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The tortoise and the expressway: road governance and the conflict between residential and conservation properties

Authors: Caitlin Jones*, Florida State University
Topics: Legal Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Transportation Geography
Keywords: conservation, property, gopher tortoise, governance, expressway, development
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual Track 13
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Using the case of the Osceola Parkway Extension in Orange and Osceola Counties, this paper examines how the legal geographies of expressway development and property rights claims intersect with gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) conservation efforts in Florida. Proposed and existing road infrastructure projects, such as the proposed Osceola Parkway Extension, continue to fragment gopher tortoise habitat in Florida. The Central Florida Expressway Authority rationalizes the road as a necessity, justifying appropriation of land for the parkway extension’s development. The majority of the proposed road alignments for the extension transect Split Oak Forest and Wildlife Management Area, threatening the security of both the gopher tortoise population and gopher tortoise mitigation property within the forest. However, while the Central Florida Expressway Authority has jurisdiction over the governance of the road, it does not own the land needed to build it, posing the question: what property rights must be ceded for right-of-way acquisition? Competing property rights holders have become enmeshed in the road governance process, as environmentalists seeking to protect conservation easements conflict with residential property owners. Thus, the mobilization of competing property rights claims structure the dialogue around road infrastructure encroachment onto conservation lands. How the competing values of suburban family homes and conservation easements, and the human and animal lives they support, are balanced will ultimately shape the road’s alignment. This paper suggests that legal and political conservation strategies need to be understood in dialogue with the governing rationalities of expressway and suburban development.

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