Area Designated Biological Gem

One of the nation's leading environmental groups has launched a campaign to protect Florida's last bit of unspoiled wilderness.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has added the Emerald Coast, commonly known as the Florida Panhandle, to its list of 12 "Biological Gems" in the Americas.

The 250 mile stretch of pine forests, cypress swamps and wetlands provides a habitat for sea turtles, bald eagles, black bears, woodpeckers and other endangered wildlife.

Diane Brown, a former planning commissioner for Bay County, says the biggest threat is the St. Joe Company. It owns more than 800,000 acres in the panhandle and has a massive development plan to reshape the entire region.

"How much sense does it make to plan massive development, an unnecessary airport, new highways, shopping malls, theme parks and subdivisions in areas that are primarily wetlands?"

The Natural Resources Defense Council says the first thing it will do is oppose construction of a new airport outside Panama City near West Bay that it claims would destroy more than 2,000 acres of wetlands.

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