Tag Archives: Florida – Development


Along the east coast of Florida, the ridge down the center of the state, and the Big Bend and Panhandle, we find the “scrub country,” meaning that it includes among its beaches, orange groves, sand- and phosphate-mining pits and fishing camps the remnants of a huge semi-arid scrub habitat that reached all the way around the Gulf coast to northern Mexico a couple of million years ago. The contiguity of the habitat has long since been interrupted by rising sea levels that produced, among other things, the bayou country. What remains are islands of similar plants and animals that have been separated from their brethren for a long time. The independent changes that have occurred in the fragmented plant and animal species are of tremendous interest to biologists and zoologists, and the information about mutations and short-term evolutionary changes could (and does) fill numerous books.


[Example: a species of jay called the Scrub Jay that’s genetically identical to its relatives elsewhere, but whose courting rituals have changed to a point of no longer facilitating breeding with birds from outside its own area. They could make babies, but instead ignore each other’s courting displays. Basically, they just don’t get the “come on”. This discovery alone has altered the definition of “species” throughout zoology.]

Well, unfortunately for the scrub in central Florida and along the east coast where another isolated stretch occurs, it’s not exactly prepossessing real estate. The predominant trees are dwarfed and shriveled-looking scrub oaks, some pines that tend to grow close to the ground and lean a lot, and pignut hickory. Beneath those are found some truly vicious cacti called “prickly pears” that sport four-inch thorns like needles, equipped with microscopic barbs that take a couple of cc’s of your flesh along with them when they’re pulled out. (Trust me on that.) In between the patches of cacti are scrub rosemary and all sorts of less noticeable plants. Dominant animal species tend to be exciting things like gopher tortoises (who eat the prickly pears) odd-looking striped lizards, the aforementioned jays, and numerous insects and other small critters. Foxes, cottontail rabbits and bobcats occasionally visit from surrounding lowlands. Essentially, it’s a pretty useless-looking place.

However, the scrub is home to more rare and endangered plants and animals in one area than most anywhere else in the continental US. These include the tortoises, lizards and–among the plants–the only known flowering plant in the world that spends its entire life underground, facilitated by the translucent quartz sand that allows light to penetrate the few centimeters to where the plant lives. Only the blossom of the tiny plant protrudes above the surface for a short time each year to allow pollination.

Historically, the well-drained and geologically stable scrub regions have been seen as prime locations for orange groves, highway and railroad rights-of-way, industrial areas, quartz sand mines and similar intrusions. Arid habitats are fragile, and despite the average 50 inches of annual rainfall in that part of Florida, the scrub is dry most of the time. Plants adapted to such environments grow slowly. A set of tire tracks from a model T Ford, laid down in the 1920’s, might still be visible in the disturbed ground cover. Once the system has been completely disrupted by–say–an orange grove, it will never exist again in its original form regardless of efforts to achieve that end.

Another issue is the need for fire. The smaller plants and trees of the scrub, including the sand pines and oaks that help to stabilize the soil, are adapted to periodic burning (usually caused by lightning strikes in this, the thunderstorm capital of the world.) The seeds of the sand pines won’t even germinate unless they’ve been subjected to high heat. Generally speaking, fires in areas of orange groves and housing developments are frowned upon. Thus the necessary periodic burns are rarely permitted to happen. As much as that bodes ill for survival of the ecosystem, it gets even worse. Vines and bushes, unburned, get too big, grow up too far on the trees, create too much easily-burnable undergrowth, and when the inevitable fires finally do occur they burn so hot and high that they permanently kill the plants they ought to be helping. And once an arid or semi-arid habitat is gone, whether Florida scrub or Tibetan high desert, it’s simply gone. Finis. Never to return.

Why is this important? Simple. We find uses every day for plants and animals that were never dreamed of previously–not the uses, and often not even the organisms. Who knows what is being destroyed in the scrub? A cure for cancer? The answer to questions about genetics and heredity that might lead to valuable knowledge about human behavior? An ability observed in one of those highly specialized lizards that might lead to our being able to live on (or in) the arid surface of Mars? We never know from what source the next discovery will spring. In the case of the scrub habitats some discoveries will never be made. Others are at risk. So are thousands of undiscovered species and their undiscovered benefits elsewhere around the world, from the rain forests of Indonesia and the Amazon to the windy deserts high on the slopes of the Himalaya and Alaska Ranges. We evolved on this planet. It’s only logical that many of the living things we evolved with could be of use to us, if we knew about them. If we ever know about them.

