. Let’s put our support behind ensuring this preserve stays wild for future generations both human and non human. We can all take a page from this city that has learned that while development is important so too is not developing.


White-tailed Deer buck


Yellow-crowned Night Heron


Pride keeping watch 2018



If we are serious about leaving the world better for future generations we need to slow down the race to develop every plot of land. Once it’s gone… it’s gone forever. As Ortis said in 2010 "We're just absolutely excited the eagles have come back to our city. It puts us on the map. It's a great, great story for our city."



If you want to help ensure this preserve stays wild please contact the following to lend your voice of support (anyone can help) :

Pembroke Pines Commission general # 954.450.1030

Mayor Frank Ortis fortis@ppines.com

Vice Mayor Jay D. Schwartz jschwartz@ppines.com

Commissioner Angelo Castillo acastillo@ppines.com



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