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Experts are concerned the Florida scrub jay is not getting the protection it needs from development

The scrub jay is the only bird unique to Florida — and it is in big trouble.

While it's been considered to dethrone the mockingbird as the official state bird, it's disappearing. The Florida Museum of Natural History says there are less than 10,000 left in the state.

Conservationists are concerned not enough is being done to protect its habitat.

The scrub habitat is prime real estate for development.

"All the citrus groves that you see in the center of the state, those are disproportionately on former scrub habitat," said Michael Elswick, who is with the Manatee County Natural Resources Department. "Their habitat is highly desirable from a building standpoint, it's high and dry and well-drained."

He adds Manatee County is not doing much to prevent further development.

"There's not any concerted effort to prevent land that may or may not be suitable for scrub jays that may be restorable," Elswick said. "Those are widely respected and cherished private property rights that the local government doesn't in any way try to impede or infringe upon."

According to the Bradenton Herald, Manatee County's Duette Preserve is one of the few areas in Florida where the scrub jay population is increasing, mainly because of its practice of prescribed burns. The species relies on these burns to prevent plants from growing out of control.

Conservationists are also concerned with public land owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District. They claim the district is not conducting enough of those prescribed burns to protect the habitat.

District officials told the Herald they conduct land management responsibly but "does not manage wildlife species."

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Aileyahu Shanes