Learn about scrub from the experts… 

NY law firm files action against St. Joe | Jacksonville Business Journal

All you Kool-Aid drinkers who voted against Amendment 4, take note. This is one of the very things it was designed to avoid in the future.

The plaintiffs allege that St. Joe failed to disclose and misrepresented the following: As the Florida real estate market was in decline, the company failed to take adequate and required impairments and accounting write-downs on many of its Florida developments and, as a result, the company’s financial statements overvalued those developments.

via NY law firm files action against St. Joe | Jacksonville Business Journal.

Florida Stuff

Universities Want Maximum Tuition Increases

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A committee of the Board of Governors, which oversees Florida’s public universities, Tuesday recommended all 11 schools should get differential tuition increases of 7 percent – the highest allowed under a new law.

University of Florida president Bernie Machen also defended a provision in the law that lets the schools substitute private money for 30 percent of the differential dollars that’s supposed to pay for need-based scholarships. The other 70 percent must be used for undergraduate education. …

Florida 5th From Bottom In HS Grads

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s high school graduation rate is among the lowest in the nation, though progress is being made in several districts, including in Tallahassee and Fort Pierce, according to a study released Tuesday.

The annual “Diplomas Count” report by the nonprofit Editorial Projects in Education determined that 57.5 percent of students completed high school on time with a regular diploma in 2006, compared to 69.2 percent nationwide. That’s slightly lower than the 2005 graduation rate of 60.8 percent and the fifth lowest nationwide….

Hillsborough schools see more red ink

TAMPA – The Hillsborough County School District’s budget chief Monday revealed what administrators long had warned: Savings from unpaid furloughs and other cuts won’t be enough to close a widening budget gap.

The district will have to find $21.7 million in savings on top of its planned $34.5 million in cuts for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

Administrators have factored in the $66 million in one-time help they will get from the federal government. Their planned cuts also include the $11.4 million savings furloughs would provide, but the teachers union hasn’t agreed to that concession.

When contract talks resumed Monday, union leaders showed no signs of relenting….

Gov. Charlie Crist signs horseback-riding helmet law

Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday signed ”Nicole’s Law” as he sat a few dozen yards from an equestrian ring at Hamlin Park in Palm Beach County.

The law is named after Nicole Hornstein, a 12-year-old Acreage resident who lost her life in the summer of 2006 when her horse stumbled and she hit her head on the pavement.

Fire Chief hopes Crist will veto crash-fee ban

City commissioners passed an ordinance in January that would have allowed the Tallahassee Fire Department to assess fees for responding to serious car crashes. Now, revenue from those fees may have to be found elsewhere, TFD Chief Cindy Dick said.

Last month, the Florida Legislature voted to prohibit local governments from charging fees for police and fire response to car crashes….

Cuba could supply oil to U.S. in post-embargo era

Cuba has launched a bold policy of oil development that could turn the country into an important supplier of fuel in the Caribbean — and the United States, should the embargo be lifted in the future.

But world economic turmoil might sidetrack Venezuela’s commitment to underwrite the multimillion-dollar projects in Cuban refineries and ports.

Venezuela? If the Bushies had been doing their job, it would be the US financing the development. … Oh, that’s right.  Stifling competition from Cuba was part of their job.

Huge South Florida levee needs repairs

A 105-mile-long mound of dirt and rock helps stop the Everglades from flooding South Florida communities sitting on former swampland.

Now, after 60 years of holding back the water, the East Coast Protection Levee needs help….

Old Florida sayin’: Don’t never buy no house with a cypress tree in the yard.

Anti-development amendment has enough signatures for 2010 ballot, supporters say

[The] petition would require voters to consider all changes to comprehensive land-use plans, the growth strategies that lay out what gets built where and encompass everything from convenience stores to strip malls to mega-dwelling developments. If voters did not approve them, they could not happen.

Now, county and city commissioners make those decisions….

And watch the laundered developer money start flowing out of the landscaping and into the campaign funds.

Carpetbagger Will Run For Open FL Senate Seat

Smith, who has lived in Sarasota for seven years after serving two terms as U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, was sitting on the sidelines and ready to retire, but became frustrated “as a true conservative with the direction the country was going,” said a spokesman, Carl Grooms….