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December 25, 2020

Our “Age of Nature” journey takes us first to the thinly developed and ecologically magnificent section of Florida that’s often referred to as “The Forgotten Coast.” Traffic through this region is sparse in comparison to so many other regions. But much of what traffic there is takes U.S. Highway 98. That vital artery runs through the heart of Franklin County. But parts of the road are just a few feet from the sea, leaving those sections vulnerable to not only hurricane tidal surges, but also relentless day-to-day wave erosion. It’s common for some parts of the road to disappear completely when storms strike. Now, as Robbie Gaffney explains, leaders are looking to a new solution: nature.

The Apalachicola Bay is well known for its oysters. But over the years as population, agriculture and management practices have led to less river water feeding the bay, the oyster industry has started to collapse. What some might not realize is oysters aren’t the only industry depending on that water. Regan McCarthy reports the trees that make Florida’s famous tupelo honey also need abundant Apalachicola River water to survive.

Nature-based tourism holds promise for Northwest Florida communities where jobs are scarce. As Valerie Crowder reports getting that industry off the ground has proven challenging in Calhoun County, which is still recovering from Hurricane Michael.

Red Cockaded Woodpeckers were one of the first bird species to be protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Back in the 1970s, their numbers were in the low thousands. The bird calls the pine forests of the Southeast home, but deforestation and expanding cities have destroyed nearly all of the birds’ habitat. It has taken decades for the woodpecker population to recover, but it has; to the point where federal officials are considering downlisting it from “endangered” to “threatened.” Still, as Lynn Hatter reports, ecologists and biologists warn the move may be premature. This tiny bird still needs a lot of human-directed help. And the Longleaf Pine forests it inhabits remain under threat.

Famed Florida nature writer and conservationist Susan Cerulean found some profound parallels between her ecological crusade and efforts to ease the passing of her father during his final days. Tom Flanigan reports that connection forms the basis of her latest book.