Governor DeSantis and Cabinet Approve Nearly 17,000 Acres Key to the Florida Wildlife Corridor
Land parcels to be conserved through Florida Wildlife Corridor Act will preserve crucial linkages in the Corridor
March 30, 2022 – Yesterday at the Florida Cabinet meeting, seven parcels of land totaling 16,706 acres within the Florida Wildlife Corridor were approved for acquisition and conservation easement by the Board of Trustees for conservation.
These seven parcels of land are uniquely positioned to address key conservation focuses, including the preservation of ancient scrub, archeological and prehistoric sites, and the protection of endangered and at-risk species like the Florida panther and the swallow-tailed kite. This protected land ranges from the Everglades watershed to ancient longleaf pine forests and provides key 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 applaud Governor Ron DeSantis and the Board of Trustees for their leadership in safeguarding Florida’s wild legacy for future generations. This $32 million public investment is a huge step toward preserving key linkages throughout the Florida Wildlife Corridor,” said Jason Lauritsen, Chief Conservation Officer of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation. “Yesterday’s approval will further protect wildlife and safeguard water supplies for residents and visitors. We hope that these acquisitions and conservation easement agreements close smoothly and swiftly and that we continue marking substantial progress through regular additive conservation action that will protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor for generations to come.”
The Florida Wildlife Corridor Act became law on July 1, 2021, with unanimous bipartisan approval. At a Cabinet meeting in September 2021, 19,739 acres of land were approved for acquisition. Yesterday marks the second Cabinet meeting since the Act was signed and is a critical step in supporting the Florida Wildlife Corridor. With yesterday’s announcement, a total of 36,445 acres of land will be protected through public investment by the State of Florida since the Act.
These milestones were made possible by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Forever Program and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s Florida Forest Service (FFS) Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. Properties specific to the March 29 Cabinet meeting were supported by the dedicated efforts of partners organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, Florida Conservation Group, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Tall Timbers, and private real estate agents. Federal investment was also provided by the Forest Legacy Program, a conservation program administered by the U.S. Forest Service through the Florida Forest Service, as well as the Department of Defense to help buffer military bases in the Corridor. Three of the newly approved properties are within the recently designated Northwest Florida Sentinel Landscape surrounding Eglin Air Force Base in the panhandle.
“We are committed to the stewardship of Florida’s forestland,” said Erin Albury, State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service. “The Rural and Family Lands Program and Forest Legacy Program provide us with opportunities to join our partners in continuing to protect and conserve our natural resources.”
- The Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Florida Forever Project conservation easement contains two properties that lie within the Florida Ecological Greenways Network and represent the last opportunity to protect the highest concentration of narrowly endemic scrub plants and animals on the Lake Wales Ridge, many of which are in jeopardy of extinction. The easement will be funded in full ($1,469,100) by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and will be monitored by the DEP’s Office of Environmental Services.
- Norias Plantation, part of the Red Hills Conservation Florida Forever Project, is a conservation easement that will protect biodiversity and natural communities, restore, and maintain the natural functions of the land, water, and wetlands systems of this Red Hills region. The easement will be funded in full ($4,675,000) by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and will be monitored by the DEP’s Division of State Lands Office of Environmental Services.
- The land acquisition in the Wolfe Creek Florida Forever Project is part of the Northwest Florida Sentinel Landscape and is in the process of being restored to longleaf pine habitat. It is adjacent to Blackwater River State Forest and provides an east-west corridor connection from the state forest to Whiting Field Naval Air Station and other state-owned conservation lands. The property will be managed as part of the Blackwater River State Forest. The Florida Forest Service secured over $2.9 million for this acquisition through the Forest Legacy Program. Additional funding was provided by the Knobloch Family Foundation.
- Chaparral Slough, part of the Fisheating Creek Ecosystem Florida Forever Project, is a conservation easement that will link Okaloacoochee Slough, Big Cypress Swamp, Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area and Lake Okeechobee. The 11-mile-long, one-mile-wide project area is key to ensuring the survival of the Florida panther, the swallow-tailed kite, and many other rare, endangered, and migratory species. This easement is funded in full ($10,600,000) through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and will be monitored by the DEP’s Office of Environmental Services.
