Florida's Ecosystem Management Initiative grew from an alarming decline and loss of the state's ecosystems. The recent Defenders of Wildlife publication, Endangered Ecosystems, A Status Report on America's Vanishing Habitat and Wildlife, by Reed F. Noss and Robert L. Peters, ranks Florida as having the highest risk to its ecosystems of all 50 states. Habitat degradation, loss of species diversity and numbers, fisheries depletion, groundwater contamination, and other environmental damage were evidence that existing environmental protection efforts were inadequate.
The Ecosystem Management Initiative (EMI) of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is a significant step in the state's ongoing effort to reverse trends in ecosystem degradation, particularly in the face of rapid population growth and extreme development pressure. This statewide initiative fosters relationships between government and the citizenry in which citizens share responsibility for the condition of the environment and participate in identifying problems and developing and implementing their solutions. The program places increased emphasis on education and technical assistance to help citizens understand the nature of local ecological problems and provide them with the skills to help solve them. EMI also employs a common sense approach to regulation that focuses on cooperative problem solving by government, the regulated community, environmental interests and citizens to improve compliance with environmental regulations and achieve greater environmental and economic results than traditional processes allow. Moreover, EMI introduced new environmental management processes which integrate planning, regulatory, land acquisition, and management programs within ecologically defined boundaries rather than segregating them by media (air, land, water) or by administrative or political boundaries.
The staff of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is currently working to develop sets of environmental indicators that can be applied statewide at the ecosystem level, and at even smaller scales such as a specific state park or watershed. These indicators are components of the environment that can be measured over time to gauge decline or improvement in ecosystem health. To date, indicator systems have been developed for the Hillsborough and Apalachicola Rivers and a number of smaller systems in the northwestern part of the state. A citizen-initiated effort also is underway to develop an ecosystem management project in the Withlacoochee River basin modeled after the Hillsborough River demonstration project.