Florida’s WMA System Turns 75
By Brian Yablonski
Chairman, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Florida’s wildlife management area (WMA) system is a natural treasure that showcases our state’s amazing diversity of habitats. Visitors to our WMAs will find everything from longleaf pine uplands and pine flatwoods to hardwood hammocks and sawgrass savannas. At nearly 6 million acres, it’s also one of the largest WMA systems in the country, giving thousands of people a place to enjoy hunting, fishing, hiking, paddling, horseback riding, wildlife viewing and more. Throughout 2017, the FWC, which oversees this statewide network of remote and scenic lands, will be celebrating the WMA system’s 75th anniversary.
Florida’s first WMA, now known as the Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb WMA, was purchased in 1941. The newly formed Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (now the FWC) recognized that wildlife habitat was essential to restoring and managing wildlife populations. Then-Governor Spessard Holland and the Florida Legislature enabled Florida to accept Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration funds (WSFR) to acquire the 19,200-acre tract north of Fort Myers. The WSFR program, which was enacted in 1937, provides support for state wildlife conservation efforts through the purchase of hunting licenses as well as firearms, ammunition and archery equipment.
Today, the FWC is the lead manager or landowner of over 1.4 million acres, and works in partnership with other governmental or private landowners on another 4.5 million acres, managing them for conservation and recreation. These healthy habitats are essential to Florida wildlife — both common and imperiled species. The FWC uses its scientific expertise and a comprehensive ecological approach to manage a variety of wildlife while balancing public access and enjoyment of these wild lands.
Our WMAs are the go-to spots for public lands hunting opportunities. Hunters can choose from thousands of quota and special opportunity hunts for alligators, deer, turkey, quail, waterfowl and doves. There are also hunts for families, youth, people with disabilities, bowhunters and those hunting with muzzleloaders and modern firearms. Many WMAs allow hunters to walk on to hunt without a quota permit.
These public lands play a vital role in helping the FWC accomplish its mission. This requires forward thinking, expertise and creativity to balance the needs of wildlife and people. Just as we were 75 years ago, the FWC is dedicated to science-based management to ensure our beautiful public lands and the wildlife they support will be something that Floridians and visitors will enjoy forever.
To learn more about the 75th anniversary of Florida’s WMAs, visit MyFWC.com/WMA75.