- The Wakulla Springs Protection Zone Florida Forever Project is an acquisition which works to protect land above the conduits that feeds the caverns and springs, which connects one of the largest and deepest artesian springs in the world to Apalachicola National Forest. This land provides habitat for native Florida species and will ensure important landscape linkages and additional public access within Wakulla State Forest. The property will be managed as part of the Wakulla State Forest. Seventy-five percent (or $2.6 million) of the funding for the Wakulla Springs project was secured by the Florida Forest Service through the Forest Legacy Program.
- Todd Clemons Family, LLC Ranch, part of the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, is a conservation easement which will preserve the numerous creeks on the property that contribute to the flow of the Kissimmee River, as well as provide a habitat for a population of sandhill cranes and other listed species. A grant from the U.S. Air Force Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI), a program in partnership with the Avon Air Force Range’s Sentinel Landscape program, will fund nearly 90% (or $2 million) of the Clemons Rural and Family Lands Protection Program project.
- The Charlie Creek Cattle Company, part of the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, is a conservation easement which will bring the percentage of protected land within the ranch to 67%. The property includes three miles of Charlie Creek, a Peace River tributary, and will protect bottomland hardwood forest, wetlands, and provide habitat for the gopher tortoise, Sherman’s fox squirrel, burrowing owl, Florida sandhill crane, and other listed species. A grant from the USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service will fund 50% (or $700,000) of the Charlie Creek Rural and Family Lands Protection Program project.
“The protection of the Charlie Creek Cattle Company property is extremely significant for the water resources of the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor Estuary. The ranch contains important wildlife habitat and is an essential part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. This conservation easement acquisition ensures this well managed family cattle ranch will continue to protect our state’s natural resources while maintaining the rural agricultural economy of Hardee County,”
“Longleaf pine forests are some of the most biologically diverse habitats in the world. Protecting this landscape not only benefits rare native plants and wildlife like the federally endangered red cockaded woodpeckers, state endangered carnivorous pitcher plants, and imperiled gopher tortoises, it provides exciting new recreational opportunities and supports our national defense operations at NAS Whiting Field,” said Doug Hattaway, Senior Project Manager for Trust for Public Land. “Over the past five years, Trust for Public Land together with our valued partners: the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Forest Service, Santa Rosa County, NAS Whiting Field, the Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem Partnership, and Defenders of Wildlife have leveraged federal, state, and local conservation and military base buffering funds to protect over 10,000 acres of contiguous lands critical for longleaf pine restoration work. We are excited to continue our work with our national and local partners to further advance conservation and community resiliency.”
“Thanks to the strong conservation ethic of landowners in the Red Hills region of North Florida and Southwest Georgia and our public agency partners, almost 40% of the region is now permanently conserved,” noted Bill Palmer, Tall Timbers President/CEO. Tall Timbers, a nonprofit research station and land conservancy, has worked in the Red Hills on fire ecology, land management, and conservation since 1958. Tall Timbers holds conservation easements on 153,000 acres, overwhelmingly donated by conservation-minded private landowners. “Going forward, public funding for strategic conservation easements, like the Cabinet just approved, will be critical for connecting blocks of habitat and creating wildlife corridors through the Red Hills and beyond,” explained Palmer. “The Norias Conservation Easement will provide public benefits by protecting water resources, shoreline habitats, and the wildlife associated with Lake Miccosukee, a popular lake for fishing and waterfowl hunting. The easement will also ensure the continued use of prescribed fire to manage upland pine savannas for biodiversity and to reduce wildfire risk.”
“Thanks to the dedication of the Governor, Cabinet and Florida Legislature to protecting our natural resources, Florida’s environmental priorities, including land acquisitions, have never been stronger,” said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “Since 2019, this Cabinet has approved over 113,000 acres of land and conservation easements for acquisition through the Florida Forever program, and we are grateful for the continued support to further protect Florida’s natural spaces.”
“For more than 30 years, The Nature Conservancy in Florida has worked to protect essential habitat for the Florida Panther. The Nature Conservancy continues a collaboration with the Lykes Brothers that began the early 1990’s to find conservation solutions to protect the unique landscape of this region. Chaparral Slough is a prime example of a functional wildlife corridor—a key step in our Florida panther protection efforts. We are thrilled to see our long-standing effort come to fruition and we thank the Governor, Cabinet, and Florida Legislature for support and funding to make protection of this land happen. Protecting interconnected landscapes provides for nature while supporting agriculture and strengthening resilience to a changing climate,”
To help understand the importance of these land parcels and visualize the land, the Corridor Foundation, Path of the Panther, 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.