DeSantis and Florida Cabinet Approve Florida Forever Land Acquisitions and Conservation Easements
Six of the seven projects are in the newly designated Florida Wildlife Corridor
(Tallahassee / September 21, 2021-NSF) – Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet have approved seven Florida Forever conservation land acquisitions and easements that will protect Florida’s fragile natural environments in Hardee, Hendry, Indian River, Leon, Okeechobee and Santa Rosa counties. The properties approved today, totaling nearly 20,000 acres, will be managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS). Six of the seven projects, totaling 19,739 acres, are in the newly designated Florida Wildlife Corridor.
“Land conservation is an essential tool for environmental protection,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “I thank the Florida Cabinet for their support in approving these critical land acquisitions and conservation easements that will conserve Florida’s wide array of natural lands, protect our wildlife, and provide opportunities for recreation for residents and visitors. ”
“Through partnerships, the Florida Forever program will continue to provide citizens and visitors with a sanctuary to enjoy the natural beauty that Florida has to offer,” said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “With today’s approvals, these parcels will be held in perpetuity – protected for generations to come. I thank Governor DeSantis and Cabinet for supporting our conservation efforts. “
“I thank Governor DeSantis and the Cabinet for their leadership in protecting the Florida Wildlife Corridor,” said Carlton Ward, Jr., National Geographic Explorer and Founder of the Path of the Panther Project. “As a result of their leadership, there are now nearly 20,000 new acres of wilderness, wetlands, ranches and forests that will endure forever to support the wildlife and people of Florida.”
“This impressive list of projects spans the state of Pensacola in Naples, protecting habitat and wildlife, as well as our water and climate,” said Julie Wraithmell, Executive Director, Audubon Florida. “Audubon is particularly pleased to celebrate several projects in the northern Everglades; conserving land north of Lake Okeechobee helps protect the water that flows into the great lake, its estuaries and, eventually, Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. In this way, local projects add up to far-reaching benefits for millions of Floridians. “
“Protecting critical plots of land, such as those on the Florida Cabinet agenda, is not only necessary for wildlife like the Florida panther, black bear, and gopher turtle, but also for water resources and nature’s ability to adapt to a change in climate, ”said Temperince Morgan, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “The Florida Forever land acquisition continues to enable landscape-scale biodiversity conservation and The Nature Conservancy wholeheartedly supports the Florida Cabinet approval.”
“I am grateful for the governor’s and Cabinet’s action today to protect six properties in the Florida Wildlife Corridor, showing significant progress toward the statewide vision to protect the Corridor and the many benefits it has to offer. these working lands and these natural areas offer, “said Mallory Dimmitt, CEO, Florida Wildlife Corridor Coalition.
“Conservation Florida is delighted to see great strides being made to protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor and our wild and functional landscapes in Florida,” said Traci Deen, CEO, Conservation Florida. “We commend the Governor, Cabinet and the Department of Environmental Protection for keeping these properties forever. These acquisitions showcase the power of partnership in land conservation and the good work being done statewide to conserve Florida’s biodiversity, wildlife corridors and water resources. Today marks another victory for land conservation in Florida, and we look forward to many more to come. “
Florida Land Acquisitions Forever
The first approved parcel covers 1,638 acres under the Devil’s Garden Florida Forever project in Hendry County, with FWC as the managing agency. The two parcels share their boundaries with the Wildlife Management Area and Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest and will serve as the primary and secondary area for the federally threatened Florida Panther. The increased conservation land footprint, which stretches from the Caloosahatchee River to Big Cypress National Wildlife Area, provides habitat critical for panthers’ recovery and long-term survival. This acquisition is part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
The second approved parcel covers 2,115 acres as part of the Coastal Headwaters Longleaf Forest Florida Forever project in Santa Rosa County. DACS – Florida Forest Service will manage the plot in addition to the Blackwater River State Forest. The land will also serve as a buffer zone for the Whiting Field NAS, protecting the facility from encroachments that may be incompatible with the military mission of this facility. This project will preserve forest lands and return them to more natural stands of pine trees and understory habitat for flora and fauna and ensure protection of the resources of the Escambia River watershed. This acquisition is part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
The third approved parcel covers 4,381 acres as part of the Corrigan Ranch Florida Forever project in Okeechobee County. The DEP Recreation and Parks Division will be the manager of the territory. The Corrigan Ranch Project is located within the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge Conservation Partnership Area. It will provide additional resource-based public recreation opportunities, such as assisting in the completion of the Florida National Scenic Trail and extending the acreage of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, which is the first park in starry sky of the state recognized by the International Dark Sky Association. This acquisition is part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
The Governor and Cabinet have agreed to acquire a conservation easement on 6,665 acres in Kissimmee-St. Johns River Florida Forever Project in Indian River and Okeechobee counties. This property supports important habitat for the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, Sandhill Crane, Spotted Duck, Wood Stork, Crested Caracara and other wildlife species at risk. This acquisition is part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. This conservation easement will be monitored by DEP’s Office of Environmental Services.
The second conservation easement covers over 1,661 acres as part of the Hardee Flatwoods Florida Forever project. The property contains a mix of flat mesic woods, water hammocks and improved pastures, with various wetlands throughout. This area contributes to the habitat connectivity that is necessary for bears and other large-scale species, given its location within a mosaic of conservation lands and private ranches. This acquisition is part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. This conservation easement will be monitored by DEP’s Office of Environmental Services.
The third conservation easement covers approximately 3,279 acres as part of the Bluefield Project at Cow Creek Florida Forever in Okeechobee County. The project is located in the St. Lucia River Estuary Basin, central to the Central Everglades Restoration Project, and provides habitat for several threatened and endangered animal species, including the Florida panther, the gopher turtle, Florida sandhill crane, wood stork and bald eagle. . This acquisition is part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. This conservation easement will be monitored by the Florida Forest Service of FDACS.
The final conservation easement spans over 64 acres as part of the Millstone Plantation Florida Forever project. The acquisition of this property in Leon County will protect a very important archaeological site with evidence of a continuous pattern of settlement for over 10,000 years. The Millstone Institute locally hosts the annual North Florida to South Georgia Farm Tour, which includes various agri-tourism activities throughout the year for the public. This conservation easement will be monitored by DEP’s Office of Environmental Services.