The Florida Wildlife Corridor

Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation Applauds Governor DeSantis and Cabinet for Approving More Than 19,000 Acres Key to the Florida Wildlife Corridor

Land parcels will conserve crucial linkages in the Corridor

August 23, 2022 – Earlier today during the Florida Cabinet meeting, seven parcels of land totaling 19,897 acres within the Florida Wildlife Corridor were approved for acquisition or conservation easement made possible by the state’s Florida Forever Program and Department of Agriculture’s Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

These seven parcels of land are a mix of native and working lands that provide habitat and connectivity for key Florida species including the Florida panther, Florida black bear, swallow-tailed kite, and gopher tortoise. This protected land ranges from the Everglades watershed to ancient longleaf pine forests and provides additional priority connections for the Florida Wildlife Corridor to preserve the ecosystems necessary to maintain Florida’s unique biodiversity.

“The Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation and our partners appreciate Governor Ron DeSantis and the Board of Trustees’ commitment to protecting Florida’s wild legacy for future generations and ensuring working lands can stay working lands,” said Mallory Dimmitt, Chief Executive Officer of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation. “Today’s public investment of more than $56 million is significant to big-picture progress as we continue to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the passing of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act. This forward-looking Act is inspiring action to protect working lands and key linkages throughout the Florida Wildlife Corridor.”

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Act became law July 1, 2021, with unanimous bipartisan approval. At a Cabinet meeting in September 2021, 19,739 acres of land were approved for acquisition. Today marks the third cabinet meeting since the Act was signed and is a critical step in supporting the Florida Wildlife Corridor. With this announcement, a total of 56,342 acres of land will be protected through public investment by the State of Florida since the Act.

“We are grateful to Governor DeSantis and the Cabinet for supporting these acquisitions,” said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “These projects will provide protection to imperiled species, connectivity for recreational and wildlife corridors, and support the preservation of Florida’s natural landscapes for future generations. We also appreciate our many agency and community partners who helped to make these projects possible.”

Properties specific to the August 23 Cabinet meeting were supported by the dedicated efforts of partner organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Florida, Florida Conservation Group, and private real estate agents. Federal investment was also provided from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. Three of the approved properties are within the newly designated Northwest Florida Sentinel Landscape in the panhandle.

· Crippen Ranch, part of the Kissimmee-St. Johns River Connector Florida Forever Project and the Avon Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape, is a 615-acre conservation easement. The property is located near Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park and within a key region of the Northern Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, which is a mosaic of seasonally wet grasslands, longleaf pine savannas and working cattle ranches. This conservation easement, through partnership with Conservation Florida, will support rural agricultural practices that are compatible with ecosystem functions that are necessary for resilient and sustainable wildlife populations. This includes habitat for the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, sandhill cranes, gopher tortoise, wood stork, and crested caracara.

· Abington Preserve, part of the Kissimmee-St. Johns River Connector Florida Forever Project and the Avon Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape, is a 3,634-conservation easement located in the Northern Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge Conservation Partnership Area and borders Kissimmee Prairie Preserve Park, containing approximately 2,100 acres of imperiled dry prairie ecosystem. The landscape consists of globally imperiled upland habitat rich in biodiversity with significant hydrological resources and provides habitat to numerous listed species, including the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, sandhill cranes, gopher tortoise, wood stork and crested caracara.

· Horse Creek Ranch, part of the Horse Creek Ranch Florida Forever Project, is a 11,958-acre conservation easement that is part of a coordinated effort between the Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest Water Management District to acquire protections over the entire 16,316-acre project area, with the District acquiring an easement on the remaining 4,358 acres west of Horse Creek. Horse Creek Ranch has been maintained for cattle ranching and other agricultural and recreational activities; three generations of the Carlton Family currently work on the ranch and the fourth generation is on its way. The land acquired for the conservation easement contains mesic and wet flatwoods, bottomland forest, depression and basin marshes, mesic hammock, scrubby flatwoods, baygall, and blackwater streams. The land is a tributary of the Peace River and lies within a wildlife corridor identified in the Florida Ecological Greenways Network.

· The land acquisition on the George J. Marh property borders Tate’s Hell State Forest and has nearly two miles of frontage on Whiskey George Creek. The landscape features planted pine and natural wildlife habitat, including areas of active Red Cockaded Woodpecker clusters. Acquisition of the property will eliminate an inholding within Tate’s Hell State Forest and provide additional public access and recreational opportunities while securing protection for water resources, help maintain water quality, and safeguard native ecosystems. Notable wildlife in the property area includes swallow-tailed kite and Florida black bear.

· The land acquisition in the Wolfe Creek Forest Florida Forever Project is part of the Northwest Florida Sentinel Landscape. This is part of a large-phased-landscape acquisition partnership between the Department of Environmental Protection, the Navy, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Federal Forest Legacy Program, Santa Rosa County, and donations from the Knobloch Foundation. The 768-acre parcel is adjacent to the Blackwater River State Forest and is currently utilized as a timber and hunting tract. The acquisition provides a critical north-south corridor connection from Blackwater River State Forest to Naval Air Station Whiting Field, and protection to notable wildlife in the area including Florida black bear and southeastern weasel.

· Hendrie Ranch, part of the Lake Wales Ridge Florida Forever Project, has been managed for timber and beef for more than 65 years by the Hendrie family. The property is adjacent to Archbold Biological Station and several properties protected by existing conservation easements. Acquisition of this conservation easement, in part through a USFWS RLA grant whose purpose is to protect the habitats of the Florida panther and listed bird species, including the Florida scrub-jay and crested caracara. The Nature Conservancy has committed $100,000 in funding for the establishment of a non-wasting endowment to provide for the long-term management of the acquired property.

· The 1,883-acre conservation easement is a part of the 6,754-acre Buck Island Ranch located near Lake Placid in Highlands County, operated by Archbold Biological Station. The ranch consists of working lands that supports a 3,000 head cow-calf operation and is one of the top cattle producers in Florida. Despite habitat loss from historical pasture conversion, the ranch’s landscape supports high regional native species diversity, including 371 native plants and 171 document bird species. The ranch also provides habitat for the indigo snake, Florida black bear, Florida panther, and snail kite. The conservation easement will add to existing protections on the property, resulting in the ranch being 67% protected.

To help understand the importance of these land parcels and visualize the land, Wildpath and Archbold Biological Station have developed a media kit with photos, video footage, and maps representing the newly approved properties, available here. Please feel free to download and use these materials.

Quotes from Property Partners:

“We appreciate the public support under the state’s RFLPP program and the USDA for the conservation of Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch. Lying in the Headwaters of the Everglades, northwest of Lake Okeechobee, Buck Island protects valuable grassland habitat and provides critical linkages for wildlife, helping to build the Florida Wildlife Corridor,” said Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold’s Executive Director. “This easement will contribute towards Archbold’s ability to sustain Buck Island Ranch as a protected working landscape and a vital long-term research center. Our science drives conservation action by providing data and significant results to inform conservation organizations and the future of Florida’s agriculture. We are proud that Buck Island Ranch is a critical part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor embracing the natural and working lands that make Florida unique, valuable, and the state the world loves to visit.”

“For more than 30 years, The Nature Conservancy in Florida has joined with leading scientists, committed citizens, engaged partners, and dedicated leaders united in a vision to protect and care for nature. We are pleased to work with our partner, the Florida Forest Service, on the Hendrie Ranch conservation easement, which is a prime example of working together to create functional wildlife corridors,” said Temperince Morgan, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “We are committed to taking actions that will shape a better future for Florida and its residents, and we thank the Governor, Cabinet, and Florida Legislature for its continued support and funding to make protection of these lands happen.”

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